The Oilers continue to bond and show they're a close group on long road trip
/ EdmontonOilers.com Head Writer
TAMPA, FL - It's a long road trip, but it doesn't all have to be a grind.
Heading into any long road trip, you'll hear players around the League talk about it being a "bonding" opportunity. Edmonton is in the midst of a road trip spanning 12 days and containing six games. That's plenty of bus rides, practice time, pre and post-game meals, as well as off-days to hang out with your teammates.
As you watch the team interact on the road, it's apparent this is a tight-knit group that is having a lot of fun - three straight wins adding to that.
There is a palpable sense of camaraderie around the Oilers right now.
"I think we've got a good group that's coming together at the right time in the season," said Oilers veteran winger Matt Hendricks. "You bring up 'camaraderie' and I think that's a good word for our group. We've got a great team, a great feel in the locker room and everybody is recognizing their role on our team and we're playing pretty good hockey."
With the Oilers of late, we've seen them stick up for each other physically - like Patrick Maroon versus Philadelphia, for example. They were also able to weather a storm on an off night against one of the League's best in Chicago - thanks largely to their superb goaltender: Cam Talbot. But it still gets marked down in their minds as a "team win."
This road trip provides even more of an opportunity for the players to get together, have a little fun and continue to go about their on-ice business.
"The closer your team is the more you trust each other and the more you want to compete for that guy beside you," said Oilers rookie winger Drake Caggiula. "If guys don't have that same trust within each other and maybe the team doesn't get along, it makes it hard for guys to play for that guy sitting next to them. I think our team is really close and that definitely will help down the stretch run."
Defenceman Darnell Nurse continues to close in on his return from injury, but being around the team and practicing with them lately he has seen the closeness and the energy inside the room.
"It's a lot of fun to be around the boys right now, it's a lot of fun in the room and on the ice," said Nurse. "Obviously, we've had success this year and it's got to continue with our work habits and stuff like that. It's been a great feeling and it's a great group of guys to be with all the time."
The Oilers got their competitive juices flowing near the end of Monday's practice in Tampa by pitting power play and penalty kill against one another in a short, quasi split-squad scrimmage.
"Power play and penalty kill is always a fun way to end practice," said Hendricks. The power play got the better of the penalty kill.
Head Coach Todd McLellan awarded Hendricks a shorthanded penalty shot with the chance to tie, but Talbot made the save. The players seemed to enjoy it.
"I think when you get the competitive edge going and when guys are competing and making it hard on each other it turns out well for games," said Caggiula. "It gets those competitive juices flowing but at the same time, guys were having fun and keeping it loose. There's a happy medium there and the guys do a good job with that."
Caggiula and Hendricks were all smiles when they got into a little play fight late in practice after all the work was done.
"I'm going to have to learn how to fight," Caggiula laughed.
That was another sign of bonding, this amongst the older and younger players.
"The older guys are really good with the younger guys," said Caggiula. "You don't feel any distance between guys. It's been really good. They've been really good to the younger guys and have helped us out. We have some fun out there."
There is also a more serious side to the camaraderie being built.
"The accountability goes up," said Hendricks. "We're holding each other more accountable than in past seasons and that's very important. It starts with the coaching staff and filters down to the leadership core and onto every guy in our room. I think that's helping our team grow and become a team that can play with any team in the League."