EDMONTON - Watching Taylor Hall playing through the five-game losing streak, Edmonton fans saw a player who stood out from all the others.
He was hungry. Night in and night out, he played a robust, charge-the-barricades game.
But after the 5-0 debacle against the Anaheim Ducks last Friday, you had to wonder how much longer he could keep playing like his hair was on fire without being affected by those around him who were pulling the parachutes.
“Just talk to him,” said head coach Tom Renney.
“You let him know, ‘This is where we are. This is our team dynamic. And you are going to be, ultimately, a huge part of this team being successful.’ And you tell him, ‘What you are going through now is a real good test of parking the frustration, and staying within the team concept.’
“As coaches, you need to know what this kid is capable of and not restrain him.”
With that in mind it was appropriate that it was Hall, at 3:06 of overtime, who scored the winner against the L.A. Kings last night — off a beautiful blindside backhand pass from Shawn Horcoff.
The Oilers were a totally different team than they were Friday because instead of having one Taylor Hall they had several guys play the way he’s never stopped playing since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Tom Gilbert went down with injuries.
One of them was Ales Hemsky, who probably played his most passionate game of the season.
“It’s an emotional game. It takes passion to play,” said Renney.
“If you look over the last few weeks, the one player who has answered the bell every night is Taylor Hall.
“If you want to know what passion looks like in a hockey player, watch Hall.
“I’m not sure you can teach it. It might be part of your DNA. But I’m glad he’s got it.”
Winning is also in Hall’s DNA.
He won back-to-back Memorial Cups and was MVP of both championship tournaments in his last two years of junior.
Imagine the transition involved in going from the top to the bottom to start your NHL career.
“It’s definitely much better when you have this feeling of winning. We really wanted to win this one, especially after what happened against Anaheim,” Hall said.
Keeping his competitive drive hasn’t been a problem, he added.
Indeed, Hall thinks he’s done a much better job at that this year than he did at the start of last season.
“I think there were games last year when if I wasn’t scoring, if it just wasn’t going for me, I’d shut it down,” he said.
“In the NHL, you’re not going to have the puck going in all the time. But you can’t shut it down.”
Hall said Renney has been great throughout these challenging times.
“Tom always makes the rink an enjoyable destination. I have yet to drive to the rink dreading it.”
Sunday night was Hall’s 101st NHL game. In his first 100, he had 36 goals and 36 assists.
“I think that’s pretty good,” he said.
It’s not like he’s been surrounded by a Stanley Cup championship lineup like Boston’s Tyler Seguin, who has 28 goals and 60 points to show for his first 113 games with the Bruins.
“I’m certain from last year to this year I’ve improved,” said Hall.
Renney said he looked up and saw Kings’ young defensive star Drew Doughty checking the sophomore winger on virtually every shift.
“I couldn’t help but think ‘Who is going to win this?’
“They’re two great players who are going to be entertaining fans for a long time.”
Hall said he and Doughty have already put together a bit of history of competitive animosity.
“We actually laughed. I’m going down the ice and I can hear him jabbing at me,” he said.
Renney said it’s a real study watching Hall become more and more of a total pro.
But there’s still lots of room to coach him, he said.
“During the stretch we’ve been through, I’ve encouraged him to just work on the mental toughness of the game.”
The next lesson, said Renney, might be to work on another area.
“Maybe work on endearing yourself to the officials as opposed to being too antagonistic, because that’s a long career in front of him,” he said.
“So you might want to know their names. You might want to ask them about a call. You know, ‘Did you see it different than me?’ or whatever. And that goes for all our young guys coming into our league.”