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Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Three Thoughts: More Like It

The terrific thing about living in a hockey-mad city like we do is that virtually no opinion goes unchallenged when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers. If you suggest things are just fine, it’s a sure bet somebody out there will accuse you of being an apologist and a fart catcher for the home team. They’ll point out everything that’s wrong. You can set your watch by it.

Go the other way, as I did Monday when I wrote in the wake of a 1-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs that there’s no way the Oilers will make the playoffs in the Western Conference based on a 12-16-2 record after 30 games and their inability thus far to string wins together, and you get blowback the other way. “Hey, Bronte, who peed in your Cornflakes?” It’s all fair game when you offer a prediction about which way the chips are going to fall.

Here and now, I have to go back to last season to think of a three-game stretch when the Oilers played as well as they did on their just-completed three-game road trip, capped with that 7-2 waltz over the Columbus Blue Jackets Tuesday. That came on the heels of the loss to the Maple Leafs and a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. The Oilers took four of a possible six points and should have had six — they chased Carey Price and Sergei Bobrovsky but couldn’t solve Curtis McElhinney.

With five games left before Christmas, four of them at home starting against the Nashville Predators Thursday, the Oilers look like they’re rounding into form. What they still have to do is put some wins together in what’s going to be a conference-heavy schedule the rest of the way.  Connor McDavid touched on that after his four-point night against the Blue Jackets. “We’ve had streaks where we’ve been alright,” he said. “We need to see it more. We need to string (together) four, five or six. We don’t have many games to give away anymore.”

That’s the bottom line. Are the Oilers capable of putting together more than two wins in a row (they’ve done it just twice this season) and getting on the kind of roll they did in the second half last season? Maybe. They need Cam Talbot to regain his form of last season after he returns from injury. It’ll help when Andrej Sekera and Adam Larsson check back into the line-up on the blueline. If the Oilers consistently play the kind of hockey we saw on this road trip it’s going to be fun the rest of the way. Still, it’s a monumental ask.

JUJHAR AND JESSE

Dec 6, 2016; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Jesse Puljujarvi (98) takes the puck past Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen (55) during the second period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Jujhar Khaira and Jesse Puljujarvi are distinctly different players and that’s good news for the Oilers because they both look like they’re growing into important full-time NHL roles with this team — at least that’s my takeaway after this road trip. I’m not sure if they’re all the way there yet, allowing for the ups and downs that come with an 82-game season, but they’re close.

Puljujarvi, 19, getting a look alongside McDavid, had a goal and an assist against Columbus. He fought off a checker in the slot to score his fifth goal of the season to make it 6-2 and then set-up McDavid in tight off the rush to make it 7-2. He’s been tenacious on the puck, loves to shoot it and gets things done in traffic. He has 5-2-7 in 14 games. He looks at home alongside No. 97.

Khaira, 23, who scored a couple of goals in the win in Montreal, didn’t get a point against the Jackets but played well and upped his stock by stepping in to scrap tough Nick Foligno. Khaira is a big body who can skate and he gets physically engaged — those are the calling cards of successful bottom-six guys. On top of that, he has chipped in 5-4-9 in 18 games.

ROLLING NOW

Jan 3, 2017; Columbus, OH, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) looks to pass against Columbus Blue Jackets center Boone Jenner (38) during the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

If Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t looking over their shoulders at McDavid atop the NHL scoring race, they are now. McDavid, held off the sheet in Toronto despite a magnificent performance, looks healthy again and now sits third in the Art Ross Trophy derby with 39 points after that four-pointer in Columbus.

The defending Art Ross winner has eight points in his last five games. McDavid is now averaging 1.26 PPG, slightly better than the 1.22 he had on the way to 100 points last season, despite what’s been a sub-par start for the Oilers. Is there anybody betting against McDavid winning the scoring race again?

LESS IS MORE

Sometimes, less is more. That’s been the case with Kris Russell this season. Russell’s assist in the win against the Habs in Montreal gives him 2-11-13 this season, the same number of points he had in 68 games last season (1-12-13). He’s managed that while playing down in the line-up. Russell is averaging 18:14 of ice time per game compared to 21:13 in 2016-17. He played 19:12 against the Blue Jackets.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • JudgeDredd

    This is the team everyone expected this year, not the one that’s been D.o.D bad. Hopefully they’ve remembered what they’re capable of and what it feels like to win in this city.

  • #97TRAIN

    Pretty sure Connor wins another Art Ross this year. Am very impressed with Puljujarvi as well. This kid has size and strength and doesn’t look afraid to mix it up in a scrum to gain his space on the ice.

  • Hemmercules

    I never would have guessed that JP and Looch would work on a line with McD. I guess you have to try everything when the going is tough but it seems to be going pretty well.

    I like Russel but around 16-18 minutes a game is where he should be at in my opinion. Be interesting to see what happens when both Reggie and Larson are back. I can’t imagine Reggie will be getting tons of ice right out of the gate.

    Davidson has looked ok too, nice to see him back, good depth guy that can actually play.

    • the dope $teez

      JP looks ok but Looch, yow I would get him off that top line ASAP. I suppose the problem is there is no better option, Maroon is looking a bit lost out there.

      When they trade Maroon it would be nice to go on the hunt for a LW with speed and passing ability. Milan ‘Stone Hands’ Lucic has neither – in my opinion.

      • #97TRAIN

        While everyone is crapping on Lucic I’ll let you know he is on pace for 59 points which is just off his best ever season. 6 ml for this and a guy that isn’t afraid of anyone and hits like a freight train, is money well spent.

      • Play Dirty

        You must have been watching a different game than me. Speed was not an issue last night on the fore check or back check. And it wasn’t a bad goal for someone with stone hands. He also plays position exceptionally well.

        I like how guys like JJ and Zack are like a testing ground for teams before they consider trying out our heavyweights like Looch and Maroon. I’d say Darryl is somewhere in between those tiers.

      • MessyEH!

        Lucic is just fine. He is what he always has been. Functional Toughness. He had lots of interest in free agency. Term and more cash. He choose us. Let’s not run him out of town just yet. The final years of that contract maybe tough to swallow. But a man who plays a rugged game is prone to career ending injuries. ?

  • geoilersgist

    That was a heck of game last night. If they can continue to play like that this ship will turn around and playoffs could still be possible. The negative Nancy in me says they are done, but I can’t help buy hope they can go on a run and get back in it. JJ and Pool Party have looked real good recently and it is nice the entire line up is contributing all of the ice. LB has been rock solid lately too now that he has settled in.

  • Svart kaffe

    Good article. It got me thinking about how Khaira and Puljujärvi adds something different to the team. Haven’t really thought about it too much before. Especially Khaira, he’s a surprise for me. His hockey IQ and skating is better than I knew. I don’t think he’ll ever be a top-6 player but there is something different about him compared to other 4th liners. At the moment I like to watch him more than I’ve ever enjoyed Pakarinen or Slepyshev for example. Something might just happen when he’s around the puck.

    Of course, the team is playing with some confidence and that makes everyone look sharper.

  • Svart kaffe

    Actually it’s kind of exciting having the team chasing a playoff spot. I don’t like it and would love to have them dominating the league instead, but every game matters so much now and as a fan I enjoy that tension. If they can put together a streak then it’s not entirely unreasonable to squeek in to a wild card position.

  • DerpSolo

    I like to think of it this way. Do I hate Kris Russell? No, he’s a decent defender who’s chipped in offensively this year, and can play 18 a night. Now, do I hate the contract? Yes, it’s too long, and too much, with a badly placed NMC.

  • McRaj

    Hey RB, so a buddy of mine is a self-admitted McDavid hater but he claims he is not a “sheep” and doesn’t buy-in to media hype. Anyways, he says that there is no way McDavid wins art ross this year, and that McDavid doesn’t have the same work ethic as other stars and that he will never be even close to as good as Sid, and that McDavid gets his points the easy way (easy playing time, cheating for points, etc). If I present any statistical evidence to counter him, he says stats can be manipulated in any way. Is he even 1% correct or do I continue to laugh at how misinformed and hateful his arguments are.

    • Silkymits

      Your friend has absolutely zero hockey knowledge almost every player Connor is on the ice with has a career year that along with his ppg is the reason why he WILL be one of the best to lace them up

    • Tell him to watch the games.

      If he refuses, tell him to follow another sport, anyone who passes up to watch a great player (even if one doesn’t consider them the very best) doesn’t appreciate the sport, plain and simple.

    • Hemmercules

      Laughable. Mcd trains hard. I heard he flew into Edmonton to sign his contract and left the same day to get back to the facility he trains at out east during the summer. Which reminds me, Hall once said he never even stepped on the ice until August until he was traded to New Jersey. The guy had ample time to improve his game every year when he was with Edmonton and chose not to.

      If there was an easy way to get points in the NHL every game would be 10-8.

      I’m my opinion there can’t be a comparison between Mcd and Sid until they are done playing hockey. Skill-wise, I believe they are even but they are also different types of players. Trophy-wise will be a tough one for Conner but not impossible. Multiple Stanley Cups and gold medals will be very hard to obtain.

    • CMG30

      Haters gonna hate. Best thing to do is record his words and let McDavid prove them wrong then throw them back at him. Of course if you want to keep your friend then you should probably just agree to disagree.

  • Spoils

    betting against Connor, ha. I was just wondering to myself if he would win the race by 20points this year. if you had to bet your life – i’d bet he tears the league to shreds with the remainder of the season. shreds it.

  • Muddy

    After watching the last three games something is very obvious to me, Connor was either hurt or really affected by that flu. I was beginning to wonder if the NHL had actually figured him out and perhaps he would need to change the way he played to become more effective. The last three games have been night and day and it and he seems unstoppable once again. It’s pretty funny to watch them get three goals play with confidence and pot another 4. Imagine if they could be that confident when the score is 0-0? Hopefully this trip has brought back some of that swagger.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I can live with losses from here on out but the wins ranked in importance:

    1st – Pacific Division wins
    2nd – Western Conference wins
    3rd – Eastern Conference wins

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    It’s interesting watching JP evolve. At the start of the year he would timidly go into the corners and knock everyone down. Now he knows he has the strength and size to battle. The tiger learned that he was a tiger…

  • Snoop Scottie Dogg

    I don’t even care (at this point) of they make the playoffs or not. The season is lost. So…just win now. And hopefully Connor wins the AR again.

  • Jordan88

    For the people saying the season is lost…. GTFO This team needs a winning streak, and I feel it comin 3 damn well played games back to back to back.

    The beast in the west has awoken.

    • Hemmercules

      Im all over the place lately haha. One day the sky is falling, next day everything is good. Wins do wonders for the confidence thats for sure!

      Not quite ready to get my hopes up for anything yet though. I still think its going to be a McMiracle to make the playoffs. If they can avoid any major injuries that will definitely help a lot. Last season they were really fortunate in that department.

  • Mr.Snrub

    >OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win tomorrow, it’s called “two in a row”. And if we win again saturday, it’s called a winning streak.

    The Oilers desperately need a few of those over the next 51 games, they used up all their free spots on the Bingo Card already so no more slumps or the season is officially toast if it isn’t already.

  • Oilman99

    Let’s hope the last three games are a sign of things to come. The good news about same conference games is, a win means you get two points closer to at least one team in your division. A run of ten out of twelve games,and things should look a lot better,let’s HOPE!!!