The Day After: Opportunity key as Oilers launch impressive comeback victory

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
1 year ago
Seven days is all it has taken for this Oilers team to look completely different.
After all, it had been that long since Jay Woodcroft got hired that he wrapped up his fourth game in spectacular fashion as his Edmonton Oilers beat the Ducks 7-3.
Top to bottom, things are looking different in Edmonton and it was on full display last night with seven players having multi-point nights.
Edmonton got down early giving up two powerplay goals off deflections where they wasn’t a whole lot different goaltender Mike Smith could do. The Oilers, however? Completely unfazed.
They kept their heads down and kept working. Despite being outplayed in the early minutes, the Oilers stuck to their game largely in thanks to the spine up the middle of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
But it was the Oilers second powerplay unit that kicked off a remarkable comeback. Late in the first, Evander Kane ripped a shot home making it a 2-1 game and in the third, Derek Ryan, Jesse Puljujarvi and Leon Draisaitl all got on the board.
That Ryan line wasn’t done, as Warren Foegele kicked things off in the second with a goal. While Draisaitl added a second and Zach Hyman made it 7-3 late, that third line was key for the Oilers comeback.
“I don’t know if you can put your thumb on the exact reason they’re having success, but I think they have the elements of a good line,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft after the game. “Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a 200-foot player that plays in every situation. He seems to make everybody around him better. Him in the middle of the rink, I feel really good about.
“Warren Foegele is a big body. we tasked him with upping his forecheck game and going to hard areas in the offensive zone. For me, Derek Ryan is a very subtle player. You watch him and some of the plays he makes, I think he values making hard plays.
“Those three together, I think they’ve got some mojo going right now and we’re thankful because we think they make us a deeper team.”
Deeper indeed. Since Woodcroft took over behind the bench, Foegele and Ryan both have four points with Nugent-Hopkins adding three of his own. They’ve been scoring at the right times, but have been strong shutting down play in their own zone too.
As the Oilers faltered their way through a tough December and January stretch where games were wasting away quickly, the Oilers seemed like there was no depth through this team.
Just a week after Woodcroft took over behind the bench, he’s taken a rag-tag group of depth players and made something out of them.
For Derek Ryan, having that opportunity to be involved has been key.
“It was just hard earlier in the year when you’re not playing much, you’re sitting on the bench and it’s pretty hard when you’re sitting there for 15, 20 minutes and you’re expected to go out there and contribute,” he said. “I don’t know, older legs, maybe it’s just me. But it’s hard.
“Those legs get stagnant and you don’t have the confidence to try to make a play. When the pucks going in, or you’re making plays and the line is scoring. That confidence kind of snowballs and helps with the game as well.”
No matter what happened then, one thing is clear now: everybody has a role, and everybody knows what’s expected of them. This rejuvenation of the Oilers is going to be ever so important with a tough slew of battles with some of the best in the league coming up.
Between now and the end of the month, Edmonton will play the likes of Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Florida and Carolina — four of the best teams in the entire NHL. Talk about a good litmus test.

What they’re saying…

Ducks turn in another clunker in lopsided loss to Oilers
Pat Verbeek stressed the need for evaluating everyone and everything when he was hired as the Ducks’ new general manager on Feb. 3, getting to know everyone and everything about his new organization. He certainly got an eyeful during the first two games of their three-game trip.
The Ducks couldn’t keep up with the opposition for the second night in a row, couldn’t play the sort of complete game they had played in the season’s first half and couldn’t build on early momentum created by two power-play goals in the first period against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
Verbeek watched the Ducks squander a two-goal lead, giving up five consecutive goals en route to a 7-3 loss, their third consecutive defeat to a Pacific Division team since he was named GM, and their fourth overall. The Ducks were thumped, 6-2, one night earlier by the Calgary Flames.
In each game, the Ducks failed to dictate the terms of the game despite credible starts. Their play was sound in the first period of Wednesday’s loss to the Flames, but they couldn’t score. They started well again Thursday, but the lead and the game slipped away in short order.
“It’s a matter of playing the same way every shift, every period, and for 60 minutes,” Ducks left wing Adam Henrique said. “When you’re stubborn in your game, in your details, that can solve a lot of things that lead to problems. I thought we came out and did a great job in the first period.
“We got a couple on the power play, which we didn’t (Wednesday) when we weren’t clicking. We fixed that, but then other areas were lacking as the game went on. Certainly, at this time of the year, down the stretch, you have to be able to play 60 minutes and have to keep it a tight game.” – Elliott Teaford, Orange County Register

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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