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Warming Up To Woodcroft

It’s still early, but the Oilers look like a different club with Jay Woodcroft behind the bench.

New York Islanders v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

It’s been three whole games into Jay Woodcroft’s Oilers coaching career. He’s won all three games he’s coached, outscoring his opponents by a combined 11-3 margin. Plenty of good things have happened over these three games. Stuart Skinner picked up a shutout in Edmonton’s game versus the Sharks on Tuesday night. Mike Smith has two wins in two games. Jesse Puljujärvi cashed in on the power play. Heck, Warren Foegele scored a goal for the first time in seventeen games against the Sharks.

The Oilers are scoring goals. Pucks are staying out of the net. Good things are happening. And while it’s a little too early to say that everything’s on the straight and narrow in Edmonton, things seem to have taken a turn for the better from the moment Jay Woodcroft was named interim head coach.

  • One of the first things I noticed first about Jay Woodcroft is his roster management and deployment. For the first two games of his tenure, he opted to dress 11 forwards and seven defencemen. The Oilers were about to embark on a three game stretch in four nights, and one of the first things Woodcroft figured out was that he’d have to keep his club fresh. With Duncan Keith out with an injury, he put both Markus Niemeläinen and Philip Broberg in the lineup. Woodcroft leaned on Cody Ceci a little bit Friday’s win over the Islanders, but no Oiler reached the 20 minute mark after Ceci and Nurse. (Nurse finished with just over 23 minutes of ice time, he’s often neared 30 in games while Tippett was head coach). Devin Shore played under 3 minutes in Edmoton’s 5-2 win over the Kings. Mike Smith played on Friday, he didn’t play again until Tuesday’s game versus the Kings. Some of this stuff looks really simple on paper, but it wasn’t happening under Tippett’s watch.
  • Look at this club play defence! They’re meeting the opposition at the blue line with regularity as they enter the zone! They’re doing it with the same defence (minus Duncan Keith) that Dave Tippett had for the first half of the season. The Oilers defence is hungry and on the puck when it comes into the zone instead of having two defencemen race back to catch up. If Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson can get some big miles out of this defence, that’s a big win already.
  • The buy-in looks to be already happening. I’m aware that there’s usually a surge when a new coach comes along, and that might be all this is. I don’t think that’s what this is. I’m not going to sit here and start saying a bunch of useless dressing room talk like I’m somehow in Warren Foegele’s head, but I’d read pretty good into what Warren Foegele is actually saying. Foegele was a guy who couldn’t buy a goal if he had to over the last month, but he was able to score one in Monday’s 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks. When Foegele offers up a line about “detail and direction” with the new coach, that doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

The Oilers are just three games into the Jay Woodcroft experience™, they’ve got three wins in that time. There are plenty of ways this could play out; the Oilers haven’t played any really tough teams, and it’s possible that that “new coach” smell could wear off quickly. For now, the Oilers are looing rejuvenated. They’re in action tomorrow against the Ducks, and there’s nothing I’d like to see than some more of what we’ve already seen in Jay Woodcroft’s first three games behind the bench.