OILERS SNAPSHOTS: Not much advantage to home ice anymore

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Normally, teams that have a playoff spot locked up spend their stretch drive trying to secure one of the most valuable weapons in post-season hockey: Home-ice advantage.

The boost they get from a building full of towel-waving maniacs who save their loudest voices for the Stanley Cup tournament is like a pure adrenaline shot.

“The fans in Edmonton, especially,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. “I remember a few years back when we hit that playoff run, that was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of.”

But what is home ice worth during a pandemic, when Canadian fans aren’t even allowed in the buildings?

Not much, if you go by the numbers. A quick look at the home and away records of the four playoff teams reveals no advantage whatsoever. Heading into Wednesday’s games, all four North Division playoff teams have a better winning percentage on the road than they have at home.

Leafs: 14-7-3 at home, 14-6-2 on the road.
Jets: 11-7-2 at home, 16-8-1 on the road.
Oilers: 14-8-0 at home, 13-7-2 on the road.
Habs: 10-10-2 at home, 9-5-7 on the road.

“When all is said and done, it’s a pretty even playing field for everyone where there are no fans in the building and you’re just showing up and playing,” said Nurse.

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“Normally, you can kind of feed off the emotion in your own building. You’ve got Zack Kassian running around and the fans are going nuts. We won’t have that this year, obviously. It’s going to be missed, heavily.”

That doesn’t mean home ice doesn’t matter. Getting last change and not having to fly across the country to be quarantined in a hotel still counts for something, even if the buildings aren’t shaking anymore.

“There are other elements that go into it,” said Nurse. “If you start at home, you get to be in your comfortable environment, not in a hotel room, and kind of get set for the big challenge ahead.”

Head coach Dave Tippett is still putting enormous emphasis on the stretch drive, though. But this year, he’s not as focused on securing home ice as much as he is on building a game that stands up no matter where they play it.

“There’s less advantage between home and away with no fans,” he said. “But, for us, it’s about getting our game to be the same whether we’re home or on the road.

“It’s a playoff mindset game where you have to compete hard, you’re doing the little things right, your structure is in a good spot. It’s less about us trying to get home ice and more about us working on our game, making sure it’s in a place where you go into the playoffs and play well.

“We feel like if we play the way we can, our (playoff) positioning will take care of itself.”

CHEMISTRY LESSON

With a taxi squad he needs to keep busy and a compressed schedule, Tippet has shuffled the players in his bottom six fairly regularly this year. But, like all coaches, he’d like to solidify things for the post-season.

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So, it’s on the players to make him an offer he can’t refuse by coming together as a trio and forming an identity. Forging chemistry isn’t something they can force — they have to let it happen naturally — but Devin Shore says the best way to speed it along is to be yourself.

“You can’t change too much how you play, regardless of what your line combinations are,” said Shore, who’s been providing quality minutes in the bottom six.

“Each guy has certain things he has to do to be successful and if he’s doing that, odds are it will come together. You talk (with linemates) before the game and as the season goes along, you build relationships with these guys, so that helps with chemistry.

“You just try to play the right way and be predictable for your teammates.”

Darnell Nurse (25) of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on April 5, 2021 in Montreal. Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images, file
Darnell Nurse (25) of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on April 5, 2021 in Montreal. Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images, file Photo by Minas Panagiotakis /Getty Images, file

GUILTY VERDICT A START

Nurse admits being glued to the television as the drama unfolded in a Minneapolis courtroom during the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin.

But Nurse says Tuesday’s guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd represents a start line, not a finish line.

“Sitting down watching the TV, it was a sense of relief that he was found guilty,” said Nurse. “We saw a man get murdered in the video. As a person of colour, as a black man, there was definitely a sense of relief to see that he was found guilty.

“But that said, it’s just a step. There is still a lot of work to be done with regards to systematic racism and equality throughout the world.”

Nurse believes one the most important ingredients moving forward is equal representation in work places, which would lead to equal voices outside of them.

“I think it’s come to a point where skin colour and the look of someone needs to become obsolete. It’s much easier said than done, but Tuesday was a step in the right direction. There can’t be a sense of contentment. Now we just need to continue to push forward.”

E-mail: rtychkowski@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski

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