EDMONTON, AB – Enough was enough.
Behind closed locker room doors in a player-only meeting before Wednesday’s practice, the Edmonton Oilers came together to decide that the time to prevent bad stretches in home games from derailing their results at Rogers Place was now, and that some hard lessons on managing the difficult moments during games needed to materialize into action.
“After practice yesterday, we had a little team meeting and just said we need to keep our foot on the gas,” forward Kailer Yamamoto said. “I feel like we’ve come out strongly games and then kind of let our foot off the gas and let teams creep back in and win games.”
“Basically, it’s just time to do it. Myself included,” goaltender Jack Campbell added. “It’s no more excuses, it’s just time to do it.”
The Oilers came into Thursday’s meeting with the New York Islanders winless in their last five games on home ice (0-4-1), having experienced the disappointment of holding leads in four of those contests and seeing them slip away in mismanaged stretches of each respective defeat.
The only outlier was a 2-1 defeat to the Winnipeg Jets, where the Oilers conceded only 17 shots but ran into a hot netminder in Connor Hellebuyck, who made 31 sharp stops to dash Edmonton’s hopes of a much-needed home victory.
None of this sat well for an Oilers team that knew their 9-11-1 record at home and 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games could’ve been a lot better with three or four more wins.
“I think we have a lot of proud individuals in our dressing room,” Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. “In this last ten-game segment we were 4-4-2, but realistically, we know we could’ve had more wins on the board.”
“We have proud people. We’ve got great pros and they understood. I believe that there’s nothing they could do to change what happened other than learn the lessons that were taught to us.”
Thursday night’s 4-2 victory over the Islanders felt like a watershed moment for the Oilers, who found themselves in the all-too-familiar position of being up by a pair of goals on home ice before the opposition pegged one back to cut the deficit.
Video: POST-RAW | Kailer Yamamoto 01.05.23
Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring with the man advantage on Edmonton’s 62nd shot against Ilya Sorokin this season after the Isles netminder shut out the Oilers on Long Island back in November. Yamamoto ended an eight-game goalless drought with a sublime short-handed marker 1:20 before the first intermission, giving the Oilers a 2-0 lead and 17-4 advantage in shots through 20 minutes
Mathew Barzal went bar down 4:42 into the middle frame to quiet the Rogers Place crowd, but the talk on the Oilers bench, voiced mainly by captain Connor McDavid and the rest of the team’s leaders, only grew in volume.
“There was a lot of chatter on the bench, especially from our leadership,” Yamamoto said. “Give a lot of props to them. They were really good today pushing the guys and making sure we were still pushing forward.”
When in previous games they’d lose a step on their opponent for a stretch and relinquish a lead, the Oilers told themselves that tonight and moving forward, things would be different.
Edmonton kept the throttle up and restored their two-goal lead four minutes later on a powered one-timer from Dylan Holloway at the top of the circles for his second career NHL goal. Defenceman Philip Broberg recorded an assist on the play as part of a terrific performance for the Swedish defender, who was plus-2 on the night to go with his helper.
Video: POST-RAW | Jay Woodcroft 01.05.23
“Nobody was happy with not closing some games out here on this homestand, and it’s a credit to our players because the talk on the bench was great and they went out and executed,” Woodcroft said. “So it was a feather in their cap.”
Allowing only 22 shots versus the Islanders en route to a complete 60-minute effort and a 4-2 win was another positive for the Oilers, who’ve now combined for only 63 shots against over their last three games. Jack Campbell stopped 20 for his first win since Dec. 13 in Nashville, hoping Thursday is the start of his season’s turnaround after a tempered start to his Oilers career.
“I think we have a lot of really proud people in our dressing room, and I saw them come together and play hard for each other. A real team win, and I think we have a mature group,” Woodcroft said.
But what they do now moving forward to get back into a playoff spot and keep this momentum rolling will be the real challenge.
“This wasn’t the first time where we played a full 60,” Zach Hyman, who scored in the win, said post-game. “I think it’s about what are we going to do next, right? Can we string these together? Can we play like this consistently?”
Video: POST-RAW | Zach Hyman 01.05.23
“You know, this is just one game,” Yamamoto added. “I think we have 42 games left, so it’s still a long season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played. I think we’re out of the playoffs right now, so we’re still pushing for that and every game is going to be a different challenge. But I think this team is up for it.”
The job of building on Thursday’s victory starts with a day of rest and recuperation on Friday before returning to where last year ended — a matchup with the reigning Stanley Cup champions the Colorado Avalanche, who bounced Edmonton from the Western Conference Final in four games during the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“There’s always pressure, especially when you get to this level,” Campbell said. “Myself included, I want to be great every night and that’s the best part about having this job is we get the opportunity to go out and try to do that.
“So just really happy with the guys’ effort tonight, the execution, and we’ve got a big game against Colorado coming up.”
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