EDMONTON - For the first time since March 2009, the Edmonton Oilers and their fans are in the midst of a roller-coaster ride of emotions — better known as a push for the playoffs.
During the final 20 games the euphoria after a win or the devastation after a loss will be monumental, and, of course, the players and coaches will feel that as well. The next six weeks is the best and worst time for being a fan.
Grown men who struggle to share their feelings with their wives, will be seen pouring out their hearts to complete strangers at Rexall Place or at the local pub. You’ll dissect every shift, line change, coaching move and goal.
A six-year playoff drought has jaded many fans. You watch every game, but the voice in your head thinks more about how the Oilers will lose rather than how they can win.
You don’t want to feel this way, but six years of incompetence and losing has you more cautious than optimistic. The great part about sports, however, is that one playoff appearance or even a big win down the stretch can alter that thought process.
Enjoy the next 20 games, but make sure you buckle up; you’re in for a bumpy ride.
Experience hard to find
For 40 minutes on Friday night, the Oilers proved they could compete with the Detroit Red Wings, but in the final period the Wings took over.
The Wings were desperate and some people wondered if line juggling by Oilers coach Ralph Krueger made his team sit back and stop attacking.
Krueger stated that his mandate is never to sit back. He doesn’t instruct his team to stop attacking. Captain Shawn Horcoff said he noticed his team doing it — sitting back — late in the second period.
“You could tell in the last few minutes of the second period we were starting to do it,” Horcoff said. “We talked about it at the intermission, but we sat back too much in the third. We didn’t make any plays in their zone or alleviate any pressure. It seems we just wanted to come around the boards a little soft, and they took those away, and then they were able to stay on the forecheck.
“Those are areas we are going to have to get better in and get used to. As games wear on, and we get in more of those situations, we’ll become better. It is a matter of experience.
“It is so hard in this league to just sit back and hold on; you have to play and you have to continue to grind away. It was a tough lesson, but we have to learn from it.”
Becoming more competitive
The best part about being in an actual playoff race is that the young players will experience how hard and smart you need to work to win.
The intensity level is higher than games in November-January, and it will be crucial in the development of Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Justin Schultz, Nail Yakupov and Magnus Paajarvi to play meaningful games.
The players need to be subjected to the heightened intensity, so they realize first-hand how hard they need to work to win regularly.
Over the past few weeks, Paajarvi has shown more passion and drive in his game. Last year, and down in the American Hockey League this year, his coaches constantly challenged him to use his speed and go to the net. He admitted it took some time to adjust his game accordingly.
“Every game you are not going to have the speed to just go wide on a defenceman, it’s not going to happen. To me, driving to the net is anything from the corner, from behind the net or going to the net without the puck. It is all mental for me. I’ve added it to my game a bit more this year, and it’s always in the back of my head to go to the net. I need to do it every game,” Paajarvi said.
Right or wrong call
Krueger has the fine balancing act of trying to win, but also developing his young players.
Figuring out when to play Yakupov and when to rest him is a tough scenario. Yakupov plays with a lot of energy and emotion, but he still freelances too often in his own zone. He is a rookie, so you can’t expect him to be great defensively in his first season, but he needs to show improvement in his own zone if he expects to play in tight situations.
Krueger replaced Yakupov with Mike Brown midway through the third period on Friday. Brown took a penalty that led to the tying goal, albeit an own-goal by Jeff Petry, so in that case Krueger’s decision didn’t work.
Krueger admitted some decisions will work out and some won’t, but he won’t hesitate to make the same call again.
CIS basketball has a final eight, but hockey doesn’t? Win and you move on, lose and you go home. It would be better than the current six-team tournament format.
Great to see the CFL hosting combines in Edmonton and Quebec. It gives teams another opportunity to meet with players, and it gives the players another chance to showcase their skills.
The Edmonton Rush are 5-1 on the road, outscoring their National Lacrosse League opponents 83-57, but they need to play with that same consistency at home where they are only 1-4.
Sidney Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews are the best all-around forwards in the game, but is there anyone more exciting in the offensive zone than Patrick Kane right now; his hands are silky smooth.
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