EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan has preached a theme with his players since the pre-season. Hold onto your hands.
The bench boss loves analogies, and he uses this poker reference to tell his players to not fold their hands when behind in games or facing adversity. It’s messaging that the Oilers have bought into just over a month into the 2015-16 season.
|Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers |
The Oilers sit at 5-9-0 on the season, and the club knows that record is not good enough to compete in the Pacific Division, in which they currently sit in sixth. The Oilers do, however, see positives through the first stretch of the season.
Their last four losses have all been by a lone goal to teams with a combined record of 28-16-3 (through November 6). Of those four opponents, only Calgary has a losing record (4-9-1).
The Oilers were 4-8-1 on November 7 last season. However, this year, their nine losses have been by a combined 15 goals (1.67 per game). Last year, the margin of defeat was much wider through nine losses (24 goals, 2.67 per game).
The Oilers have played close to some of the league’s best just over one month into the season. But for the Oilers players, that’s not good enough.
“We want to win hockey games,” said Oilers winger Matt Hendricks after a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night. “We thought we were there, we thought we had chances to score tonight. We just didn’t do it and it’s hard to swallow right now. There are a lot of guys who are upset. The positivity is still in this group, definitely, but we want to win these games more than we lose them.”
Following the loss to Pittsburgh, the team’s fourth one-goal loss this season, McLellan drew upon the positives but knows it’s time for the team to take the next step.
“I don’t want us to accept losing, but the approach to the game, the effort, the build throughout the night… the holding onto our hands, the resiliency are all real positives for us. But I don’t want us to acknowledge that losing is fine, because it isn’t,” said McLellan. “There were some good things we did.”
Edmonton has shown this season an ability to come back in games or play with the best in the league.
The Oilers downed Vancouver 2-1 in overtime on the road, then came home to hand Detroit a 3-1 loss. Edmonton tied their game with Los Angeles in the third and came a video review away from tying again with 3.8 seconds left, but fell 3-2.
|Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers |
In Minnesota, the Oilers spotted the Wild a 2-0 lead before rallying to make it 3-2 in their favour in the third. However, the Wild were able to edge Edmonton 4-3.
Their comeback skills worked in their next game, against Montreal, as they rallied from down 3-0 to defeat one of the league’s best 4-3.
Again, they spotted their opponent a multi-goal lead against Calgary but they somehow managed to come back again and lose by one. And on Friday, Pittsburgh came to Edmonton as one of the league’s hottest teams but they had to escape by one goal.
As a young team learning how to win with a new coaching staff, one of the first steps is to prove you can play with the better teams in the league. You prove you can come back when facing adversity, you build confidence and then you transition the close games into wins.
“A great example of that is the Montreal game,” said Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom. “I think it’s like how Todd says, we never want to fold our hands. That’s a focus we need to have the full season. We’ve had a lot of good third periods so far but we’ve got to just stick with it and play until the whistle blows.”
Klefbom, like the rest of the Oilers players, knows it’s a long season and there is still time to take that next step towards being a competitive club.
“We’ve got to stay calm,” he said. “It’s a lot of games still. Hopefully it’s going to turn around. You start to play good against teams that are very hot in the league and stick with it and get more pucks to the net. Right now, the goaltending is really good for us. It’s up to the offensive guys on this team right now.”
The Oilers are on the road this week and the opponents won’t make winning any easier, but the club has shown they can play with some of the best. Their first game comes against the Chicago Blackhawks and then it’s off to Anaheim (who has won three straight as of Friday) and then they close out the road trip in Arizona and Los Angeles.
The Oilers continue to hold their hand, show resiliency and put in the hard work. Next up: reaping the reward and closing out wins.