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Woodcroft Discusses BOA, Holloway and More

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Photo credit:© Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
5 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers players had a day off on Friday and then had an optional skate yesterday morning. Today they are expected to have a full skate as they will prepare for their third round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.
The four days between games allowed me to speak with Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft.
Woodcroft joined me on TSN 1260 to discuss the Oilers victory over Calgary, coaching against Darryl Sutter, looking for matchups, and possible lineup changes. Will we see Dylan Holloway in round three?
This interview occurred on Friday before Colorado defeated St. Louis.
Jason Gregor: It’s an off day for the head coach, and I’m curious: Did you have at least one celebratory beer after the series win over your archrivals?
Jay Woodcroft: Well of course! Yes! Of course yeah, you have to have one to recharge your batteries after a win like that. But I would tell you that there are no off days in coaching. Not until the summertime. So, we were in the office and at work this morning and trying to get our ducks in a row to make sure that we are prepared for round number three.
Gregor: You’re a believer in the big picture as well as psychology and other factors. I think it’s fantastic. How do you balance, because I’m sure in parts of those books and people you’ve talked to, is the importance to celebrate the steps along the way. Because if you only say I’ll only celebrate at the end well then you might miss part of the journey. So is it last night where you are like ‘okay I’m not thinking about anything else, I’m just going to be in the moment?’
Woodcroft: Yeah, I think that is important, celebrating your wins, and we do that, and we do that in ways that aren’t public. They are kind of kept internal. But we know how hard it is to win and you have to celebrate those and you have to make a joke after games sometimes — ‘Well we’re going to take 15 or 20 minutes to enjoy it’ — but really, that is our mindset, that we want to enjoy those wins.
But then we park it and we move on to the next day and really try to have that approach of just taking care of the business of the day. And if you do that and you do well enough that over time the outcomes take care of themselves.
Gregor: Your team showed a great ability to overcome deficits. And in today’s NHL where there is more offense, no team can score first all of the time. You overcame a four-goal deficit in game one even. And then in games two and five you overcame two-goal deficits to win. You also gave up a three-goal lead. This was an emotional rollercoaster of a series for everyone watching.
Were your insides a little bit of a roller coaster, but the outside persona is even keel?
Woodcroft: Well I think that as a coach you want to model the behaviour you want your team to have. So that’s the first step. And for us, we think that we have the people required to take care of every circumstance and that is the true belief. Whether we score first, or we don’t score first. I think that we played 12 games in the playoffs, we scored the first goal six times, four in the first series, and two in the second series. You know the other team gets a say sometimes, and they do good things and as the league narrows as it has, the teams get better and better.
So while we might start with a plan, sometimes the other team doesn’t give things, you have to be able to react to it. But if you have the belief that we have the parts in our dressing room to take care of any circumstance that gets thrown our way, I think that resonates and as I said whether we score the first goal, or don’t score the first goal, whether you’re up two goals, or down two goals, we think that we have the people that will get the job done.
Gregor: Jay, you pushed a lot of the right buttons at times. Last night you mentioned you switched [Zach] Hyman and [Evander] Kane as it was to get a little bit of a jump in the top line, but also it was matchup related. Calgary opted to play the [Mikael] Backlund against the [Connor] McDavid line and more so the [Elias] Lindholm against [Ryan] Nugent-Hopkins or [Ryan] McLeod line. What was it about Kane that you liked in this matchup, was it to negate [Matthew] Tkachuk specifically with his size and speed?
Woodcroft: Yeah, I thought that he did a good job with Tkachuk and he had an effect on that player. And, for me I thought that we didn’t love the way that we started last night. Hyman was displaying something in the first period that I thought he could help Draisaitl and McDavid and so we wanted to flip that.
We also took Yamamoto from his line and created a new line with Nugent-Hopkins and Kane. I felt like that was towards our benefit if we did that, we did a similar adjustment late in game number four and it worked out. Sometimes you know through experience and through just watching the game within the game, that leads to decisions like that and it worked out for us, so I’m pleased.
Gregor: Zach Kassian only played two minutes last night, he also got rocked in the second period, he was very slow coming to the bench, was he banged up at all?
Woodcroft: Oh you know what time of the year it is Jason, I think that most guys are banged up, but no, Zach gave us all that he had, his contribution was valuable to our team winning yesterday. He didn’t play a lot down the stretch but that’s just a factor of the way that that game was being played. They dressed 11 forwards and seven D. They ended up only playing 10 forwards and so the way that the flow of that game went meant that we had to change our lines. But you talk about a heck of a teammate, someone that gives the team everything that he has and he is a big reason why we are moving on to series number three.
May 26, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first overtime period against the Calgary Flames in game five of the second round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Gregor: The defensive play of your six defencemen and your overall team defence was impressive. There was so much focus on Draisaitl and McDavid, and rightfully so. Draisaitl had 17 points for goodness sakes, but what impressed you most about the execution you wanted to implement defensively against the Flames from your defenders that worked so well?
Woodcroft: Well, you know if you look at the complexion of our D core or the way that it’s made up, it’s not all of these big name players. We’re a group back there that gets the job done by committee. By commitment to fundamentals in the way that we defend by keeping it simple on breakouts. I think that each one of those players back there brings a little bit different of an ingredient and they help us to be successful.
You have a quarterback on the power play in [Tyson] Barrie, you have a guy who gets his shot through from the top in [Evan] Bouchard. You have [Darnell] Nurse and [Cody] Ceci who are able to play against some of the best players in the world and negate other team’s best players. And you have what Kulak has brought to the table, with his steady two-way play. His legs (skating) are fantastic. Duncan Keith, I think passes the puck as well as anybody in the National Hockey League from the back end. It’s a very underrated skill. He gives us pace through his puck movement and then the warrior qualities of a guy like Kris Russell. While we’re not filled with all of these big names, we are a bunch of really solid contributors and it works for us.
Gregor: Brent Kulak spoke about how his job as a defender was much easier because the assignments from the forwards, and how good they were with attention to detail defensively. Specifically coming back from the rush, but more so in the D zone. You were able to implement a system that took away one of Calgary’s strengths which was using their defencemen to activate. How did you do it, what worked to eliminate Calgary’s defencemen for much of it?
Woodcroft: (Laughs) You want me to give you all of the details?
Gregor: (laughs) Well, the series is over now, Colorado plays differently.
Woodcroft: (Laughs) You know what, you’re right, they got a lot of offence from their defencemen. I think there are things that we talk about in point coverages. So the way that we want to handle our point man, whether it’s on the strong side or the weak side, there are details that go into that. We wanted to make sure that we were physical on offence.
We took a little steam out of their D men in their own end first of all, we didn’t want to get beat back up the ice on our rush coverage. Like I said there were things in zone with our point coverage. I thought that Calgary did a really job of shooting the puck to try to break you down. And then their D coming down on pucks, there were just certain things that we wanted to do, counter pinch wise that was able to help us. But in the end, they’re a really good team, but our team, not one individual, but our team did a lot of really good things and that’s what helped us to move on in the series.
Gregor: Will you and the coaching staff sit down and watch the Colorado-St. Louis games together, or do you watch it yourself? And how do you approach that because there is still a chance you could face either one, do you have to scout both in the same game?
Woodcroft: Just for our staff because physically and mentally for players, a playoff series is very draining, we know that, but for coaching and for coaches we know that. In the interest in staying fresh, we did our work this morning, we’ve gone our separate ways, we’ll watch it separately and we’ll come in to discuss tomorrow morning, and we’ll see where we’re at. If there is a game seven or if Colorado wins the series tonight that will affect our preparations and our schedule as we move forward. We’ll watch it separately and then come together in the morning.
Gregor: You were on the San Jose coaching staff for many years including when you coached against Darryl Sutter on the LA Kings. While this was your first time as an NHL head coach, you had lots of experience against him as an assistant. Did you feel maybe more comfortable than maybe some people may have expected because you coached against him in the post-season before?
Woodcroft: Yeah. I would say even I would go back to I think 2007 when I was with Detroit. The Red Wings played Calgary in that first round, Darryl wasn’t the coach, he was general manager at the time but the team was fairly similar at the time. So if you include that series, there were a couple of series, LA, San Jose, so I had a good understanding of Darryl Sutter type teams, Darryl Sutter habits in terms of coaching style and what not.
And you’re right, it’s my first time as a head coach in the National Hockey League, but I’ve put a lot of work into that chance and it’s not my first time in the NHL or in an NHL post season. I have a lot of NHL playoff games under my belt in various capacities. I think that helped to prepare me personally. In the end my philosophy is making sure that we have the right people on the ice at the right time, and I think that we were able to do that at different times in the series. I stated at the beginning of the series that the team who stuck with it harder and longer than the other team was going to be to the team that emerged. And our team did that and that’s why I think that we are moving on to series number three.
Gregor: Having been with this group since February 10th, what impressed you most in the series win over Calgary?
Woodcroft: Well, in game number one, I thought the score was a little bit flattering. I was happy we came back, but I didn’t love our competition level on 50/50 pucks or our level of execution. I thought there were things that were a little bit concerning. Heading into the next game we had a hard meeting, a very hard meeting about what was going to be required to win a game. And that’s where our outlook goes, it’s not on the series as a whole, it’s about taking care of that day’s business, but specifically, the things that are going to be required to win a game.
To see us go out and win game two against really tough circumstances, I was really proud of that. And I knew in that moment that our players could do it. We had the necessary resolve and the necessary resiliency to best a team of Calgary’s calibre. And the trick was going to be that we had to continue to get better and to continue to stick with it. We knew Calgary was going to have their moments, but we wanted to make sure we did it harder, and we did it longer, and when you steer the conversation towards your own process, I think that results take care of themselves.
Gregor: What would be the thought process for you as the head coach to put a rookie like Dylan Holloway in the lineup for the next round?
Woodcroft: When you are talking about lineups you want to make sure that you have healthy and available players to pick from. You heard me say that through the playoff series here, healthy and available. And for Dylan, he’s healthy and available. He represents a certain type of ingredient. I feel quite comfortable with Dylan, the same way that I feel comfortable with Brad Malone, Devin Shore, Derick Brassard, other people who are not currently in the lineup. I feel good that I have an understanding of what they would bring to the table should we give them the tap on the shoulder.
For me, I’m quite comfortable with Dylan. I know exactly what he brings. I’ve coached him not only this year when he started playing professional hockey, but we can’t forget, he came in and spent a good six weeks with our team down in Bakersfield last year down the stretch and on our playoff run down there so I know exactly what Dylan Holloway brings to the table. I’m quite comfortable with him, I think he has a bright future in the National Hockey League. In terms of his availability to be put into the lineup, he is a healthy and available player that our coaching staff can puck if we so choose to.
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