LEDUC, Alta. – These are heady times for Taylor Hall and the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers (4-4-1) have won four straight games against Eastern Conference teams. But now comes an all too familiar challenge for Edmonton: trying to match up against their Western rivals.
Edmonton began the season 0-4-1 against Western teams before getting back on track against Eastern squads at Rexall Place. But the final two contests of the Oilers’ seven-game homestand will be against the Nashville Predators on Wednesday night and Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.
“We certainly get excited about playing Eastern Conference teams,” Hall said after practice Tuesday. “It’s pretty obvious the Eastern style lends itself to the way our team is built a little bit more than the West.”
“But in saying that, I think the way our team is built this year is more capable of playing Western teams. It might not have shown in the first five games but I think as the season goes on you will see that.”
Head coach Dallas Eakins feels a reason for Edmonton’s success against Eastern teams, simply put, is confidence.
“It seems like we’ve got a little extra mojo and a little extra swagger when we’re playing an Eastern team,” he said. “Against the Western teams I feel we’re a little more tense and we have to get over that.”
“Listen, Montreal is as good as L.A., they’re as good as Anaheim … we should be able to play with every team in this league now.”
Veteran defenceman Andrew Ference, who joined the Oilers two years ago after seven years in Boston, credits the four wins to the Oilers playing more responsibly in the defensive zone.
“You’ve seen a lot better job of five guys working together to prevent chances,” he said. “The other parts of our game were going all right.”
“The more glaring thing for me was the breakdowns that we have definitely limited, if not eliminated, on many nights.”
Edmonton’s 3-0 win over Montreal on Monday improved its record to 4-1 on the homestand. This time last year, the Oilers were 3-9-1 and en route to finishing with a 29-44-9 mark.
Last year, Edmonton was 14-14-4 against the Eastern Conference but just 15-30-5 versus Western rivals.
Despite its early-season struggles, Hall said the Oilers seemed to adopt a new mindset following a 2-0 home loss to Vancouver on Oct. 17.
“It seems like we have a different mentality on the bench, the bench doesn’t seem to get as down,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s maturity or what it is, but we don’t have that quiet on the bench when something bad happens.”
Meanwhile, Eakins confirmed centre Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton’s first-round pick in June’s NHL draft, will remain with the club. Wednesday night’s contest will be Draisaitl’s 10th and activate the first year of his entry-level contract.
“You shouldn’t be surprised,” said Eakins. “He’s part of our hockey team.
“He’s earned the right to be here in the lineup (Wednesday). He continues to improve. His perseverance and commitment right now is outstanding.”
Draisaitl, a native of Cologne, Germany, turned 19 on Monday. He took the good news in stride.
“I’m just trying to get better every day,” he said. “Just get up in the morning and get better every day.”
“You couldn’t say I was confident I would stick around but I think for the most part of the nine games, I think I did a pretty good job.”