“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” That old axiom is obvious enough, and it’s also tried and true. The complication, history tells us, is that it’s easier said than done. That was the challenge facing the Edmonton Oilers when they headed out on this four-game road trip standing eye-high in a hole.
When you’re in the dirt like the Oilers are, it doesn’t matter how you accomplish it — the bigger picture takes a backseat — only that you stop digging. Through their first two games on this swing through the Eastern Conference, the Oilers have finally put down the shovel with two wins — a 3-2 overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils on the heels of a 2-1 OT win over the New York Islanders in Brooklyn Tuesday.
Neither game was anything resembling a masterpiece or even a steady, consistent effort from start to finish. Not close. It matters not. Had the Oilers turned in a couple of those but failed to come away with their first back-to-back wins of the season, we’d be talking about a pair of starkly hollow consolation prizes — not to mention firing the coach, moaning about the GM and trading away chunks of the roster.
Instead, we’re talking today about an Oiler outfit that’s 6-8-1 as they head into Madison Square Garden to take on the New York Rangers Saturday afternoon. The Oilers still have their share of issues and shortcomings, and it’s too early to say they’ve found a foothold and are ready to start climbing, but they’ve put down the shovel and given themselves a chance as they head into MSG and then onto Washington.
HERE AND NOW
Imagine the consternation, and rightfully so, if the Oilers were headed to Broadway at 4-10-1. The bitching about lack of depth on right wing, the moves GM Peter Chiarelli made and didn’t make this off-season and ongoing issues with lack of scoring and uneven special teams would be at full crescendo with the team all but dead in the water in terms of making the playoffs.
Those concerns and shortcomings are legit and remain, but I’d rather be lamenting them after watching the handiwork of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in back-to-back overtime sessions than with a post-season berth just short of out-of-the-question. Folks around here did that for a decade before last season’s jump to 103 points. First things first. Stay in the race — which is not to be mistaken for everything is OK.
“It’s huge,” said Draisaitl, who buried a feed from McDavid behind Cory Schneider for the winner in the three-on-three session. “Obviously, we dug ourselves a hole and now is the time to get back out of it. I think that it was another pretty solid effort throughout our whole lineup. Every line contributed and that’s how you win on the road.”
“You need one and you’ve got to put two together,” said McLellan, who didn’t like the start by the Oilers but watched his team hang in, battle back then win it. “We’ve done that now. Rest and play against another good team. The margin of winning and losing right now is such a fine line for our team . . . we need everybody playing at the best of their ability until things start going our way a little bit in and around the net.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
It goes without saying there’s work to do. Edmonton’s power play went 0-for-2 against the Devils and has too often been a black hole this season (although the beleaguered PK managed to hold New Jersey scoreless in four attempts). The Oilers remain dead-last in scoring with 35 goals in 15 games. The defence remains thin while awaiting the return of Andrej Sekera. On and on . . .
Like I said earlier, those big picture concerns are real and will remain no matter what happens against the Rangers and Capitals to wrap up this road swing. That said, the Oilers have four points from the first two games and could come home with six or, dare to dream, eight points. Wouldn’t that be something? At the very least, they’ve stopped digging.
As expected, the Oilers have recalled Jesse Puljujarvi from the Bakersfield Condors of the AHL. The question now, is: where on the depleted right side will McLellan choose to insert the Finnish sophomore? Does he go straight in for Anton Slepyshev?
Puljujarvi, 19, reports having scored 1-4-5 in 10 games with the Condors. The move comes with the Oilers having placed Slepyshev on injured reserve. Slepyshev, who scored the 1-1 goal against the Devils, has been battling a groin injury.