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Todd McLellan knew early Oilers would be contenders

Coach said things would be different following loss to Sabres in October

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- It didn't take long for Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan to sense things were going to be different this season. Three games in fact.

The Oilers can clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons with a win against the Los Angeles Kings at Rogers Place on Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; SNW, FS-W, NHL.TV). McLellan was asked Monday if there was a moment this season he knew Edmonton might be better than he thought, or better than outsiders expected.

"Standing here today, a moment I reflect on and look back at from our year was at Game 3 against [the] Buffalo [Sabres]," McLellan said. "When we played against Buffalo, I saw a lot of habits and a lot of body language and a lot of commitment issues that perhaps we had in the past."

The Oilers opened the season with back-to-back wins against the Calgary Flames before losing to the Sabres 6-2.

Following the defeat, McLellan took the unusual step -- after consulting with the Oilers leadership group -- to adjust Edmonton's monthly schedule of off-days at the last minute, and the players agreed to the change.

So on Monday, Oct. 17, a day after the loss to Buffalo, the Oilers had video sessions, meetings and a practice instead of the scheduled day off, which was switched to Oct. 19.

Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, clubs are required to inform players at the start of each month what their off days will be. Those days can only be changed for unseen and compelling circumstances.


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"As you recall, there was a big kerfuffle about switching a day off, that type of stuff," McLellan said. "That day off ended up not being a whipping-boy skate like everybody thought it was going to be. It was a structured practice where we clarified things again.

"We had as much work off the ice as we did on the ice and to me that set our team up to get going and that was going to be the tone we were going to have all year."

The Oilers responded by winning their next five games to start the season 7-1-0.

"We weren't going to let it slip," McLellan said. "From that point on, we had good stretches and bad stretches and by no means are we done here but it became very businesslike every day. We needed that.

"That was a moment. Did it turn the light on that we'd have a chance to fight for first place? No, but it was something that needed to happen."

With 91 points, the Oilers (41-25-9) are two points behind the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division. They are tied with the San Jose Sharks for second place.  

The Oilers play the Sharks on Thursday and the Ducks on Saturday at Rogers Place.

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