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Oilers coach McLellan on standards, injuries, success

by Dan Rosen

NEW YORK -- Occasionally the answer to a question leads to a bigger question. That's what happened with Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan before the game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

McLellan was answering a question about Edmonton's game Monday against the Boston Bruins, one in which the Oilers were outshot 49-24 but still managed to win 4-3 in overtime.

"Sometimes your goaltender is allowed to win you games," McLellan told "We've had that a few times this year. It's nice to know that you've got that in your bag somewhere, but the team itself didn't play up to what our standards have been this far."

Standards. That was the key word. That was the buzz word.

The Oilers have standards that they're trying to play up to under McLellan, but what are they? It's a fair question considering Edmonton is coming from rock bottom but was expected to show marked improvement this season.

How much improvement is expected? Is a six-game winning streak like the one the Oilers just had a sign that they're for real, that they should be a legitimate contender for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season?

"That hasn't been determined yet," McLellan said.

What determines it? Again, what are the standards the Oilers are trying to follow to get there? Are they different from other teams considering Edmonton has been so bad for so long and McLellan is a new coach and Peter Chiarelli a new GM?

So, yes, McLellan was asked to define the standards for the Oilers. He responded by essentially saying they're still in the baby-steps era, "trying to define what's acceptable and what's unacceptable.

"We're still determining what are standards are," he concluded.

That's also fair because it's been increasingly difficult for McLellan to get a firm grip on his new team because he hasn't had his full lineup in any game this season.

Jordan Eberle started the season on injured reserve. Before he could come back, rookie center Connor McDavid broke his clavicle and has been out of the lineup since Nov. 6.

Since McDavid's injury, his linemates, Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot, have gone out of the lineup with injuries. Defenseman Oscar Klefbom is also out with an injury.

Rob Klinkhammer returned Tuesday after missing 21 games but could be out again after apparently tweaking the same ankle injury against the Rangers. Iiro Pakarinen didn't return after the first period against New York because of an injury. Each is questionable for the game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday.

In addition, Justin Schultz missed 14 games with an injury earlier in the season. Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse, rookies who have become power players in the lineup, started the season in the American Hockey League.

"We don't know what we are yet," McLellan said.

McLellan said McDavid could be back around the All-Star break next month. Yakupov is likely to return sometime shortly after the NHL's Christmas break. Klefbom and Pouliot could be back sooner.

"Once we get all of it in, we'll see where our standards go and what we have," McLellan said. "It would be nice to know what we have. We'll get that chance somewhere down the road."

For now, the Oilers are trying to figure it out with what they've got. It's been better than it has been in a long time in Edmonton, so much so that McLellan thinks they're getting closer to figuring it out even without the full lineup in place.

The Oilers' overtime win against the Bruins was a perfect example.

Cam Talbot pretty much stole it for them, but the Oilers of the past likely would have folded their hand early in that game. It could have been a blowout loss even with a scintillating performance from their goaltender.

Instead, they hung in, stuck with it and found a way to get a win. It was their sixth in a row, a streak that ended with a 4-2 loss to the Rangers.

"The players have been tremendous," said McLellan, who sounded like a proud father of young kids who are doing good things for the first time. "They've been so receptive. They're wide-eyed. They're willing to try things. Frustration creeps in, and then they settle down. They've given the fans in Edmonton, the coaching staff and management team, and each other an honest effort for most of the 32 games. We've had some duds, where we've laid eggs, but there isn't a team in the League that hasn't done that 32 games into the season.

"We're still determining what our standards are, but the players come to the rink expecting a lot from each other, which is important. Our belief system is slowly getting stronger. They believe they have a chance to win now and they stay in games a lot longer."


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