The Oilers were pushed over two hard practices on Tuesday and Wednesday that were focused on playing with pace while reinforcing some of the good habits they showed in Sunday’s win in the Heritage Classic, where they out-generated Calgary in high-danger scoring odds 20- 3 despite conceding both their goals on the penalty kill.
They’ll hope to stay out of the box to keep Dallas’ cold power play (2-for-23, 8.7 percent) from having any opportunity to build any momentum, because at five-on-five, the Stars have been the League’s highest scorers with 23 of their 26 goals this season coming at even strength.
Head Coach Jay Woodcroft spoke to the importance of early-season practices when it comes to reinforcing good habits, because when the calendar flips to 2024, the opportunities to do so deplete as the schedule condenses toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We’re constantly working at our game, tweaking little parts of our game, and to be able to do that and have some practices, I think that’s positive – especially early in a season,” he said. “Because when you get into the dog days of January and February, it’s about keeping people healthy and just keeping your motor running.
“This is when you can actually work at your game, and our fellas put in two good practices. Yesterday we got up and down the rink for a long time. Today was a little bit more tactical and reinforcing some things we did well on Sunday.
“We have one of the Western Conference’s top teams coming into our building, so we better be ready. We had two good practices, but we’ve got to show it come game time.
POUND THE BLUE PAINT
It’s an age-old hockey proverb:
“Go to the net, and good things will happen.”
An area of the ice that the Oilers simply dominated in the Heritage Classic came between the inner hashmarks and the crease in Calgary’s end, where they pressured heavily and picked up plenty of results and second opportunities off pucks being put on net.
Three of those chances produced goals, including Brett Kulak opening the scoring by cleaning up Evander Kane’s deflection in front that came off a shot from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the top of the left circle.
Evan Bouchard and Vincent Desharnais each picked up goals from the blueline, with Bouchard recording his third of the season on a bomb through traffic in the middle frame before Desharnais’ first NHL came off an innocuous wrist shot that bounced top shelf for the insurance goal at 6:06 of the third period.
Zach Hyman has been a clubhouse leader for the Oilers in this regard, recording 15 inner slot shots that are tied for the fourth-most in the NHL while his five rebound chances this season are tied for the most in the League.
The forward was rewarded again on Sunday after tucking in Leon Draisaitl’s pass on an odd-man rush through Jacob Markstrom’s five-hole for his third goal and ninth point of the campaign, and the Oilers are keen to continue attacking the net on Thursday.
Because if pucks keep finding their way toward the net, eventually, they’re going to start going in.