SUN Hockey Pool

Oilers' Gilbert working by the numbers

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:34 PM ET

If he were a golfer, it would actually be a good stat.

But as a hockey player, a pair of minus-3 outings, followed by a minus-4 showing two games later, is cause for concern.

Defenceman Tom Gilbert had it particularly rough on the Edmonton Oilers recent five-game road trip, bottoming out at minus-10.

“You’d like to be consistent the whole year, but some games just don’t go that way,” said Gilbert. “Unfortunately for us, these last four games have been a struggle for a lot of guys. But you have to keep working through it.

“The season is full of ups and downs. It’s just how you manage those which determine how you’re going to play throughout the entire season.”

Prior to the road trip, Gilbert, 27, had been struggling to collect points, but was playing well in his own end. Despite averaging more ice time than everyone, with the exception of Ryan Whitney, Gilbert had a respectable plus-two rating playing against the opposition’s top line on a regular basis. His 10-under on the road trip has put him among the team leaders at minus-eight on the year.

“It’s one of those things you don’t want to think about,” Gilbert said. “You hope you never have to go through it in your career, but things like this happen, and you have to continue to work through them, on and off the ice.

“I think what I notice the most when my game’s not going is that I’m not getting those opportunities in the offensive zone. I don’t know what it is.

“Many times you have to simplify your defensive play. You have to start there and branch yourself out. You work yourself out to the offensive zone and right now, our team is struggling in the defensive zone.”

The Oilers defensive deficiencies were on full display during their annual rodeo road trip.

The team was criticized for being too soft on the puck, not playing with enough emotion and failing to make the simple plays in and out of their own zone.

“He (Gilbert) has to apply himself with the skills and the ability he has,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “When teams struggle and individuals struggle, they have this long laundry list because coaches tell them every single thing that they’re doing wrong. That’s deadly, that’s fatal. You have to help the player by simplifying things and identifying two or three things that they need to do well in order to have success.”

For Gilbert, that all starts in his defensive zone making sure he gets the puck out.

The Minnesota native had a couple of glaring mistakes in the loss to the Rangers trying to do too much with the puck.

“It’s not going to be a case of where the next game everything is going to go back to normal,” Gilbert said. “You just have to concentrate on the next game’s first shift, then the second shift and continue to try and get a rhythm going through the game.

“A lot of plays go unnoticed in the defensive zone. But one of the hardest plays a defenceman can make is that breakout pass. As a defenceman, if you can make that pass, especially to the centre, it gives you a lot of confidence to go back and make plays.”

Last season, Gilbert played the best hockey of his career after getting promoted to the top defensive pairing following the departure of a trio of blue liners ahead of him on the depth chart.

The Minnesota native showed he could be an effective top-tier defenceman despite not being an overly-physical force.

“For me, I’d like to be a positional guy, but when you need to use the body, then to be there,” Gilbert said. “Sometimes when you’re having trouble finding that, the best way to do it, is to give a hit and take a hit, just get yourself into the game and know that someone is not going to get by you and really focus on that and try to branch your game out from there.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos