PACK MENTALITY

When you’ve been the designated free space on the Bingo card for as long as the Edmonton Oilers have, you cannot expect to return to contention and respectability in one fell swoop. It’s more often an evolution rather than a revolution. It’s one step at a time.

The Oilers took another step, a big one, Wednesday by beating the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 at Gila River Arena to end a 25-game winless streak against the Coyotes. It’s not that the Oilers won the game – let’s face it, the Coyotes have been a bad team with a ridiculously good record (21-0-4) against the Oilers in recent years.

It’s how the Oilers won this game, with players like Zack Kassian, Matt Hendricks, Mark Letestu and Eric Gryba stepping to the forefront and sending a message that’s been woefully lacking for far too many years when push came to shove. Call it a pack mentality, all-for-one-and-one-for-all, whatever you want, but the bottom line is this group of players is willing to play for each other.

This edition of the Oilers doesn’t meekly turn the other cheek when the going gets tough, like it did against the Coyotes. If you take on one of them, you will have to take on all of them. These Oilers aren’t fun to play against anymore, and, really, when’s the last time you could say that?

STICKING TOGETHER


“That’s been something we’ve harped on, and with the new management and coaching staff coming in, we want to be a big, heavy team,” said Hendricks, who contributed a goal and an assist, crushed Jakob Chychrun with a big hit and was in the middle of a third-period rhubarb.

“It’s no secret to anyone in the league that’s what we’re trying to create in Edmonton, and we’re taking the right steps. We’re a proud group, we play hard for each other, we stand up for each other and we want to be a team that doesn’t get pushed around.”

When Oliver Ekman-Larsson pounded Hendricks into the boards in the third period, Kassian, who chipped in a couple of assists and had yet another goal waved off, responded with a cross-check and then poked Anthony Duclair in the mouth, just for good measure. Letestu, who had a goal and two assists, got into things in another fracas. Then there was Gryba, who scrapped with Luke Schenn, who didn’t like a hit he’d laid on Chychrun.

“Sometimes those guys are stars in their own right, too,” coach Todd McLellan said of the Hendricks-Letestu-Kassian line. “The way they grind it out, the way they penalty kill. You have to have a whole bunch of different types of ingredients to come out with wins in this league and as the year drags on games get heavier and harder, those guys become even more important.”

BUILDING BLOCKS

There’s no way to say with any certainty what a game like Wednesday means in the bigger picture because being willing to answer the bell physically and stand up for each other is just one aspect of what successful teams tend to do. I can’t put numbers to it. You still win games by scoring more goals than the other team and, most nights, skilled players like Connor McDavid are going to have a bigger impact on who wins and who loses.

What my old eyes have told me while watching and writing about hockey over the years, though, is that what we saw from “lesser lights” like Hendricks, Letestu, Kassian and Gryba against the Coyotes is one of the essential building blocks and an aspect that allows the men higher up on the marque to better do what they do. It matters. 

Mix the kind of skill the Oilers possess with a heaping helping of stubbornness and willingness to stand up for one another and you get what we have here – the Oilers are now 18-12-5 for 41 points 35 games into the season and look like playoff contenders at long last. They aren’t there yet, but Wednesday was another one of the steps the Oilers must take along the way – a big one.

It’s a no-shortcuts journey down the road to contention and success this team hasn’t travelled in a very, very long time. Make that trek together, truly together from the top of the roster to the bottom, and this edition of the Oilers will get there. 

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

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  • 3 Little Birds

    Awesome article.

    I love the steps this team has taken to become relevant again.

    Realistically, they are still a young team learning how to win and deal with success.

    Fight for the playoffs boys, you have all the potential in the world.

  • Big Jacks Meat

    This team , against the lowly Yotes took a huge step last night , even if they didn’t get the 2 points. I almost had tears in my leather faced
    head. That step will go a long way.

    Congrats Edmonton Oilers. Your lunch Money is
    now secure. Time to steal others for a change.

    Me Proud of my team.

  • Kman15

    It’s the funny watching that’s hockey after the game and all Craig button does it say gryba deserved the match penalty and that kassian gave out a cheap shot at oel doesn’t comment on oel running Hendricks or that chychruns head is at knee level, it’s ridiculous how many analysts are just anti oiler, button is an idiot

  • So refreshing to see the Oilers on the right side of one of these scrums for a change!

    Still going to be those frustrating Mr. Hyde games when they are not as consistent but the evolution is happening!

  • freelancer

    After a decade, it’s unbelievably gratifying to see that this team is playing more good games than bad. Even more important to me is that we are starting to see the Edmonton Oilers TEAM, instead of the collection of players that happen to all have the same jersey on.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Kassian is a beast. I was thinking of picking up a Draisaitl jersey, but the Red Baron might have to wait until after I grab an orange 44.

  • psale63

    To me this is what I would call swagger, playing with confidence and on edge. I love when the Oilers play this way! I think we saw a lot of this right at the start of the season but it trailed off towards game 10 and has been lost since. Glad to see the boys get it back and beat those pesky yotes! Hopefully they can find some consistency with this part of their game. They are a tough team to beat when they can play like this every night.

    Go Oilers!

  • Derian Hatcher

    But while the players are sticking up for one another, who is chopping wood and carrying water?

    Sorry…couldn’t resist. It’s immature and uncalled for. I know. I feel shame.

  • OilBlood

    Pack mentality is what you get when you remove a player that embodies the exact opposite of that in Taylor Hall

    Love this team, love that they are playing as a TEAM

    Still not firing on all cylinders but we will get there

    LETS GO OILERS

    • Derian Hatcher

      What…you didn’t like it when Hall skated away from scrums while Nuge was getting facewashed? Being a little hard on Taylor aren’t you?

      “So that what it’s like to have teammates come to your aid, who knew?”

      • Frank Rizza

        Yup!!!!!
        I never needed anyone to tell me about Halls character. I never needed to be in the room to know that something was missing there. I never needed Gregor or anyone else to tell me that I didn’t know the man and couldn’t comment on team chemistry in the room. I watched every minute, literally, of Halls career in Edmonton. I never knew the man but Too many times I saw the man get facewashed and his teammates not do a damn thing. Too many times I saw teammates get facewashed and Hallsy seemed to be always checking his laces. I saw a guy smash his stick on the ice in disgust after not getting a pass on a two on one. He’s a very very good hockey player but he’s not a franchise guy. He’s not a guy that could bring a team together and I am positive that the new coach and new management figured this out pretty quick last year.

        Just for the record I was never a Hall hater. I like every player that plays on my team and when he was on it I wanted him to succeed just like I wanted the team to succeed. I was never disappointed when I first heard about the trade last June. I followed Larson a little and watched him own both Hall and Mcdavid in the two games the Oilers played the devils last year. I thought we might have been able to get more at the time but I knew the team would be better after the trade … and guess what… they are! I will “lose” a trade any day if it makes them team better.

        • Total Points

          Watching NJ and Flyers game. Devils up 3-0, with Hall making a great play for the third goal.Great offensive skill.

          In the second period Hall cross checked a player who got up and punched Hall who didnt respond with a push or anything but looked at his laces.

          Hall has not changed, great skills but does not fight for himself or other team members.

          That is why he not here and the Oilers are a better TEAM.

          He checks just like Eberle, a lot of fly bys

          • Reg Dunlop

            Hold on a second. Are you seriously saying that McDavid is a selfish, immature, entitled brat like Taylor Hall? Time to put down the spreadsheet and watch some Oiler hockey. They have a really good team this year, unlike the last few years when Hall led the team to lotto finishes.

          • Gravis82

            You obviously frequently jump to large unfounded conclusions based on little direct causal evidence to support these conclusions. The question is, why do you do that?

            Because its too scary to admit that maybe Hall wasn’t the selfish immature brat etc that you described him to be…because if he wasn’t that would mean Chiarelli is just as clueless as the rest of them and is leading the team astray. And that, my friend, is way too painful to consider. Its just so much easier to blame things irrationally on Hall. Falling back on, “oh, well we were bad last year and good this year it must have been Hall” , is naive and short sighted. So many other things have changed, and that includes the Hall trade. But any changes due to the Hall trade are surely because we now have a defenseman rather than have removed a toxic player.

            I have watched hockey religiously for over two decades, and not once did I see Taylor Hall as the player you described. He is a great player, that is not a fighter, and probably not a leader, but a stellar winger, and ideally is placed on the 2nd line on a TOP 3 team andsurrounded by the right complementary line mates. He is not cut from the Mark Messier cloth, which was what everyone expected for some reason.

          • Gravis82

            Somehow you have completely failed to understand what I was saying.

            All those things that people wish Hall did, McDavid also does not do. Many players do not do them. Why did we expect Hall do to them is the question, and not the others?

            The team was lacking complimentary players.

            The Hall trade may have even been good, but it wasn’t because an immature player was gone, its because we now have a real D-man.

            I seriously have no idea where all the Hall hatred ever came from. Sure he may not have acted like the perfect blue collar hockey player on the ice, but really how much of that perception is actually related to being a good hockey player between the whistles. That’s what matters. If you want someone who is good after the whistles in the scrums, maybe the play was to get a D-corps that could always step in so Hall wouldn’t have to. Its called a balanced lineup. Which we now have. And it is good. But I would argue that it could have been better.

            I refused to accept mediocrity here. I want a team that dominates the league. That Hall trade gave us a pretty good one. A pretty good one wont win us a cup. Having two all world drivers on the top two lines, probably would have. Chia took the easy way out to building the defense, anyone could have traded Hall for Larson.

          • Oilerchild77

            First off. McDavid is 10 times the player Hall is. Second, he doesn’t do those things very often, but when he does, he has the guts to look opposing players in the eye. He’s done it a few times. Connor isn’t afraid of the opposition the way Hall is.

        • M22

          ^
          ^
          Very well said. This should be the final word on Taylor Hall- unfortunately, it won’t be. There will always be fans (and bloggers) who are fooled by his stats and skating ability, and see an elite player. He ain’t elite – he just looks that way.

          I can’t improve on what you’ve said in your post. 100% in agreement.

    • Randaman

      Seriously? But Sportsnet is saying the trade of Hall for Larsson was a HUGE fail!!

      They are the experts after all aren’t they?

      IDIOTS! Eastern Bias fools.

      This current edition of the Oilers makes me tingle all over when they play like they played last night.

      MOAR PLEASE!!

  • oilerjed

    My favorite part of that game wasn’t even the win it was watching Kassian mash OEL and without missing a beat tossing his gloves are turning to take on any contenders

  • Keepyourstickontheice

    I like how everyone is taking their turn chipping in. Lucic doesn’t need to Shrek up every night, and Kassian will have someone to pick up what he put down next game.

    Side note, how many times does McDavid get treated like a bobsled before he starts using the butt of his stick to beautify some faces? I don’t want him to, but eventually he’s going to get tired of the refs watching and doing nothing.

      • True, spent most of the last thread b*tching about the refs. Not much to complain about at all. Beat the Yotes and the officiating in the same night, stood up for themselves and each other. Long overdue and fun to watch. Have not said that very often over the last decade. Even if the refs had succeeded to hose them out of a win , and they lost the game I would still be proud of this squad and their reactions.If the refs wont make the calls, we will take care of our own business. Message sent.

  • OilCan2

    Its a TEAM game. Great to see Kas dishing the punishment when the refs are on holidays.

    I would love to see Connor go on a tooth busting butt ending spree until the zebras start calling some of the hooking, holding, tackling, slashing etc.

  • Big George was on Foghorns show today.

    His take was “the Oilers are the toughest team in the NHL”.

    Subjective but also…. out there for public review.

    Whatcha think…. Are the Oilers the toughest team in the NHL?

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Look at our road record. Now its time to get Rogers place loud , real loud. Me included. Too many times I sit and watch and analyze.

    Rock IT ROGERS. It will bring a few more wins.

    great tunes , pump the place and get off our hands.

  • clrsnldvc81

    What more can you say about Kassian… he’s had 3 goals waved off this month and his reaction to the OT game winner shows he cares about the team and not individual stats…

    breath of fresh air…

    good to be in oil country these days!!!

  • Smithereen

    All you guys are forgetting Chris Pronger. That is what has been missing from this team. Mark Messier, Dave Semenko, Marty McSorley, Glenn Anderson. We finally see some of that back. Although I don’t see anyone yet that brings that to the current Oilers like these guys did.

  • hags437

    Kass going full on Donkey Kong was a thing of beauty and the HON for me last night. The Oilers are showing the rest of the league that we won’t be pushed around anymore. George Laroque said it..Oilers are the toughest team in the NHL right now.
    Can’t wait for tomorrow nights game! Gonna be a beauty and God does it feel good to be in the race. 4-3 Oilers in a SO

  • Pouzar99

    Nobody listens to Craig Butthead. As for Duclair, Kassian had his gloves off and Duclair went after him. What did he expect? A bouquet of flowers? He took two punches and went for a skate. Smart move.

  • 916oiler

    A+ for Kassian on that play. Love how he knows what’s coming and pops Duclair. Talk about a lesson haha

    And ya what about that takedown from OEL on Hendricks?? Reverse that and Hendricks has a hearing. Screw OEL, that was a dirty play!

  • ubermiguel

    I’ve always said Kassian’s the guy you love only when he’s on your team. His biggest improvement is he’s not crossing the line into suspension or match penalty territory, he’s keeping it pretty level while still agitating.

    One key with Kassian, Maroon and Letestu is they have some skill so they can contribute on offence. This is what functional toughness looks like, and it’s been sorely lacking for years.

    Edit: I should acknowledge Kassian got a match penalty last night, but that was objectively a BS call.

  • Spydyr

    It about time the Oiler players started to arrive at the scene of a cheap shot with ill intent instead of checking to see if their skates are tied. So long overdue.