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Oilers show improvement in going to the net

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

A noticeable improvement in the Oilers play over the course of their last few games has been their willingness to go to the net, leading to offensive production.

Mark Arcobello (right) and Matt Hendricks celebrate a goal against Dallas. Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

Take Sunday’s game against Dallas for example. Mark Arcobello gave Edmonton a 3-2 lead over the Stars at 2:44 of the second period. It was how he scored the goal that is encouraging.

Arcobello won the offensive zone draw cleanly and the puck went back to Andrew Ference. Like they drew it up (which they probably did), Ference dished a pass to Jeff Petry just inside the blueline. The Oilers defenceman fired the puck through traffic and out popped a juicy rebound, which Arcobello promptly buried.

“I was lucky enough to get that (faceoff) pretty clean back,” Arcobello said. “We’ve been talking about it and preaching going to the net a lot. I found my way there, I wasn’t picked up and the puck popped right on my stick.”

Arcobello and Matt Hendricks were working their way toward the net on that goal.

“I was able to get inside the defender that was trying to box me out,” Hendricks said. “Arco and I just ended up 2-on-1 and (the defenceman) had to pick which guy he was going to cover, he came to me and the puck came right to Arco. It was a good play all around. The D got the puck in, got the puck through, got a good shot on net and we had good net drive.”

It is a simple concept that traffic in front of the opposing goaltender is a good thing, but the Oilers have struggled getting to the hard areas this season. It’s one of the things the players say has impacted their offensive production. Under interim coach Todd Nelson and general manager Craig MacTavish’s guidance, that has become an even more emphasized need.

Teddy Purcell deflects a puck in front of the Dallas net. Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

“It’s been an emphasis all year,” Hendricks said. “We need to get to the net and that’s getting pounded into us right now and we’ve been getting results because of it.”

It’s not a new focus. The Oilers for months have been talking about their need to drive the net more and create havoc in the prime scoring areas.

“For whatever reason we weren’t doing it consistently enough and we weren’t getting the results,” Oilers winger Teddy Purcell said. “The last couple of games we have been scoring more and it’s not a coincidence that we’re going to the net. In San Jose (on December 18) we scored garbage goals like that and (against Dallas) we scored a couple of rebound goals with guys going to the net. Sometimes when there’s a new voice you want to help out your coach and you want him to believe in you early so guys are excited about that. Especially when it comes from your GM too, when he’s down there harping on you that if you go to the net, good things will happen. The good thing about this is we are starting to see results. I think guys are going to start doing it consistently and we have to keep that in our game if we want to keep scoring goals.”

David Perron posts up next to the Dallas net. Photo by Andy Devlin | Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club

Seeing good results can help form good habits. Now that the Oilers have been able to find the back of the net a little more the last few games, hopefully it will lead to them continuing to play this way. The greasy goals can and will eventually lead to prettier skilled ones.

“You get the hard earned ones in front of the net, those rebounds and loose pucks in front, everything else is going to open up and we’ll be able to get more opportunities for those skilled goals you see,” Arcobello said.

“Once you score those goals, the plays start opening up and you get those seam passes and get to move it around a little bit,” Purcell added.

Purcell is another example of how going to the net reaps rewards. On Sunday, just 2:58 into the game, the Oilers scored on the power play. Taylor Hall may get the credit for the goal, but Purcell screening the goalie was key. With Purcell planting his flag in the crease and screening Kari Lehtonen, Jordan Eberle fired a shot. Purcell got a stick on the puck before it rebounded right out to a driving Hall.

“It’s a position I haven’t played a lot before,” Purcell said. “Any chance you get to play on the top power play unit, you’ll play wherever the coach wants you. I’m still trying to get used to it. Ebs was kind of joking that he thought the shot was going in before I tipped it. It’s kind of funny but it was lucky it hit my stick and landed right there for Hallsy. Those are the kind of goals we need to get the power play going.”

Unfortunately for the Oilers, they lost the game against Dallas. However, their five-goal performance brought proof that going to the net works.

“We want guys to go to the net. That’s where goals are scored,” Nelson said. “There’s no pot of gold behind the net, we want to go to the front of the net and good things happen. We’re getting there, but it’s a starting point. It’s not near where we want to be in the future.”

It’s a work in progress, but if the last few games are any indication— there's progress.

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