The Oilers escaped Carolina on Sunday night with a narrow, 2-1 victory. Along with the points and the win, Edmonton took away something else from that game. It’s something that will help this team, these players and the organization moving into the end of this season and on to the next.
The Oilers are 9-4-3 in their last 16 games and a noticeable difference in the team’s play, other than excellent goaltending, is how they’ve come together and are playing for each other.
“Keeping the puck out of our net, number one,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said today when asked what’s been the key to success during this stretch. “I think a real commitment to that togetherness as a team and fighting on even knowing that we’re out of it. I think that’s an extremely hard thing to do. It takes a very high level of commitment and the players are doing that.”
A perfect example of this ‘togetherness’ happened in the second period of that game in Carolina. Hurricanes defenceman Brett Bellemore played the puck behind the Carolina net and Oilers forward Matt Hendricks
delivered a punishing check on the opponent.
PRACTICE RAW | Hendricks | PRACTICE RAW | Justin Schultz | PRACTICE RAW | Dallas Eakins
Ron Hainsey immediately attempted to fight Hendricks and the Oilers forward was then jumped from behind by Bellemore. Holding his own against two combatants, Hendricks was aided swiftly by Nail Yakupov. The young, skilled forward flew in and tackled Bellemore into the net. Oilers defenceman Mark Fraser was not far behind either.
“Definitely if it’s a one-on-one battle, I should be able to take care of myself for the most part unless it’s one of the big heavies in the league,” Hendricks said. “Yak saw two guys jumping on me at once and, as any good teammate would do, he came to the rescue.”
|Photo by Getty Images |
It may not seem like a big deal. It’s just teammates helping teammates. But for the Oilers, this kind of event signals a change in mentality for the team.
“I think we’re night and day from the start of the season,” Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins said. “At the start of the year, we would have scrums and it was disturbing to me that there would be a couple of guys in there and three other guys standing around the outside and it was something that was addressed and I think our guys have responded well. It isn’t about going in there and swinging and fighting. It’s that pack mentality of, if one of us is in there, we’re all in there.”
When once there was some hesitation or just a lack of response from teammates, the Oilers are seeing more and more examples of players, like Yakupov, fighting for their teammates.
“I loved Yak’s response,” Eakins said. “We’ve had responses from other guys that it’s usually not their, so called, job to do that. But, for me, it’s everybody’s job to stand together and show the other team that we’re united in the fight.”
It’s not just about fighting or jumping in on a scrum. It’s more about changing the attitude and culture of a locker room. The team appears to be buying into the system changes, into playing more of a defensive and team game and now they’re buying into each other.
"That’s what I’m talking about, this team coming together,” Eakins said after the game in Carolina. “They care about each other. They’re working hard with each other on the ice. The guys are in…”
The Oilers still have a ways to go. They’ve been outshot in the majority of the games during this 16-game stretch and are still last in the Western Conference, due to a rough start to the season. However, there are positive signs moving forward as the dressing room is beginning to show more toughness and a will to fight for one another.
“It’s a work in progress,” Hendricks said. “Guys are younger and learning the ropes a little bit when it comes to that part of the game but yeah, I think the most important thing is we’re starting to gel. We’re starting to really come together as a group, we’re sticking up for each other, it’s more of a swarm mentality and more of a pack mentality.”