The Edmonton Oilers have been finding ways to win under head coach Ken Hitchcock and that’s transforming the culture of the team one game at a time. After wrapping up the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night by a final score of 3-2, the team improved to 3-1-1 under the new guy.
How is this happening?
Plainly put, the Oilers are playing Hitchcock hockey.
Much has been made about Edmonton’s switch to defensive hockey and for good reason. The Oilers have been playing sensibly and are getting back into the defensive zone quickly, which has amounted to a more boring but more operative brand of hockey.
“For me, personally, I’m happy with this,” said Oscar Klefbom Tuesday after his team defeated the Dallas Stars 1-0. “For the game of hockey? I’d rather win 5-0 and have a lot of goals and a lot stuff going on. But for me as a defenceman, when we have Mikko (Koskinen) in the net, that’s a solid game for us.”
Few people go to an Oilers game for a 1-0 contest or even a 3-2 outing against the Kings, but that’s how things are going to be for the next while. The offensive flares up the wing are, for the most part, gone in favour of responsible play that sees forwards getting back in a hurry. Even Connor McDavid is back, sometimes all the way back, and that’s changing things for the better if wins are your thing.
“It doesn’t matter how you’re going to win. Just as long as we’re winning games,” said McDavid. “We’re just trying to get adjusted to the system and working hard and good things have happened so far. A couple of wins and we’ve given away a couple of points, too, but for the most part it’s been some pretty good hockey.”
Pretty good hockey for the Oilers amounts to putting points on the board in the Pacific Division. It amounts to squeezing out one-goal games that are, by many accounts, rather insipid. It’s about who baulks first now, about who makes that mistake. And under Hitchcock, it won’t be the Oilers.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve deserved a much better fate in a couple of games, and we didn’t get it,” said Hitchcock Thursday. “We gave up a breakaway at the end (to Tyler Toffoli). We’ve got to get more comfortable in these games. You’ve got to take points out of close games…and we don’t want to be the first to crack.”
Hitchcock has been finding his favourites and finding his mix with this team. He’s put Klefbom on the ice a lot and the blueliner has five points in his last three. He’s also put Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in charge of the second line and is shifting tasks.
And that means a culture change, which will mean the fans have to get used to a different style of hockey from these Oilers. But if this keeps up and the team keeps playing accountably, Edmonton’s fans will have to get used to winning, too.