The Edmonton Oilers have only played three games under Jay Woodcroft, but they’ve walked out with three wins.
They looked rejuvenated and played a strong game against the New York Islanders, before completely dominating the San Jose Sharks. Last night in their 5-2 win over the LA Kings, it was a different kind of win.
They got down 1-0 early after a Mike Smith gaffe led to a goal against. Just two weeks ago, that would’ve likely meant game over for the Oilers. They didn’t seem to have the ability to stay in the game, let alone come back and win them.
But last night? Last night was different. The Oilers got down on the scoreboard, but never on themselves. It allowed Connor McDavid, Kailer Yamamoto and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to score big goals that would lead to the win.
“We’ve asked everyone to up their work rate, we’re asking the team to play a certain style, a demanding style, and we’re very happy the team is seeing results,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft after the game. “That’s a good team character win.
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“We didn’t score the first goal of the game, nobody hung their heads. We found a way to claw back and there wasn’t a lot of real estate out there. You had to fight for your space and those type of games are not easy to win. To see the effort level put forth by our players, that was very impressive.”
Edmonton’s getting the clear coaching bump early on in the Woodcroft era, but the most noticable thing so far has been the teams commitment to playing in all three zones. They’re hard on the forecheck. They’re aggressive in the neutral zone, and they’ve been stout in their own zone.
No longer are they passive on the blueline, instead playing an aggressive style of hockey that’s creating turnovers and play going the other way. Markus Niemelainen stepping up at the blueline like on this play is a great example.
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Edmonton’s ability to dictate play and not be passengers may be enough to keep the team trending in the right direction.
McDavid’s goal was pure grit, a “May-type goal,” as described by Woodcroft. The second goal, scored by Nugent-Hopkins, started on the forecheck and the player getting to the front of the net. Yamamoto’s goal, the eventual game-winner, was again in thanks to getting a puck in deep and the player getting to the front of the net.
While not the prettiest goals, they’re ones the Oilers haven’t scored for some time.
“We stayed patient in our game and we didn’t let it get away from us when we were down 1 there,” said Mike Smith after the game. “Banged in a gritty one in the second, and then just kind of stuck with it.
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“There was never really any panic in our game. It seemed like it was going to be who made the last mistake… the other team was going to win the game. It was a valiant effort by our group. we stuck with it and found a way to win.”
Calm, cool and collected. All business.
These were some massive wins here for the Oilers, especially the last two coming against Pacific Division foes in the Sharks and Kings. Edmonton’s schedule stays tough moving forward, too.
They got Anaheim at home on Thursday, Winnipeg on the road Saturday, then Minnesota at home Sunday. Then, Edmonton embarks on a tough Eastern Conference swing against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Chicago Blackhawks.
None of these games will be gimmies and will be a great litmus test for Woodcroft and co.
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Backhanders…

  • Edmonton opted to go 11F/7D for the third game in a row, but swapped out Tyler Benson for Devin Shore on the “fourth line.” Shore, however, played just 2:57 of ice-time all night with his last shift coming 3:43 into the second period. He took four shifts. Woodcroft is trying to get a feel for what he has and has deployed various players in different areas, like Draisaitl on the penalty kill, for example, but these few minutes for Shore can’t be a good sign for him.
  • Now three games into the Woodcroft era, here’s the Oilers goals scored by forward line/d pairing:
    D2
    F1
    PP1F3
    D1
    F1F1
    F3
    F2
    F1
    F2
  • Drew Doughty got honoured before the game for playing in his 1000th NHL game, and he had a hilarious speech before the game even started. https://twitter.com/zjlaing/status/1493794895202377729

What they’re saying…

Kings’ pre-break momentum ends with loss to Oilers
LOS ANGELES — The Kings were back on the job Tuesday night, but they were unable to pick up where they left off before their extended break, falling to the Edmonton Oilers, 5-2, at Crypto.com Arena.
In their first game since Feb. 2, the Kings saw their six-game points streak snapped. Meanwhile, Edmonton improved to 3-0-0 under interim coach Jay Woodcroft.
Winger Arthur Kaliyev and center Phillip Danault scored for the Kings, while Cal Petersen made 24 saves.
Centers Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and winger Kailer Yamamoto scored for Edmonton, the latter getting the game-winner. Wingers Zach Hyman and Evander Kane each added an empty-net goal, and Mike Smith had 30 saves.
The Kings were held scoreless on five power-play opportunities, but also successfully killed all four penalties they took.
“We definitely didn’t play our best. The first period was OK, the second wasn’t very good and then the third, I don’t even know,” defenseman Drew Doughty said.
While Edmonton was making a coaching change and then accumulating a pair of victories, the Kings had only been practicing.
“You don’t play Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in practice when they’re trying 100 percent, so there’s a challenge right away,” Doughty said.
Hyman and Kane scored 67 seconds apart, both into the vacated cage in the waning moments of the match.
Edmonton went ahead for good with 4:46 left after the Kings scrambled slightly to recover from a defender breaking his stick. Draisaitl set up below the goal line and dished the puck in front to Yamamoto, who popped it past Petersen. The Kings later sustained some pressure and had a pair of strong opportunities, but could not extend the game. – Andrew Knoll, Los Angeles Daily News

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 [email protected]