Oilers look to snap out of sag
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
|Oilers forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins listens during practice at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., Dec. 6, 2011. (PERRY MAH/QMI Agency)
EDMONTON - If the Edmonton Oilers are a better team today than they were in October, then why, when you start adding up the wins and losses, do they seem to be getting worse?
Simple, say Tom Renney and anybody else you talk to in the dressing room: They’re not.
The record might show a 7-2-2 start in October followed by a 4-8-1 swoon in their last 13, but they attribute that to an optical illusion — as in, they’ve been seeing too many games lately, especially on the road.
The Oilers played 14 games in 12 different cities in 28 days in November. They spent 19 nights on the road, three more than the New York Rangers spent the entire season when head coach Tom Renney was last there.
“I think that’s had a lot to do with it, I think it’s kicked the crap out of us,” Renney said of their brutal schedule. “I saw it with the whole hockey team, quite honestly.”
Renney tried to get his team as much rest as possible, but with six games in nine days before their recent break, figures they just ran out of gas.
“Sometimes it’s physical fatigue, sometimes it’s mental and sometimes it’s both,” he said. “But every team goes through it. We have to develop a callous to fight through that stuff.
“We have to find a way to overcome that and one of the best ways to do that is not to talk about it.”
But there’s no ignoring 10 of 14 games on the road, or four of their last 13 being the second game of back-to-back situations.
“That whole month of November, whew,” sighed Ryan Smyth. “I don’t want to use it as an excuse, but it is a fact. So it was nice to get this little break to get some practice time, get some energy and rest and get back on track.”
With December finally giving way to a respite — three days between games — Renney gave everyone Sunday off and made Monday a mandatory day off for worn out rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“Coach kind of told me and I don’t think I’m really in a position to argue with them,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who viewed the November madness, as he views most everything else in his first season, as a nice learning experience.
“You can find yourself a little run down, but you have to take care of yourself, get enough rest, eat the right foods and you’ll be fine. It was a very tough month for us, but it was cool to go through it, see how the older guys react to it.”
Of course, understanding the problem doesn’t mean the problem is solved. Realizing the root of their 4-8-1 sag doesn’t mean they can be cool with it.
The Oilers still have to find ways to be better on the road and in back-to-back situations, and they need to find a way to withstand tough stretches of the schedule without losing ground.
“It takes its toll on you a little bit, but if (the schedule) was an excuse for us I think it would be an excuse for 29 other teams,” said Ryan Jones.
“If you look at everybody’s schedule, everybody has a certain stretch they’re not to pleased with. You just have to battle through those things. Good teams find a way to win hockey games.
“I’ve always said this is the type of team that can win a lot of hockey games, it’s just a matter of getting back to playing the game we know we can and the wins will come.”