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MAIN CAMP: Oilers primary goal is to reduce goals against

"If we want to play in the playoffs, we have to bring that number down," said Oilers Captain Connor McDavid

by Paul Gazzola / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - The Oilers allowed 271 goals against in the 2018-19 season.

Goal No. 1 for the club in the '19-20 season is to reduce that number.

Oilers Head Coach Dave Tippett has been preaching it since he took over the coaching gig and reaffirmed it on Day 1 of Main Camp, where 54 players converged at Rogers Place for fitness testing and medicals to signal the beginning of the campaign.

Tippett elaborated on how he intends to facilitate the reduction, which involves protecting and supporting the play as a five-man unit in all areas of the ice.

Video: MAIN CAMP | Dave Tippett 09.12.19

"I think in today's game, you have to have five people involved in the attack," Tippett began. "Whether you're on offence or defending, you have to have numbers. That's the only way you can survive in the League right now. 

"Vice versa, once you turn the puck over and it changes hands in the offensive zone, we want five back. It won't be defencemen defending and forwards on the offence. We'll work together as a group of five on the ice."

Edmonton gave up the sixth-most goals against in '18-19 and possessed a minus-42 goal differential, placing them 25th in the League in that regard. 

As the players made their initial media rounds in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room on Thursday, the buy-in was apparent. 

"It's on the goalies, it's on the D, it's on the forwards," said Oilers Captain Connor McDavid, who orchestrated a 41-goal, 116-point season last year. 

"That's been a message that's been shared for a couple of years now. It's one that we have to buy into."

Darnell Nurse, who is expected to be paired in a shutdown role alongside Adam Larsson to begin the season, is keen on limiting chances against offensively. The 24-year-old takes pride in guarding the blueline and wants to be a leader defensively. 

"Any time you hear 'goals against' as a Dman, that hits home with you," Nurse said.

"First and foremost, that's our job: to try to keep pucks out of the net."

Offensively, Edmonton struck 229 times last year, ranking 20th in goals for and averaging 2.79 tallies per game.

Video: MAIN CAMP | Darnell Nurse 09.12.19

"We score enough goals to be up there with any of the teams in the League," Nurse continued. "We have that amount of offensive firepower. But we need to keep pucks out of the net and that starts with us on the back end. 

"I look at myself as someone who needs to be better in that department."

But Nurse isn't the only one taking ownership of limiting the red lamps against this season. Leon Draisaitl also echoed the sentiment.

"I think we're the first group to admit that we have to be better defensively and we have to get that number way down to have a chance at playing in the playoffs," the 50-goal scorer and 105-point getter said. 

"We're all willing to do that and accepting that. It's just a matter of doing it now."

Many of the players expressed their belief in Tippett's concerted defensive emphasis and that it won't impede offence. The coach is known for his attention to detail and ability to communicate ideas to his player personnel.

Video: MAIN CAMP | Connor McDavid 09.12.19

Sam Gagner, who was with Tippett during the 2014-15 season in Arizona, articulated how the new Oilers coach operates.

"He's a guy who is pretty calm and patient behind the bench," Gagner said. "He lets guys play offence but he's focused on structure and making sure guys check hard as well. It's going to help us."

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the two-way centre who's navigated the past few seasons by adhering to the defensive side of the play while also growing his numbers offensively, thinks Tippett's organization will help the club have a fallback plan in games that go sideways.

"If we start to struggle, if we don't have success, we can stick within that structure," Nugent-Hopkins said. "He's going to make sure we do. Then we can play with success from there."

The No. 1 goal heading into the season has been set. The players believe achieving it can lead them back to the postseason.

"If we want to play in the playoffs, we have to bring that number down," said McDavid.

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