Jay Woodcroft: Straight Goods
Photo credit:Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
I was sitting around this morning thinking about how the Edmonton Oilers might approach the final two games of their regular season – tonight in Denver with the Colorado Avalanche and Thursday at Rogers Place against the San Jose Sharks – before the playoffs begin.
There’s still home ice to be decided, so there’s plenty of reason to be firmly in the just-win camp. That should be somewhat easier tonight because the Avalanche are banged up on the blueline with Cale Makar, Josh Manson, and Bowen Byram on the limp. I’m not saying easy given how the Avs have had the better of the Oilers dating back to last season, but easier. Count me among those who believe the Oilers just need to play their game tonight to win.
There are those who believe the most important thing now is making sure Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, everybody for that matter, stays healthy. On his show on TSN 1260 this morning, host Dustin Nielson wrapped things up by saying, “As long as they stay healthy, I don’t care what else happens.” I don’t know how a team can play in a way that controls that, but I get the sentiment. Some might consider sitting out McDavid and Draisaitl or at least cutting back their minutes – I wouldn’t.
Then, there’s Jay Woodcroft, who always seems to start with common sense, even though it’s not always that common, and go from there. Like you, I’m not inside the dressing room, but from arm’s length, it seems to me one of the things – aside from having the two best players on the planet in his line-up – that make this coach as successful as he’s been since taking over the bench from Dave Tippett is he deals the straight goods when he makes himself available to reporters. No sales job. No B.S.
WHAT HE SAID
Feb 23, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft (right) talks to linesman Michel Cormier (76) and referee Graham Skilliter (24) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the second period at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
From where I sit, it’s not difficult to understand why Woodcroft has been an outrageously good 74-32-12 (.678) since taking over from Tippett. Coaching isn’t rocket science and he doesn’t come off as somebody trying to make it that. No gimmicks. I heard another example of that as Woodcroft answered questions about getting ready for the playoffs Monday.
“I think we have a humble group, so we understand how good the NHL is,” Woodcroft said. “The bottom line is next week, starting on Monday, the playoffs begin. The league narrows from 32 teams to 16, so no matter where you are in the conference seeding, you’re going to draw a really good team.
“I think we’ve played well here post-Christmas (30-8-7), but I would say that we are very humble. At the same time, we’re pretty purposeful, so we want to make sure that we finish as high as we possibly can in the standings, and we have a good team that is also looking to do the very same thing. It should be a good game between two teams that know each other well.
“They’re the defending champs for a reason. I think teams like this typically bring out the best in our team, so I’m looking forward to see what we bring tonight.”
Understated as always, is Woodcroft. Players at the NHL level don’t want or need a coach trying to rev things up with bold talk before the puck drops. They know what’s expected of them and having a guy behind the bench smart enough to know that can be half the battle.
WHILE I’M AT IT
It’s game 800 for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tonight. He’ll face the Avalanche with a career-best 37-66-103 this season. RNH is tied with Ryan Smyth for eighth place in franchise scoring with 631 points (233-398-661).
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