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Oilers searching for offence

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

DALLAS, TX - Following their 2-0 loss in Nashville on Saturday night, Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan cited the power play as one reason for lack of offensive production.

“Our offence has to get better and a lot of that has to do with our power play,” said McLellan. “I thought our power play sucked the life out of us so that was disappointing.”

McLellan said they were doing some of the right things on the man advantage, but “poor execution” and “poor passing” resulted in the team going 0-for-5. Following a day off on Sunday, the Oilers were back to work at practice on Monday in Dallas and offensive production and power-play improvement were the emphasis.

“I think our team will score. I really do. On my list of concerns coming in as coach, that was not at the top of the list by any means,” said McLellan. “Once we get a little more rhythm and execution on the power play, get a sense of where we need to be and what we’re trying to accomplish, we’ll have more opportunities there to score. (We need to) sort out some things in the offensive zone.”

McLellan had his team spend a lot of time working in the offensive zone during Monday’s practice. There was an emphasis on not only getting pucks on net, but regaining possession after the first chance and prolonging zone time and pressure.

“We’re trying to be perfect right now, and when we looked at the goals that were scored Saturday night 5-on-5 there were very few perfect ones around the league. A lot of them were on secondary opportunities and basically garbage-type goals,” said McLellan. “Our guys have to understand that’s usually the way it’s going to happen. It will get better in that area. We need to score to win, or at least get a point, and it’s certainly a goal of ours (Tuesday) night.”

Against Dallas on Tuesday, the Oilers will attempt to light the lamp a few more times and do so with second and third chances. Sometimes a couple greasy goals are exactly what the doctor ordered to cure a lack of offence.

“We didn’t have lots of chances, we had lots of shots the last two games,” said Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “When it comes to scoring, we’ve just got to find a way to bear down and get those second and third opportunities then just battle for the loose pucks and get some goals out of that.”

In two games, the Oilers have scored only once. As of the end of Sunday night’s games, only three teams in the NHL have less than two goals for (Edmonton, Pittsburgh and Anaheim). The slow start offensively is a little surprising, given their success in exhibition. The Oilers led the Western Conference in pre-season scoring with 25 goals. That total was also good for fifth in the league.

Photo by Ryan Hrycun.

“It’s something that should come easier than it has the past couple games,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “I think in the pre-season we did a good job of finding ways to score goals. We put a lot of pucks on net the last couple games but I think Todd went over it today that we’ve got to get second and third chances. That’s how we’re going to score.”

To help prod the offence along, McLellan has made some changes to the team’s forward lines. After making the switch mid-game in Nashville, the coach kept Connor McDavid and Nail Yakupov together with Benoit Pouliot.

“When the team isn’t scoring, we have to make a change,” said McLellan. “It’s Yak’s chance to play with Connor and Benny Pouliot. I thought when we made that change in Nashville, there was a little skip in their stride, they were maybe a little quicker, a little more o-zone time, not many more chances but a little more o-zone time.”

McDavid is searching for his first NHL goal but isn’t concerned that it hasn’t come in the first two games. He’s more focused on the team offence than individual success.

“It doesn’t matter who is scoring the goals,” said the rookie centre. “It’s a team game and we’ve got to be scoring goals as a team. It doesn’t matter who is scoring. Obviously, that’s what you want to do and that’s kind of what my job is. I’ve got to start doing that, but it’s still early and we’re just trying to get everything figured out.”

Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Teddy Purcell were together on Monday, along with Lauri Korpikoski, Anton Lander and Anton Slepyshev. The fourth line remained a mix of Matt Hendricks, Luke Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer on the wing with Mark Letestu up the middle.

The Oilers are hoping the tweaks, the video study and the lessons at practice will lead to more red lights for the blue and orange, starting Tuesday in Dallas.

“As a team, we’ve done some good stuff and, as a team, we’ve done some negative stuff,” said McDavid. “In this league, it’s only a matter of one or two mistakes and being able to capitalize on that. It’s what you do with those chances. Lately, we just haven’t been putting them in and they’ve been kind of capitalizing on our mistakes. We’ll figure it out.”

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