Losses to Vancouver Canucks, LA Kings in early April hurt Edmonton Oilers, says head coach Krueger
‘We were just outmuscled and pushed out of those two games’
Head coach Ralph Krueger has seen the future for the Edmonton Oilers and it looks a lot like the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings.
Kreuger said on Sunday that if there was one telling moment for him this season, it was when the Oilers were upstaged by their two Western Conference foes.
The Oilers had just put the finishing touches on a five-game win streak by defeating the Calgary Flames 8-2 when they rolled into Vancouver on April 4 only to get thumped 4-0 by the Canucks. Two nights later, the Kings, flexing their pre-playoff muscles, posted a 4-1 victory.
“We were just outmuscled and pushed out of those two games,” Krueger said. “It wasn’t for a lack of will.
“We need to change the mix. And look at our division. There’s a physicality there, a grit and aggressiveness there that we’re going to need to match.
“The overall mix is going to have to change.”
With his first season as an NHL coach behind him, albeit one that had 48 games jammed into 98 days due to the lockout, Krueger will spend the next several days huddled with new general manager Craig MacTavish. The two will look at needs and wants, strengths and weaknesses, of which the most obvious is grit and more physical presence — both up front and on the blue-line.
The Oilers will also need a puck-moving defenceman, with Ryan Whitney set to look for a fresh start as an unrestricted free agent.
What Krueger will also have next season is a three-week training camp as well as more coaching and practice time.
“A new season begins today,” he said. “Our main message today (to the players) is that the training camp begins off ice. We have a very strong summer program in place ... and we are going to be attacking that with a passion.
“We had good fitness, but I think we still need more strength. There are a lot of things we want to improve on.
“(But) I really do feel excited about the potential of this group, of the base that we built and the pain we had. I think it’s useful.”
The Oilers finished 24th overall with a record of 19-22-7 for 45 points. Ideally, Krueger wanted his club to get to 52, but he would have settled for 50.
“I’m disappointed with the final number. I thought we could have got 50 points at least,” he said.
During the course of the season, Krueger did not call out players publicly and he wasn’t about to start on Sunday. Nor could he put a number on the required changes. What he did say was that sometimes a roster can be changed by bringing in elements or sometimes it can change by moving elements out.
What he does want is three scoring lines and three defensive pairings that can take on all opponents. There was also a suggestion that better practice habits will be required, and Krueger used veteran Ryan Smyth as an example.
“If everybody practised like Ryan Smyth, we would have been a more consistent team,” said Krueger, who went on to explain that the morning after the 37-year-old had been scratched for a game, he responded by going out on the ice with the goaltenders to work on some things half an hour before the practice began.
He didn’t say how Smyth fit into next season’s plans or if he’d recommend to MacTavish that they consider bringing back goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who was an exemplary backup this season.
“It was wonderful working with this team this year, with all the strengths and weaknesses,” he said, “but we will be a better team next year.
“There needs to be some personnel changes — we all know that.”
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