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Oilers’ Andrew Ference hopes ‘unstructured’ players keep improving

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

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UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Andrew Ference and Dallas Eakins can see the signs.

Through seven games, a 1-5-1 start, the defensive issues, the Nail Yakupov “controversy,” the Edmonton Oilers captain and head coach see the positives through the cloud of negativity early in the season.

As the Oilers prepared to face the New York Islanders Thursday night at Nassau Coliseum -- a place they haven’t won in six tries dating back to Dec. 1999 – their focus wasn’t on what has been going wrong. Despite four straight losses, the focus was on the little things that they have been doing well in hopes that a turnaround is just ahead.

For Ference, his role as team captain has been about reminding his teammates that consistency and a team concept is key in order to succeed.

"To play great for 90-percent of the time isn’t good enough anymore," Ference said after Thursday's morning skate. "You can have the most skilled team in the world, but if you just let off the gas the teams are too good. There’s players too good in this league that will make you pay for it. I think it’s just really hammering home that point more than anything else.

"Taking a team-first attitude despite how much skill you have. Despite what kind of player you were in other leagues. It’s a different league. It has to be team decisions all the time. You do those kind of things, you have that good foundation and then your skill can take over when there’s opportunities for it to take over. That’s the direction that we see the team going so far this year. It’s getting better with every game. I think that’s why there’s still optimism in what can happen here.”

Positive reinforcement despite losing six of your first seven games may be tough for a young team to hear, but with a new head coach who takes a difference approach to things, and a new system to adapt to, executing the minute details, Ference says, are ultimately what will serve as a road map to righting the ship in Edmonton.

“You can’t keep saying that for too long because you need to put up points,” he said. “But we have a lot of guys that have been fairly unstructured for the last couple years and over a short period of time between camp and these first few games, despite the frustration and losing, they’re continually doing more and more team decisions. It’s little things, but the decisions at the offensive blue line; the way they’re working to get back into position in our end. Every game we’re seeing improvements in those areas.”

Eakins has shaken up his lines early on, most notably scratching Yakupov for two games, in hopes of finding chemistry somewhere. “You’re constantly searching for something,” he said in regards to the inconsistency he’s noticed up front.

The Oilers face an Islanders team who have lost three in a row, then finish up this east coast trip with the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. Points will be hard to come by as they stand in the midst of a struggle. But in their losses, Eakins isn't seeing any quit in his group.

“I don’t like standing and saying boy, we played great here and we lost,” Eakins said. “We have to find a way to get on the other side of the ledger. We are seeing good things with our group. We are seeing a group that’s fighting. They’re not turning away from it. They’re not looking away, dragging their lips. They’re in the fight. That’s the biggest thing for me right now.

“And if we can have that fight, have some players step up, then this can get turned around very quickly.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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