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FEATURE: Tippett, Holland voice optimism ahead of season opener

"I think we're a very motivated group," Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett said

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Hockey's back.

On Wednesday, it returns in orange & blue as the Oilers are set to open the 2019-20 regular season at Rogers Place against their Pacific Division rivals the Vancouver Canucks.

This year's Oilers squad has a different complexion than last, given all the new changes to management, coaching and player personnel.

Video: RAW | Ken Holland 10.01.19

Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett will stand behind the bench for what will be his 15th season as a National Hockey League bench boss, being joined by Assistant Coaches Jim Playfair, Glen Gulutzan and Brian Wiseman.

Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland, meanwhile, will venture into his 23rd season as an NHL general manager.

New players were added to the Oilers mix in forwards James Neal, Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Nygard, Gaëtan Haas, Josh Archibald, Riley Sheahan and Patrick Russell.

A veteran goaltender is entering the fold alongside Mikko Koskinen in Mike Smith, who believes he and his puck-transporting style of play will help the club's goal prevention.

On the back end, Darnell Nurse and Adam Larsson have been tasked with being the squad's top shutdown pair, Oscar Klefbom and Ethan Bear will look to help offensively while Kris Russell and Matt Benning round out the D core.

The days of judging a team by paper are over and Tippett believes the 23 skaters on the Oilers roster will be driven to prove to the hockey world that they can be competitive in '19-20.

"I think we're a very motivated group," Tippett said on Monday.

Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 10.01.19

"I don't think there's a lot of people picking us to do much. I think our group feels that. I like some of the new energy we have and the pace of our play has picked up from last year's group. There's lots of growth left but I like where we're at."

Tippett's mandate since Day 1 has been to reduce goals against. The Oilers coach is optimistic a trio of factors will play a role in that: team save percentage, penalty killing and goaltending.

"We've made some steps in Camp to put things in place to help our goals against," Tippett said. "The personnel we brought in to penalty kill have a mindset that they're penalty killers. They're not just other guys doing it because there's nobody else here to do it; they're penalty killers.

"Both goalies have worked hard. They're both ready to play and they'll both get a chance to play. Hopefully, our goals against, with the combination of all three of playing a better defending game, better penalty killing and better goaltending leads to a better goals against."

Video: RAW | Oscar Klefbom 10.01.19

Holland addressed the media on Tuesday and offered his perspective of the club, maintaining an element of optimism ahead of Game 1.

"In the first game of the year, there's always excitement, optimism and anticipation for where we are," Holland said.

"I think that we're pretty pleased with Training Camp. You always would like to have some players play a little better but I think we had some players that surprised us. We felt like we had some difficult decisions to make when we put the roster together."

Both Tippett and Holland are well-aware that things change over the course of an 82-game schedule and that they will gain a better understanding of their team as the season progresses.

"Ever-evolving," Tippett said of his team dynamic. "And it's going to continue to evolve."

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