The Day After 14.0: Oilers rally behind Kris Knoblauch for his first win as head coach

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
6 months ago
To say things have been normal in Edmonton for the last 48 hours would be far from what’s transpired.
After all, it’s not every November that a head coach who won 60 percent of his games behind the bench and took his team deep into the playoffs two consecutive years gets fired 13 games into the season.
But on Sunday morning, Connor McDavid got a text message the Oilers were firing head coach Jay Woodcroft, and his assistant, Dave Manson, much like others. The pair fell on the sword for a sloppy start, but make no mistake about it, they weren’t wearing it; The players were.
Whether it was McDavid, Leon Draisaitl or Darnell Nurse talking about how their poor play and the play of their teammates led to the dismissal, or Zach Hyman, Derek Ryan and company after the game, sending similar messages, it was clear the Oilers players not only didn’t see it coming but through reading between the lines, may not have supported the coaching change.
This is a group of players who aren’t dumb. They know how hockey works and what happens when teams with Cup-or-Bust aspirations get off to an uncharacteristically slow start. And if they didn’t, they do now.
Rest assured, this Oilers group wasn’t about to turn their back on their new coach, Kris Knoblauch, or his new assistant, Paul Coffey, spotted manning the bench Monday night with a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. No, they would put in the requisite work needed to secure a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders.


And when the dust settled, and Knoblauch went to the dressing room for a post-game speech, the players weren’t quite ready to let him leave quickly afterwards. They presented him with the game puck and turned him around to see his wife on a screen congratulating him on the victory.
“That was really nice of them to do,” Knoblauch said, smiling after the game.
Knoblauch’s first behind the bench could’ve taken a much harsher turn. After all, the Oilers coughed up a goal just 40 seconds into the game in a similar fashion to how other goals were allowed earlier this year.
“I was like, ‘Oh boy,'” he chuckled after the game. “I think we could’ve played it a little better, and they score off a slot shot one-timer, and it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not going to be so easy.’
“It wasn’t pretty at the beginning, but we got better as the game went on. That’s all we ask for, as a team, we get better each day.”
Meanwhile, McDavid said after the game that Knoblauch’s calm demeanour always stood out to him, dating back to their time with the OHL’s Erie Otters. Knoblauch put it on full display Monday night.
There were more than enough times when he could’ve brought out the blender, mixed the lines up, and tried to find a spark. He could’ve stapled McDavid and Draisaitl together, but he didn’t. It paid off dividends, as in the third, with the game tied, the Oilers scored back-to-back power play markers to grab hold of a 3-1 lead.
Instead, Knoblauch kept the lines together, save for having to fill in a spot on the Oilers’ third line vacant as Dylan Holloway left with an injury.
“We want guys to contribute. When we have success, it’s because of the team, and not just a few individuals,” Knoblauch said. “The only way to do that is to play everybody.
“That said, you often win when your best players are your best players. They have to have the flow of playing regularly. I think it will be different each time.”

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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