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Weekes: Young Oilers are getting the message

by Kevin Weekes
The game Saturday night between the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers is a great example of what a young, talented team can do if it isn't in awe of its competition.

The Blackhawks rolled into Edmonton as the League's best team. They were coming off a bad loss to the Calgary Flames the night before, so all signs pointed toward a deep, complete, experienced team rolling through the Oilers. After all, the Blackhawks had just beaten the Oilers 6-3 in Chicago six days earlier.

The Oilers weren't showing any reason to think they'd be able to withstand the Blackhawks attack. Their blue line was decimated, with Cam Barker, Andy Sutton, Corey Potter and Ryan Whitney out with injuries.

It all added up to an easy Blackhawks victory. Right? Wrong.

Oilers coach Tom Renney had a game plan -- don't be in awe of your opposition. The plan worked to perfection, as the Oilers won 9-2 and never took their foot off the gas.

When the young Oilers were on their six-game road trip, they seemed, at times, to be in awe of the situation, which is understandable. They went 2-4-0 on the trip. But against Detroit and Boston and Chicago, when you're up against players you idolized or playing in a tough building for the first time, young players can tend to get on their heels and forget they are just as talented as anyone else on the ice.

Renney's message was simple: "Let these guys be in awe of you. Play in their end as much as possible."

"Let these guys be in awe of you. Play in their end as much as possible."
-- Oilers coach Tom Renney's pregame message to the team

It worked perfectly.

When a team scores nine goals, goaltending tends to go unnoticed, but Nikolai Khabibulin was as good as he's been all year. He made 34 saves. Heck, the Blackhawks had more shots on goal than the Oilers did.

The Oilers got back to the way they were playing when they started off hot. Everyone knows they have the talent, the speed and can make plays. But on the road, they were lacking a bit defensively. Back in their building against a team that just handed them their lunch, that all changed. They weren't cheating. They were playing well defensively. No one was leaving the zone early, centermen were coming down low for support, they always had a third guy high in the zone. It was a total team effort.

They go back home and do the right things.

Why is it that young teams go through this?

It's because they are young and forget the fact this isn't the minor leagues anymore. Some of them come out of good programs in minors or Europe or junior where there's default thinking about what to do once you get under pressure, when you're down one or down three. They start thinking, "I was a big point producer at North Dakota or I was a big scorer at Red Deer." We've all been there, but sometimes we just lose sight of the fact that those three letters -- NHL -- mean you can't do what you did in the minors anymore.

How good can this team be this year? It's up to them. The sky's the limit.

It certainly won't be for lack of talent. Before our CBC game with the Rangers and Canadiens, Cassie Campbell interviewed Rangers coach John Tortorella. She asked, "How have you guys been able to play so well with the injuries to your blue line (Marc Staal, Michael Sauer)?"

(John) Tortorella said everyone's in the same boat. Look at the Habs. Everyone's hurt, they have a ton of young guys. At the end of the day, we have to go play. Sure it's something we're battling. We have to go play.

You're going to have different challenges. That Edmonton game is a great example. Facing injuries and a tough opponent, they didn't make excuses. They found a way to drill down and win.
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