Saturday, January 10, 2015
When Todd Nelson took over as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, this team was headed in the wrong direction. While going out and winning a bunch of hockey games would have been great, expecting the worst team in the league to simply snap their fingers and start piling up victories with a new voice behind the bench, was never a realistic option.
Having this group of players commit to a more structured all-around game, while finding a way to focus on the positives, was the only road Nelson could go down. To his credit, the forty-five year old has managed to do exactly that during his first month behind a National Hockey League bench.
Any time you can go out and beat a team like the Chicago Blackhawks and look fairly impressive while doing so, you have to be pretty happy. However, in the grand scheme of things, it is essentially two points that mean very little.
In my mind, from now until the end of the season, it is hard to take much of anything away from what this group accomplishes from a points perspective. With their season long gone and the pressure of having to go out and actually find a way to win hockey games nowhere in sight, over valuing what could potentially unfold over the coming months would be a massive mistake.
We have all seen this song and dance before.
Having said all of that, for the first time in ages, these players appear to be having fun again and that is something that cannot be ignored. With the vast majority of this roster being as young as it is, they were always going to make their fair share of mistakes…it just comes with the territory. Unfortunately, things played out so badly during the Dallas Eakins era that all anyone could focus on was the negative and understandably so.
At some point, every team has to start showing signs of improvement and with the atmosphere around this club being what was, that was never going to happen with the pieces that are currently in place. In all honesty, it had reached the point where these players looked as though they would rather be anywhere else in the world than playing in the NHL for the Edmonton Oilers.
At least on the surface, that no longer appears to be the case and because of it this team is playing with far more confidence. Is the coaching change the reason for this group doing a complete 180? Maybe it is or maybe it is just a coincidence but from a body language standpoint, this looks to be a completely different group. At least at ice level, the days of doom and gloom look to be a thing of the past and for these players, that is half the battle.
How long has it been since we saw Nail Yakupov have a smile on his face while playing this game? We saw it during last night’s 5-2 win over the Blackhawks and it was definitely nice to see. While Derek Roy has managed to have an immediate impact on the scoresheet, in my opinion, it has been the energy he has brought to the table on a nightly basis that has left the biggest imprint on this lineup.
The diminutive centre has made a point of celebrating each and every goal he or his linemates have scored since being acquired from the Nashville Predators for Mark Arcobello, something which used to be a regular occurrence in this neck of the woods, and has been noticeable in each and every one of his six appearances in Oilers silks. Something as seemingly inconsequential as that, has rubbed off on the rest of the players and it shows on the ice.
Dumb penalty aside, Benoit Pouliot’s return has made a world of difference. The veteran winger has not only chipped in on the offence but his size, speed and occasional nastiness has been a welcome addition to a lineup that is lacking in all three of those areas. Add to that the top of line of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins starting to show signs of life and suddenly you have a team that has gone 3-1-2 in their last six games.
Again, reading too much into anything we have seen of late or from here on out would not be wise when it comes to making personnel decisions for the future. As a collective unit the Edmonton Oilers are not a very good hockey team but there is no reason why this group of players should be void of confidence.
If Todd Nelson accomplishes nothing else during his tenure behind the Edmonton Oilers bench, this team will be miles ahead of where they looked to be headed under the leadership of the previous head coach.