I sometimes imagine that coaching an NHL team requires a certain ability to keep a straight face while players, managers and scouts say crazy things to you. “Why aren’t I on the power play?” “Why aren’t you playing the 21 year old defenceman I traded a HOFer for?” “Why aren’t you making Rob Schremp into an NHL star?”
Every so often though, that must work for you. Take Ben Eager’s comments after the Oilers-Colorado game:
“It definitely helps when you’re playing,” said Eager. “Last year, they only rolled two, two-and-a-half, three lines but now guys are more accountable. If you’re playing well, you’ll play more; if you’re not, you’ll play less.
“So far, this year, it’s been more of a team game for sure.”
Eager has so far played between six and seven minutes three times, 8:34 against Dallas and 9:36 against Colorado. His TOI against Colorado was juiced by the absence of Teemu Hartikainen in the third period – MPS and VandeVelde barely played. Last year, he averaged a minute more per game and only fell below seven minutes 16 times in 63 games. He did fall below six minutes in a game eight times, something that has yet to happen this year, but three of those were big PIM games for him, rendering him unavailable for part of the game. Its’ hard to see how, exactly, he can realistically figure that his situation has changed for the better this year but I suppose if you’re the coach, you’re happy to have him labouring under this misconception.
“It’s nice to get in on the forecheck and wear their ‘D’ down. I think that does a lot. The last game we all stuck with it. We got down by a few goals, but we were all chipping the puck in and finishing our checks and it paid off. By the third period I think their ‘D’ were gassed and we took over with our skill.”
I must have watched a different game than the one Eager played in. The game that I watched, the Oilers were outshooting Colorado 38-19 after two periods, including 34-16 at ES. The stats say that the Oilers managed to hit defencemen eight or nine times in the first two periods but it wasn’t like Colorado fell apart – they were hanging on from the moment that the puck was dropped. It’s probably noteworthy that four of those hits were delivered by one Ben Eager.
Still though, you have to kind of admire Krueger. One gets the sense that he wants Eager to hit and now he’s got him telling the media how much better things are this year, when he’s playing less, and feeling as if his contribution helped the team turn a corner against Colorado, when the Oilers were killing the Avalanche for basically the entire game. It’s awfully impressive mind control, if nothing else.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com