SUN Hockey Pool

Oiler fire lit by meeting

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

Talk is generally cheap, but waiting as long as they did before airing their differences in a team meeting might have cost the Edmonton Oilers a few points.

If a players-only sit-down after a lifeless Jan. 9 loss to San Jose - their fourth defeat in six games - really is the reason they've won four of five since, they're probably kicking themselves for not doing it sooner.

"It's had a really good impact," said head coach Craig MacTavish, whose club will try to make it five of six tonight against Columbus. "We're a lighter group, a looser group and we're playing more intensely.

"Even the game we lost against Minnesota was a real turning point for our team, the way we competed against them. Since that meeting it's been a really good group."

The Oilers certainly seem to be trending up.

Four wins in five games is as consistent as they've been all year; while they didn't leave Minnesota with two points, they did leave with more than a pound of flesh.

They scored five goals one night, six the other, they netted their first hat trick in almost three years - Erik Cole in Washington - and three games later Ethan Moreau got another one.

They celebrated Steve MacIntyre's first NHL goal like it was their own, they resolved their three goalie situation, they watched call-ups Gilbert Brule and Liam Reddox score and Ales Hemsky return from a concussion to score twice.

Life is good right now.

"We addressed a lot of things, we got back to having fun and it's showing in our play," said Ethan Moreau. "Guys are a little bit looser, making plays, guys are blocking shots, goaltending has been solid and our special teams, PK, has been better, which has won us some games. Things are definitely falling into place."

Feeling tight and uncomfortable in an Oilers dressing room had never been a problem, dating all the way back to the club's first season in the NHL. But this year a wide generation gap between the sophomores and the veterans - a 15-year age difference in some cases - seemed more like a crevice.

The kids thought the veterans were too uptight, the veterans thought the kids needed to be harder and more consistent.

The veterans don't have as much skill. The kids don't have as much will. The kids sit on one side of the room, the veterans on the other.

The culture clash was like a big white elephant weighing them down in the standings.

Finally, when they couldn't afford another slide and their own fans were booing them off the ice, they all sat down, aired their concerns, realized they were both right and agreed to meet in the middle.

"It's a tough league to produce in, so if you're coming to the rink every day and guys are upbeat and positive and trying to draw energy from each other, you're going to be more successful," said Sam Gagner. "Especially with a young group in here; we have to be having fun, we have to be playing with a lot of energy.

"I think since that meeting everybody's really put in an effort to do that. It takes the stress away."

Rather than growling at each other after every loss.

"There's a lot of character guys in here who every time we'd lose would take it (very hard)," said Gagner. "As a team that can help, that we're hard on ourselves and we want to win so bad, but at the same time if we're not playing loose and having fun with it it's tough for us to succeed.

"And I think all the young guys are learning what it takes to be successful in this league. There's things they're telling us that can help."

The smiles are everywhere, but are they winning because they're having fun or having fun because they're winning?

At this point, who cares?

"We talked about enjoying it more," said Dustin Penner. "One thing Jason Strudwick said was that when he played against the Oilers it seemed like every goal they scored was an overtime winner. We'd kind of lost that fire.

"We've just tried to refocus our energy on enjoying the game more, focusing on the positives instead of dwelling on the negatives."


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