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Woodcroft’s Way

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Photo credit:Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
8 months ago
If there’s one thing we’re learning about Jay Woodcroft as he navigates his first stretch as a head coach in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers, it’s that he’s deft at getting his message across – just like Connor McDavid was scoring the shootout winner in a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Place last night.
In a game where the Oilers weren’t close to being at their best against the patchwork line-up mentor Todd McLellan iced but got the two points they wanted anyway, Woodcroft could’ve pissed and moaned about what his team didn’t do right against the makeshift Kings. Giving up two goals in 14 seconds comes to mind.
Woodcroft, 15-7-2 since taking over from Dave Tippett, instead accentuated the positive without ignoring what everybody had just seen with their own two eyes. But, on a night when the Oilers won their eighth straight game at home, McDavid hit 100 points and Leon Draisaitl scored his 49th goal, Woodcroft got his message across without putting too fine a point on the negative.
While what Woodcroft says and how he says it is minutiae for fans whose bottom line is wins because that’s the object of the exercise, it matters. Woodcroft playing it straight, staking out the reasonable middle ground between trying to buddy-up with his players and throwing them under the bus whenever he feels like it, is currency in the dressing room.
If a coach wants buy-in from his players in good times and when the chips are down and the money is on the table, this is his end of the deal. This is an investment.

WHAT HE SAID

“We won the game, and for us, that was the important thing,” said Woodcroft. “It was a whatever-it-takes attitude. When you’re not feeling 100 percent, the counterthrust to that is doing whatever it takes to get the two points, and it’s a full credit to the people in the locker room who found a way and did whatever it took to find the two points tonight.
“We’re pleased that we got the two points. We’ve got some stuff we have to work on, but very happy our players dug in and found a way to win.”
Things got dicey in the second period with the Oilers up by a pair on goals by Cody Ceci, Draisaitl and McDavid, who hit the 100-point mark for the fifth time with the 3-1 goal. Quinton Byfield cut the lead to 3-2 and Carl Grundstrom tied it 3-3 just 14 ticks later. The Oilers went from looking like they were in control to having a game on their hands that fast.
McLellan’s Kings weren’t done there. Playing without injured forwards @Dustin Brown, @Andreas Athanasiou, @Brendan Lemieux, Blake Lizotte and blueliners Drew Doughty and Matt Roy, the Kings outshot the Oilers 11-0 in the first half of the third period. They carried the play and were unlucky not to have the lead. 
“Teams are going to have moments and that team over there is competing for a playoff spot the exact same way we are,” said Woodcroft. “They did some good things, so you have to give the other team credit, but I’d also give our team credit. We might’ve bent, but we didn’t break. We didn’t have 60 minutes of perfect moments, or 65 minutes of perfect moments. In the end, we did what it took to find the two points. That’s a credit to our players.”
Woodcroft shortened his bench with the Kings making more of a game of it than it probably should have been, given all the holes in their line-up. Derick Brassard played 6:03. Josh Archibald played 7:56. How Woodcroft handled the situation and what he said about it post-game speaks to his even-handed approach.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“The players who perform, play,” Woodcroft said. “And we want to make sure there is a competition for ice time. Like I said earlier after the trade deadline, we’re going to use our eyes and we’re going to make decisions based on the real-time information that our players give us.”
No sugar-coating or when reasonable expectations aren’t met. At the same time, no righteous finger-wagging or showing anybody up for public consumption. Win or lose, I’m liking Woodcroft’s style. I’m guessing his players do too. 

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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