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FEATURE: Connecting the dots

"There's a little disconnect from the forwards and D. We just need to play together as a unit more," said Oilers forward Zack Kassian on Tuesday

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett was direct with his post-game assessment following Edmonton's 3-2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

"We're just playing a real disconnected game. Really disconnected," the coach expressed bluntly. "We're just not playing well as a group right now… We can't continue to play like that and feel like we're a good team."

Tuesday's full-pull practice at Rogers Place - which saw Connor McDavid (illness) and Kailer Yamamoto (maintenance) absent - was an opportunity for Tippett and Co. to re-calibrate the club.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Let's Get Physical 03.10.20

Before players put on their work boots, the group got together for a video session to specify what area of their game requires refinement.

Once the skates were on and laces tied, the team put it to practice. One drill included one line and one set of defenders simply playing with the puck in the offensive zone, as a five-man unit, orchestrating plays and schemes without pressure from any opposition.

When the session was all said and done, members of the Orange & Blue described the issue to the media and what needs to be done to re-connect the dots that were previously linked.

"There's a little disconnect from the forwards and D," Zack Kassian, speaking in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room, detailed.

"We just need to play together as a unit more. We talked about it in training camp: five up, five back. We have guys swinging where they're not supposed to, we're doing set breakouts we're not supposed to. It's a disconnect that we saw in the video. It's something we have to fix moving forward."

James Neal, the 820-game NHL veteran, is fully aware of the ebb and flow of a season, which can oscillate between strong play and poor performance. Sometimes the ability to execute can get unhinged but the team is well-aware of the solution to the current divide.

Video: RAW | Zack Kassian 03.10.20

"Every team goes through this, whether it's early in the season, whether it's going to the playoffs or the middle of the year," Neal, who missed all of February with an ankle injury but has since returned to the lineup, said.

"You're going to see maybe a little disconnect - whether it's your forwards disconnected with your D or even your forwards are disconnected with each other."

The Oilers have experienced an odd dichotomy of late, going 4-1-1 in their last six games and outscoring opponents 22-14 but being out-shot in five of those outings, owning a minus-83 shot differential.

The Columbus Blue Jackets put 22 more shots on goal than the Oilers on Saturday and Vegas doubled up on the club Monday with a 48-24 shot advantage.

"Everyone's trying to dial in their role and find their role within our lineup," Neal continued. "We're working on that. I think it's taken a few games here but I think we're starting to turn that. As forwards going over the game tape and watching our games back the last few days, we just need to get back and help our D out."

Video: RAW | James Neal 03.10.20

With just 12 games remaining on the 2019-20 regular-season schedule, rest and recovery have been prioritized. But practice days, like Tuesday, are critical in returning to form.

"When your team doesn't get a lot of practice time, there's video almost every day," Tippett said. "But you got to get on the ice. Sometimes it's just the ability to go on the ice and just do it. Be in the right position, stop in the right spot, get the puck at the right spot rather than just look at it on video.

"Those things we tried to work on today. We're just too disconnected, swinging all over the place and feeling like we want to get going and do something positive but it ends up being just a mess out there.

"Hopefully we got rid of some messes and we can start moving in the right direction."

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