EDMONTON - When Edmonton Oilers head coach Ralph Kruger sees a problem, he likes to deal with it head on and quickly. Problem is, when his team wins he finds the players aren't really paying attention as well as after a loss.
It's not something they do on purpose, but that lack of attention may be leading to the team's inconsistency on the ice and costing them valuable points in their bid to gain a playoff berth in this abbreviated NHL season.
Kruger said after Edmonton's 3-1 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday night that the players are "more attentive after losses" and the players acknowledged after Wednesday's practice that may well be the case. And they agree it's something they want to remedy, beginning tonight against the Minnesota Wild.
"Yeah, it's possible," admitted Sam Gagner, who leads the team in points through 15 games. "Losses are really wake up calls, when you have to analyze what went wrong and you have to work to rectify that. It's important for us to focus on how we're winning as well."
Veteran Ryan Smyth suggested the more attentiveness after losses is probably the result of players wanting to learn what went wrong the night before.
"You get back to the drawing board, maybe a little more attention to detail," he said. "You try to do it all the time, after wins and losses. When you win you want to learn, when you lose you want to learn. As a player that better identifies you, the consistency of winning.
"We have to find ways to be more consistent. We have the tools in here we just to make sure we execute properly."
Kruger and the coaching staff have been harping on execution since Day 1 and still the Oilers continue to make costly mistakes other teams are turning into goals and victories. Kruger said he tries to address those mistakes as soon as possible.
"I'm really, really brutally honest and clear. I like to look the problem right in the eye, very quickly, expose it, communicate it and let them have the opportunity to talk about it and go forward," Kruger said Wednesday. "We're remaining positive … but it's not acceptable for us, 15 games into the season, to fall that far off what we're expecting of each other, especially with the puck management."
Puck management was an issue once again on Tuesday said rookie forward Nail Yakupov. The Oilers committed too many turnovers "like we did two weeks ago.
"It's happening again so guys have to understand you can't do that if you want to win games … sometimes we have to play it simple, just shoot the puck in and don't turn the puck over."
Problem is, the Oilers first two lines are full of young speed and skill and they've shown a reluctance to play the dump and chase game. They simply don't want to give up the puck willingly.
"We have skilled players and everyone thinks they can take the puck in and just play hockey, but sometimes we have to chip and go hard on the D and be strong in the corner, go to the net and shoot the puck, score some ugly goals," said Yakupov.
Gagner agreed with that, saying if the players look at how they're winning games, they'll see it's about getting pucks in deep and getting pucks to the net.
"Our main focus should be getting the puck in deep and playing in their end," he explained. "You look at the way we played against Colorado (a come-from-behind 6-4 win Saturday that saw Edmonton record a team record 56 shots on goal), that's the reason we won. We have to focus on those things going forward and if we can be consistent with it we'll have a lot more wins than losses.
"We know it works because it's worked for us before. We can talk about it all we want but it's about being ready when the game starts, to go out and execute. There's going to be times when, for whatever reason, you just don't have it but it can't happen on a consistent basis."