EDMONTON, AB - Steady as she goes and stick with the plan.
The Oilers hope the strides they’ve made the last three games continue to be a common theme for the remainder of the season. The team has managed to not only score first in each of their three-straight wins, but have also managed to combat the later pushback from their opponents.
“There is no panic in this group right now,” said goaltender Cam Talbot. “We’re a confident group and we’re feeding off each other. It’s fun to see.”
No panic means that if the Oilers allow a goal, they have the mental toughness to stick with their systems and the confidence in themselves to overcome the adversity. No panic means the Oilers stay steady and don’t commit the glaring turnovers that have hurt them in the past. No panic leads to wins and wins lead to confidence.
Oilers winger Benoit Pouliot can’t quite put his finger on why the team has shown that mentality so early in the new season, but he isn’t complaining.
“I don’t know, but it’s a good thing,” said Pouliot. “We don’t want to get guys to be more stressed than they already are or be nervous out there. It’s new to everyone. New coaches, new players, new everything. It’s going to take a little time but if we can take it one game at a time, we’ll be fine. There’s going to be bad things, there’s going to be good things. If we can do more good than bad we’ll keep it going pretty well.”
Mark Fayne attributes the no-panic mentality to the maturity of the roster. The younger players are a year older and there’s an influx of veterans. Players know their role and what they have to do. It calms the team down.
“I think a lot of that comes from hockey awareness and really just hockey sense, going out there and knowing the score and the time of the game,” said Fayne. “I think in past years we weren’t as mature of a team. I think now guys are starting to realize if we’re up 3-1, we don’t need to score anymore. We just need to make smart plays and weather the storm.”
The Oilers have been talking since training camp about the structure Head Coach Todd McLellan and his staff have put into place, with all of the players knowing their roles and responsibilities.
“It leads to a more confident product out there, when you know who you are and what you’re supposed to do. It shows out there. You’re not thinking, you’re just playing,” said Mark Letestu.
In Wednesday night’s game against the Red Wings, Edmonton jumped out to a 3-0 lead against a good hockey club. When the visitors scored to make it 3-1, even outshooting the Oilers 13-6 in the third, the team was able to hold their ground and trust in their goaltending.
“That’s definitely what most teams focus on when they’re on the road. You just want to rely on your goalie and weather those first 10 minutes. Even at home, I think we’ve been doing a good job of that,” said Fayne.
The Oilers top offensive players have been contributing as of late, but even through the 0-4-0 start, in which the team was struggling to score goals, the players and coaches kept the messaging the same. There were positives in their game, even in the losses, and given the offensive talent on the team they knew it was a matter of time before the scoring would come.
Photo by Getty Images.
“You can see the lineup we’ve got,” said Pouliot. “It’s a really solid lineup, as long as we follow what we’ve got to do. We don’t want guys to go on their own program or do their own thing out there and ruin it for everyone else. If we’re on the same page, we’ll be in great shape. The coaching staff we have, the experience they have, they’ll put us in a place we need to be and just work with it.”
The Oilers believe they have enough firepower that if they can weather the storm and hang with the better teams, more often than not they’ll get their goals.
“I think that comes with that confidence that we know if we get scored on, we can go back out there and put the pressure on them next shift and generate another good scoring chance or a goal in the other direction.” said Talbot.
In Vancouver, the Oilers were outshot each period and survived a rare miss of the open net by Daniel Sedin. They weren’t rattled, stayed calm and held on to win in overtime.
The Oilers have stuck with the game plan and have been reaping the rewards of staying calm and staying within their systems. Good goaltending, of course, helps but the team has a whole has strung together some solid performances. The challenge now is to “continue moving the needle,” as McLellan says.
That means not getting complacent or content with a handful of wins, so McLellan and his staff will continue to press on the gas and the players will continue to focus on being steady in the face of certain adversity that comes throughout the hockey season.
“It’s early enough in the season where you can’t be satisfied with anything right now,” said Fayne. “As soon as you get complacent bad habits start to creep in and you fall behind the eight ball. I think everyone is still going full bull right now. Todd is definitely pushing guys and that’s definitely what we need.”
As McLellan said after the Oilers win on Wednesday, their first in regulation against Detroit since December 13, 2009, it was a “good win” but “there are still areas of our game we have to get better in. We’re going to be saying that into February. Keep plugging away.”