In a year when the long-suffering Chicago Cubs have won the World Series and Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States, maybe anything is possible — like the Edmonton Oilers making the playoffs after 10 years on the outside looking in.
With 68 games left to play, they obviously aren’t there yet despite a terrific start, but with 19 points from their first 14 games, which is better than anybody expected even with a favorable schedule in October, the Oilers are forcing pundits and fans alike to reconsider where most of us had them pegged.
At what point is it time for second thought? How many games will it take before it becomes obvious that, after a decade of defeat and disappointment that has taken the starch out of even the eternally optimistic, we underestimated them? Are we there already? Is it the 20-game mark? Or, have you had your hopes stomped on often enough that you’ll wait until a playoff berth is clinched?
I never saw this coming – of course, I’ve been wrong more times than I can count, so that’s hardly stop-the-presses stuff. It was just days ago, with the Oilers already sitting at 7-2-1 through 10 games, I said in a Monday Mailbag that I saw the Oilers winning just three times in the next 10 games. They have two of those wins already. I also said in the same answer to a reader I didn’t think you would be able to count the Oilers in or out of the playoffs after 20 games.
On second thought, I want a mulligan on that one.
As it stands today, I’m thinking the 20-game mark – barring another busted collarbone for Connor McDavid, which is something fans were cursing last November, or some other unforeseen disaster down the road — is going to be a pretty good indicator of whether the Oilers are going to be a playoff team or not. Math and eyeballs have me changing my tune.
Warts and all – lapses here and there and that awful 6-2 no-show against the Buffalo Sabres – the Oilers are today 9-4-1 with those 19 points in the bank as they get ready to face the banged up Dallas Stars Friday. If the Oilers can play .500 and gather 68 points in their remaining 68 games, they’ll finish with 87 points. That was the cutline last season, although it’s usually in the low-90s.
The math aside, what’s made me reconsider is the way the Oilers have played, regardless of the result (we used to call those games moral victories). Specifically, the gamesmanship they showed in beating the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 and the willingness they showed to go blow-for-blow in Pittsburgh in a 4-3 loss to the Penguins to wrap up their five-game road trip.
That Detroit game used to be one the Oilers would find a way to lose even when they played well. Instead, they handcuffed the Red Wings in the third period, allowing just four shots, and won in a building where their record has been terrible with their back-up goaltender in the net.
In Pittsburgh against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Oilers didn’t look overmatched or overwhelmed. McDavid was flat-out the better player in his much-anticipated first showdown with Sidney Crosby. It’s a game they could have and should have won, save for a bad break. How often have you been able to say that in a game against the best teams in the last decade?
PAST THAT NOW
I wrote not long ago, early into this promising start, that fans should stop worrying about what might happen during the rest of the season and simply enjoy the moment. I wrote earlier this week, before the Pittsburgh game, that the Oilers were putting their putrid past in the rear-view mirror one game at a time. That process is a work in progress. Not to forget, we’re not even at the quarter-pole.
That said, the Oilers are better than I thought they would be in so many facets of the game. They don’t get physically pushed out of games. McDavid has been McDavid. Cam Talbot, at least in my mind, has blown away any question the Oilers finally have a guy they can win with in the blue paint. They are headed toward the 20-game mark at a pace for points nobody expected despite some injuries. They’re finding ways to win instead of ways to lose.
Before the season began, three of our writers polled in our yearly ON roundtable — Jason Gregor, Baggedmilk and Chris the Intern — picked the Oilers to make the playoffs. I had them missing the playoffs with 84 points. For reference, our all of our pre-season predictions and your comments are here.
During pre-season I had several people, both online and in person, ask me if I thought the Oilers would finally put this decade of futility behind them and make the playoffs this season. Each and every time my answer was along the lines of, “No way. They’ll be in the conversation, but no way. Won’t happen.” I was sure of it.
I’m not sure now. Not even a little bit.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.
RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE