Edmonton Oilers fans have something real to cheer about for the first time in just about a decade. The organization underwent widespread changes in the offseason, and the team has been able to establish an identity, something that has been lacking from the Oilers teams of the past several years. The franchise finally seems to be turning a corner…
The Oilers are currently on an impressive four-game win streak, including wins against Boston, Dallas, Buffalo and San Jose. Beyond the actual winning streak, which is nothing to scoff at, the Oilers have played with a level of committed intensity and competitiveness that has not been seen in Edmonton for a long time. Despite injuries to Connor McDavid, Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot, this Oilers squad has battled and has played with character, which is very exciting for Oilers Nation.
A lot of the recent success can be attributed to the change in attitude throughout the organization, from general manager Peter Chiarelli to head coach Todd McLellan to individual players like Taylor Hall, who has really stepped up as a leader this season. Just the other day, veteran defenseman Mark Fayne was waived so he could “get his game back” in the minors. No longer does the passive and indecisive mentality get in the way of the progress of this team. We in Oilers Nation who believed that a change in management was necessary should be patting ourselves on the back right now.
Despite all the offseason changes, the beginning of the season didn’t leave me overly optimistic. I have to admit, the Oilers’ start this year was as rocky as ever. But the Oilers have been a whole new team over the last two or three weeks. This group has now won four straight games and holds a 6-3-1 record in its past 10 contests. While the team’s overall record of 12-15-2 is certainly not flashy, how can you not celebrate the recent success?
Wednesday night’s win over the San Jose Sharks perfectly illustrates how different this team really is. Todd McLellan earned his first win against his former team, and he did so in the most thrilling fashion possible: a come-from-behind overtime victory. The Oilers took a 1-0 lead in the second period; when San Jose tied the game in the third, Edmonton again took the lead on a beautiful backhand by Jordan Eberle. Once again, the Sharks tied the game and then took a 3-2 lead only 90 seconds later. Though it was a startling turn of events, the team didn’t throw in the towel.
The Oilers generated some positive shifts and eventually tied the game less than three minutes later. Thanks to more stellar goaltending from Anders Nilsson, which has become the norm over the past few weeks, the Oilers and Sharks headed to overtime. Hall, who has emerged as a true leader this season, converted a centering pass from Leon Draisaitl 3:59 into overtime, lifting the Oilers to a 4-3 victory against San Jose. This game could very well be one of the most significant games in the team-building process.
The game is also symbolic of how different players are stepping up for Edmonton. Not only was Nilsson once again phenomenal, but the Oilers also got goals from Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall. All four players picked up multi-point nights. Draisaitl, Hall and Eberle each had a goal and an assist, and RNH picked up two assists. Hall now has 12 goals and 30 points in 29 games.
There is still a ton of work to be done. New systems take time to implement, especially after McLellan coached the Sharks for seven years and is still adjusting to Edmonton himself. Chiarelli is still adapting as well after serving as Bruins general manager for eight seasons. But these two hockey masterminds have joined forces in Oil Country and have clearly started to push the right buttons to make this team more competitive. The Oilers’ 4-10-1 road record leaves a lot to be desired, and the Oilers are headed into a difficult stretch of games, including two games against the Rangers and games against Boston and Chicago.
But all in all, the Edmonton Oilers are a better hockey club right now than they have been in a long time.
No matter what, Oilers fans should have a sense of hope moving forward. This is especially true considering McDavid, Yakupov and Pouliot have not been in the lineup. But as it is said, injuries give other players chances to step up. Players like Leon Draisaitl, Iiro Pakarinen and Jujhar Khaira have played significantly larger roles than one would have expected. Each has played a role in the team’s current streak, which will only help the team in the long run.
I, for one, finally believe this team has found its identity. Just imagine the possibilities when a player of McDavid’s caliber returns to the lineup…
Featured image credit: Andy Devlin-Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club