"He is playing with desperation," Dallas Eakins said when I asked him his thoughts on Ryan Jones’ game since being recalled from OKC. "I’m not saying he wasn’t working hard in training camp, but he didn’t play a lot of hockey last year, and I think he felt like he would ease him self back slowly. That is a normal human instinct, after being out with that type of injury, but since coming back from OKC he’s looked more assertive, " continued Eakins.
Jones is usually a pretty laid back, relaxed guy, but since being recalled from OKC he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and that is a good thing. Jones took an accidental helmet in the face during a battle drill yesterday, and for the remainder of practice his lip was bleeding and Jones was in a surly mood. Since returning from OKC he has played with desperation, but he’s also played with some anger.
I spoke with Jones yesterday in the dressing room and on the radio, and it was clear that the demotion to OKC gave him some confidence, but also some desperation.
After listening to Andrew Ference talk about the need for every individual to play their best, and compete their hardest in order for the team to win, I couldn’t help but think that Jones has started to do that the past few games.
The key will be maintaining that for the next 68 games, and not having many, if any, games where he isn’t working hard. Jones had some interesting things to say about competing and how the demotion to OKC actually helped him.
Gregor: What was your reaction and plan when you were sent down to the minors?
Ryan Jones: It was an opportunity to go down and work on things that the management and coaches talk about. And to be honest, it was an opportunity to play a lot of minutes, 18 or 19 minutes in some games. And being a go-to guy is kind of good for the mind and also for the body. It was good to go down and I wanted to go down with a positive attitude and the mindset that I’m going to work as hard as I can to be back, I wasn’t content with just playing.
Gregor: Since you’ve come back, you’ve scored two goals, you had eights shots on goal vs. Toronto and you went after Kyle Clifford in LA, and you’re not a fighter. Eakins talked earlier about how guys have to get out of their comfort zone, did that resonate with you?
Jones: Um… well it wasn’t said to me personally. At the time I just felt that it was something that had to be addressed. As the old saying goes ‘don’t ask people to do something that you’re not willing to do yourself’ and that’s what leaders do. I don’t have a letter on my jersey and people may not consider me a leader, but I just felt that I had to do it at the time. Whether I knocked him out or if it was just a matter of me showing that I was willing, I had to do something and so I did.
Gregor: When was the last time that you had eight shots on in a game?
Jones: Never. Maybe juniors. It was just one of those games.
I keep telling myself and reminding myself every game to be in front of the net more often, because that’s where you score goals. There have been a lot of guys, guys who are still around, guys in Detroit like [Johan] Franzen, and [Tomas] Holmstrom who just left there, and a guy like Smitty (Ryan Smyth). Those guys made a career just by being in front of the net, and this is no slight to them, but if you look at them, nobody would argue that they were the most skilled players on the team, but they scored a lot of goals.
Those guys were willing to go there, and they were good at what they did. And that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve done it before at other levels and at spurts in the NHL. I’m just going to focus on the game at hand and have that in the back of my mind all of the time.
Gregor: Many will wonder, ‘why don’t you just do it all of the time?’ You have done it in spurts as you said, so is it a mental commitment more than physical almost?
Jones: Well to be honest, it’s easier to play not in front of the net. Whether it’s your mind thinking it or it is one of those games where your body just can’t take any more beating, I’m not sure.
It hurts to play out front and anyone who tells you otherwise is a friggin liar. Because crosschecks hurt, slashes and high sticks and all that stuff hurts and that’s why there isn’t 12 forwards who play that way. Because there are some guys, I’m not saying guys on our team, but there are some guys around the league that people say ‘oh he’s got to go to the net’ and that’s why they don’t.
It takes a full commitment to play that game and also it’s a habit to go there. Where some guys want to be on the outside looking for a shot, some guys, like me, just have to find their way to the net.
It has to be something that you don’t have to think about when you’re out on the ice, not when there’s a play going on and you’re like ‘oh I should go to the net.’ It has to be something that you just find yourself there.
And that’s what I found last game more often than not when Nuge [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] had the puck or Hemmer [Ales Hemsky] had the puck I just ended up out front because that’s where my game led me. There were a lot of pucks in close. I was hacking and whacking away. I could have used a bounce, but it didn’t happen. I can’t let that discourage me, I’ll just have to continue to do it, and eventually it will bounce in.
Gregor: This team has a lot of skill, but based on results all of this skill together isn’t working. There needs to be a better mixture amongst the lines. When I look at you and Nugent-Hopkins and Hemsky, it’s kind of clear what your role on that line is and how it should be affective. Does that maybe make it even easier for you to say ‘hey if I go to the net, eventually the puck is going to get there with those two’?
Jones: Sure. When I looked at the line when it went up on the board, I was like well I get to do what I like to do and what I’m good at. I go into the corner and get those guys the puck, I’m not going to throw them sauce across the blueline or anything like that, but by me going to the net, it makes that defenceman think that they have to honour me, which gives them space and allows them to play the game that they are good at.
Having the puck on their stick is what we want for sure. Nobody wants to see it on my stick, unless it’s getting knocked into the net and I think it’s what’s best for our lines. So I’ll just continue to go to the net, no matter who I’m playing with and create space for my line mates, be hard to play against, and just hope to be called on in a lot of situations.
Gregor: What was your Halloween costume?
Jones: I went as Phil from Duck Dynasty. We had [Jeff] Petry as Uncle Si, Mrs. Petry as Willie and Mrs. Jones as Miss Kay. We had the whole crew and we looked darn good.
Gregor: Excluding your foursome, which teammate would you say had the best costume?
Jones: Nuge was above and beyond everybody. He was Forest Gump and his costume partner was Lieutenant Dan, wheelchair and all. She was phenomenal. Top five costumes of all time.
- Sam Gagner tweeted that picture of him as Walter White and Nugent-Hopkins as Forrest Gump. If Gagner hadn’t tweeted that picture, I wouldn’t have known it was him.
- Jones has played well since his return, but they key will be can he maintain it. I’m not talking about the goals, but more the willingness to go to the net, stand up for his teammates and play strong away from the puck. It is obvious the each player on the Oilers has to be more accountable to their own game if they are going to start winning.
Jones will never be an offensive leader, but he is one of the few forwards in the top-nine who can go to the net consistently. He needs to do that to create havoc for the goalie, but also to create space for his more creative linemates.
- The Oilers will not win consistently if they have all skilled forwards who play on the perimeter (not going to the net consistently) in the top six. They Eakins needs to mix in some muckers and grinders with the skill guys to get a better balance. The Oilers have to start scoring some ugly goals. The Oilers skill guys will go into traffic, but rarely do they have someone in front of the net.
- Brian Burke wrote a very good article on why the NHL should allow fighting. Even the staunchest anti-fighting person will have a hard time arguing against his well-written stance.
- David Perron wasn’t on the ice again today witht the Oilers, he skated alone before practice and he is doubtful tomorrow vs. Detroit. Yesterday Eakins mentioned Perron was suffering from neck and back pain. Perron was one of the few forwards who spent a significant time in front of the opposing goalie. If he is out an extended period of time, that is another big loss for the Oilers.
- Taylor Hall was back skating today. He is going on the road trip and could play as early as next weekend. Ryan Smyth will be a game time decision tomorrow, but if he doesn’t play expect to see him back in the lineup Tuesday in Florida.
- Tickets are going fast for DJ Suitcase party November 22nd at the Pint…Sounding like our special guest list is also growing. If you are a sports fan, I think you will want to attend. You can get all the details and buy tickets here.