Since March 13th’s game against the Blues, as a group the Oilers have been much more engaged. Twice the Blues surrounded Taylor Hall and there were none of his Oiler teammates to be found. In my last entry I detailed the reasons this is unacceptable on any closely knit team.
The night after the Blues, the Oilers went into Detroit. Detroit is not a team close to the Blues physically but there was one chance for the Oilers to prove they had learned a lesson the night before.
Again Hall was involved in the play. He was skating up the ice and got involved with Justin Abdelkader. The two were going at it and Hall took a good run at Adelkader. Not surprisingly it was Oilers’ team captain, Andrew Ference, who quickly skated in to his young teammate’s aid. He is a veteran and understands the importance of supporting his teammates between (and after) the whistles.
Sunday it was Matt Hendricks who stirred the emotional pot on the ice. He had a huge hit behind the net on ‘Canes dman Brett Bellemore. Clean hit but a hard one. The type of hit D hate. It doesn’t hurt but it looks big.
Bellemore’s partner Ron Hainsey came back to Hendricks to support his team mate. Their gloves came off quickly. Bellemore also got involved with his hitter and it was two Canes versus Hendricks.
The play was moving away from that area. It took a moment for the players on the ice to notice what was going on. Yakupov was visibly looking in another direction. Once his head rotated in that direction of the two vs. one he DID NOT HESITATE. He went flying in there like Jimmy SuperFly Snuka and took down a Cane.
I LOVED IT.
He did not think, he simply reacted. ‘One of my teammates is in trouble and I am going to go in there to help out.’ Perfect. That is the response you expect from a team that is playing hard for each other. A team that supports one another.
This issue is not a small detail for a hockey team. Show me a team that does not stand up for each other and I will show you an unsuccessful team.
So the question is what happened since the Blues game to bring on this very clear reaction?
I have no doubt there was a discussion. It may have been head coach Eakins, one of the assistants or the older players. I suggest it would have been some combination of the three.
They would have said that you never want a teammate to feel he is on an island, on or off the ice. If he doesn’t feel like he is getting support within the dressing room or on the ice why is he going to help you when you need it? They would have said it is very dangerous to team unity.
What Yak did sunday was not overlooked by me. Well done.
The Hendricks Jolt
Matt Hendricks has been exactly what I had hoped he could be for the Edmonton Oilers. He has brought life to this team both on and off the ice, something that has been lacking.
He has proven to be a player that is connected emotionally to the games. His style of play drags his teammates into the game. They get charged up by his hits and chirping. It is contagious.
Then you have a situation described above against the Canes. The players realize that it is OK to get a little dirty. Everyone will live.
Since his arrival the Oilers’ record is nine wins, seven losses and four overtime losses. There is no doubt that Scrivens has had a bigger impact but that doesn’t minimize the Hendricks contribution.
He plays all-out every night. He finishes every hit. Some may be a little late or in the grey area of the rule book. His teammates don’t mind but I know the opponents do. Great. The opposing team needs to feel uncomfortable.
He and Gordon have a nice little chemistry going. They are similar players that play the game in straight lines. They are good at cycling in the offensive zone. The two of them and whoever is with them have had many good games working the puck low and generating momentum for the next line. Something that makes life easier for the top two lines of the Oilers. After a good shift in the offensive zone the ice feels like it is tilted in the Oilers favour.
I liked it when Perron was the other winger on the line. He adds scoring ability to the line. He can also play an aggressive, solid defensively style of game that compliments the line. In my opinion that line could play against any line and hold their own.
A third line of Gordon, Hendricks and whoever is a line that a team making the playoffs is happy with. A fourth line of the same is ultimately how Stanley Cup winners look. That is the challenge for MacT.