'The Janitor Way': Behind the player whose mindset saved the Oilers' season — twice

EDMONTON — Before Mattias Janmark got the Edmonton Oilers started on extending their season by at least three days, he may have saved it.

It was the third-line winger who spoke up in the dressing room when this campaign was veering dangerously close to spiraling off a cliff. The Oilers had just seen their record drop to 5-12-1 with a 6-3 loss in Carolina and sat 30th overall in the NHL standings when Janmark stepped a little outside of his comfort zone and addressed his teammates that late November night.

In doing so, a new mindset was born — the kind needed for Edmonton to play its way out of that massive hole during the regular season and the kind it continued to draw belief from all these months later after dropping the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.

“We call it playing ‘The Janitor Way,”‘ Zach Hyman told The Athletic after Saturday’s emphatic 8-1 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 4.

According to Janmark, the gist of the message he gave inside the visitor’s room at PNC Arena was that he’d seen a great team turn things around by focusing on the defensive side of the puck while playing for the Dallas Stars in 2019-20. That Stars team started the year 1-7-1 and wound up in the Stanley Cup Final during the NHL’s COVID-19 playoffs.

Janmark said he told his Oilers teammates that he knew everyone was trying their hardest, but they couldn’t simply count on “scoring our way out of this.”

It was, according to linemate Connor Brown, the turning point in Edmonton’s season. The Oilers didn’t lose another game for more than three weeks.

“I think our mindset of our team kind of shifted,” said Brown. “We went on to win eight in a row, then lost a few and then won 16 in a row. So that was a big shift.”

Playing with their season on the line Saturday, and the Stanley Cup all shined up inside Rogers Place, it was only fitting that “The Janitor” helped keep that trophy locked up in its case.

Not only did Janmark get the party started with a short-handed goal just over three minutes into the game — making him the first Oilers player with a pair of playoff shorties in one spring since Todd Marchant in 1997 — he then sent the pass across to Adam Henrique on his next shift to make it 2-0.

Edmonton was off and running and it was the unsung worker bees propelling them forward.

Incredibly, the Janmark-Henrique-Brown line has spent the most amount of five-on-five time together of any three Oilers forwards in this series. They’ve been the constants that head coach Kris Knoblauch hasn’t felt the inclination to break up while keeping the Panthers off the board entirely during their nearly 26 minutes on the ice at even strength.

In fact, Knoblauch said that Janmark and Brown might have been the team’s two best players in a Game 4 that saw Connor McDavid deliver a four-point performance.

“They’ve been playing really well for a long period of time,” said Knoblauch.

That’s a pretty strong statement given the challenges they endured throughout the regular season while putting up the same stat line: Four goals and 12 points in 71 games.

Janmark is a straight-line player who believes it’s easier for him to make an impact in playoff hockey because of how important every play is. He’s not generally going to do anything that lands on the highlight reel, but he’s a diligent worker who makes smart defensive reads and isn’t prone to costly errors.

During the most difficult days of this campaign, he dreamed of a night like the one he got to live here as the Oilers forced a trip back to Florida for Game 5.

“When you go through a tough year like probably (Brown and I) can say that we have, at least production-wise, you always look at these games — the playoff games,” he said. “If you can get to the Final, if you can get one goal that’s going to do more than five goals in the regular season, for sure.”

You can’t overstate how big the one he scored here was.

The Oilers are still staring up a mountain while trying to make history by coming back in this series, but they spoke like a team that continued to believe before Game 4 and they played like one that still had plenty of fight left in them a few hours later.

They played “The Janitor Way.”

“Without giving away all of the secrets, it’s patient defensive hockey,” said Brown. “It’s not forcing it. It’s almost a 0-0 mentality. Take what they give you instead of trying to just force it and get on the board. A lot of times when you play that way you end up scoring more. It’s kind of a paradox that way.”

After Janmark addressed the group in November, they saw immediate results during a 5-0 win in Washington the very next game. They found an identity.

The 31-year-old has emerged as a glue guy for the Oilers — a player who cleared waivers as part of a roster squeeze two seasons back and was then part of helping turn that season around when he got called back up from AHL Bakersfield.

Janmark then decided against signing more lucrative and lengthy offers in free agency last summer to remain in Edmonton on a $1 million, one-year deal because he felt it offered his best chance at a championship.

That was part of what compelled him to speak up that night in Carolina. He had just returned from a stint on long-term injured reserve with a shoulder issue and could see the frustration building among his teammates while watching games from the press box.

“It takes a lot (for me to do that),” Janmark said. “I signed back here on a one-year deal to win and it was slipping away. I thought it was time to do something.”

The man certainly seems to have a fantastic sense of occasion.

(Photo: Jason Franson / The Canadian Press via Associated Press)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top