Thursday Thoughts: Reinhart, Khaira and more

Something tells me Oilers fans could get used to this.

Edmonton is 6-3-1 in their last ten games and within striking distance of a playoff spot. They are competitive, and while they are far from a finished product, they are getting results and playing much more competitive hockey.

Here are the numbers during the 10-game span:

Goals for: 23
Goals against: 23

PP: 5 of 32 (15.6%)

PK: 26 of 30 (86.7%)

Shots for: 284

Shots against: 321

Faceoffs: 51.3% (305-289)

Anders Nilsson has a .941sv% in his nine starts during this span. He has been fantastic. We know that SV% is unsustainable the rest of the way, but when a goalie gets on a hot streak like this his team usually wins, and winning breeds confidence.

The Oilers relinquished a third period lead last night, allowing two goals in 1:30, but they didn’t fold and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Pakarinen was credited with goal during the game, but they gave it to RNH 90 minutes after the game when they could watch it on a TV system with better frame by frame ability), tied the game less than three minutes later.

They didn’t fold. They didn’t self destruct, and for anyone who has watched this team closely for the past six seasons, that is significant progress — and they are doing it without Connor McDavid. He will make them better when he returns in the New Year.

They are initiating contact rather than reacting. They are winning more battles, and they are becoming a harder team to play against. They still make mistakes, and still have deficiencies in their game, but we are seeing tangible improvements and it is refreshing to witness after so many years of losing and virtually no improvement.

ON THE FARM…

  • Mark Fayne cleared waivers and as I mentioned yesterday Nikita Nikitin has been recalled to replace him. Nikitin has played well according to head coach Gerry Fleming, but I don’t see him drawing into the lineup tomorrow. He will get some playing time soon, however, because other teams have expressed interest in acquiring him. The Oilers would retain 50% of his salary, and a trade closer to the deadline, when is cap hit is lower, could happen.
  • When I spoke with Fleming I also asked him about Griffin Reinhart, and what the coaching staff would be focusing on with him now that he is in Bakersfield.

“He’s a good player. He has come
down with the understanding there are things in his game he needs to improve
on. He is taking steps to work on those things. We are going to play the heck
out of him, that’s what he is here for; to get better. We are going to use him
in all situations. We did on the weekend and he responded well. I thought he
played well. There are certain things in his game he has to improve if he is
going to be a consistent, effective, everyday player.

What are those things specifically, I asked.

“I think just quickness, moving the puck, decision making,
competing all the time and being hard to play against. When I talk about hard
to play against I mean in all aspects. Hard in front of the net, hard in
corners, being physical, making simple plays and being a consistent player who
you can rely on in every situation. That is what he is here for and we will use
him in all those situations and challenge him to improve in those areas,” said Fleming

How do you get him to improve and become harder to play against?

“A lot of it is through video and in practice when you go
against your best player. If you do it in practice against the best, it will
translate to when he plays against the other team’s difficult players. It is constant reminders, but positive ones. You work with the player, not against him,” said Fleming.

  • It is way too early to call Reinhart a bust or a bad trade. I did not like the deal at the time, but the two picks he was traded for are no closer to being in the NHL than he is. However, the areas Reinhart needs to work on are the same areas I was concerned about when he was acquired. Time will tell if Bob Green and Peter Chiarelli made the right decision, but much of it will be up to Reinhart to put in the work and improve his game.
  • Khaira has impressed me in his brief stint thus far. He is a much better skater than I remember him being last year. Fleming explained why.

    “We really noticed it (improved speed) when he came back from his injury last
    year. He had separated his elbow and had some issues with his forearm. While he was
    injured he worked on his legs a lot, and we noticed that his power and
    quickness had improved significantly when he returned to the ice. He was a pretty good player for us down the stretch
    and in the playoffs. He worked hard in the summer.”

  • I also asked Fleming what Khaira was doing better than Bogdan Yakimov to get recalled.

    “Khaira was playing a heavier game, but Bo (Yakimov) is getting
    better at that. Just understanding he needs to be more physical on the
    forecheck, go through guys a little bit more. He’s a presence and when he leans
    on guys he is tough to play against. That is what JJ was doing well,” explained Fleming.

    Khaira has continued that in Edmonton. He has been a good compliment to Eberle and RNH. He gives them some size and is able to win a few more puck battles.

  • I also asked about Anton Slepyshev and what he is working on.

    “One thing most guys have to work on when they come down here
    is their play away from the puck. We have done a lot of video with him and many
    different things in practice, and you can see actual improvements in his play
    away from the puck. Just being more aware, more conscience, working harder away
    from the puck, working harder to get to the puck, playing on the inside and
    doing the things he needs to improve to get back up there.

    “His play with the puck has been good. We are trying to get him to get the puck
    off quicker, he has a heck of a shot. He understands the game very well, he
    sees the ice very well, but he just needs to work on the areas I mentioned and
    continue to add to what you do well like JJ (Khaira) has,” Fleming said.

  • Teddy Purcell had a maintenance day today. Benoit Pouliot skated for the first time with the team. Rob Klinkhammer skated and he is close to returning. “We are close to getting guys back and that will create competition, which is great,” said McLellan.
  • Late in practice a strange sequence. A shot hit Klefbom in the ankle, and then ricocheted up in Brandon Davidson’s face. Both were down on the ice. Klefbom skated away and after a few minutes was fine before leaving the ice. Davidson went straight to the room, but no serious damage for either player.
  • Reminder to fans going to game tomorrow night or watching it at home. The Glen Sather ceremony starts at 6:20 p.m. It will last 30 minutes, then the teams will warm up and puck drop will be 7:37 p.m. 

DAY 8: MONTH OF GIVING

Thanks to Justin and Tanner for their bids yesterday, and to On the Rock and the Ranch Golf Course for donating them.

Package #1:

monthofgiving

  • Two swivel recliners bonded in leather from Dinette and Patio Furniture.
  • A pair of seats to Glen Sather’s banner night between the Oilers and Rangers.

Package #2

http://www.eaglerockgolf.com/email/aeriel18c.jpg

Twenty rounds of golf at Eagle Rock Golf Course.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds go towards Santas Anonymous.

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  • CMG30

    Too much Reinhart hate here today.

    I wan’t so keen on the trade when it happened. Smelled like the ‘old boys’ when I first saw it. Still, I understood the impulse: trade magic beans for a D further along the developmental curve. Now that we know PC was really chasing Hamonic but had to settle for Reinhart.

    I think we can all agree that Reinhart doesn’t have the ceiling of a Nurse or a Klefbom but teams still need defensemen who can play in the 3-6 position. Reinhart has shown that he’s a good bet for that.

    Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Reinhart was sent down because of his play. He wasn’t. He was simply the odd man out and could safely be sent down without losing him to waivers. Still, time in the AHL will be valuable to him. He is a young defenseman after all and, like all young defensemen, has things to work on.

    It will be a balancing act, trying to break so many rookies in at once. But I suspect that Reinhart will be back at some point this season.

  • It’s amazing, that over the last 6 years of futilely, people are now expecting a return to the playoffs. New management, new coach, big turnover in players. This process takes time, its nice to see the improvement, but let’s temper it with realistic expectations. A finish in the 20 to 25th range is okay for me, and a move up the standings over the next 2 seasons is attainable, with the playoffs next year. Gotta be realistic folks.