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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Oilers have awoken

The Edmonton Oilers had a sluggish start to the season. Their first eight weeks of the season were a combination of subpar goaltending, too many defensive breakdowns, a lack of depth scoring and inconsistency was rampant throughout the lineup. Frustration mounted in Oilersnation and many theories were discussed, but for me the root of the Oilers issues wasn’t anything more than a team underperforming. It isn’t a “Hot Take,” and while the Oilers definitely have areas they need to improve before the trade deadline, even during their rough start I never felt they were as bad as their place in the standings showed.

Last year they proved they could play smart, disciplined hockey, be solid in their own zone, have steady goaltending and have balanced scoring. They struggled to find their footing early this season. They had no consistency. They could look great one game, but then look like a Decade of Darkness team over the next three games. Their swagger was lost for eight weeks, but after a pathetic effort in Buffalo on November 24th the Oilers are playing up to their potential.

Of course they still have some issues, special teams, and we’ve discussed that at length. We’ll have a lot more time to discuss it in subsequent articles.

Since November 26th the Oilers accumulated the 10th most points in the NHL, 18, had the 6th most wins, nine and have averaged the second-most goals at 3.64/game, trailing only Washington’s 3.84.

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Last night in the third period the Oilers resembled the confident and competent 2017 club. They didn’t wilt when St.Louis went up 1-0 and 2-1. They battled back and Drake Caggiula scored the winner with less than 50 seconds remaining. Their start was not good, but they got better as the game went on, hit five goal posts, and unlike earlier this season they didn’t let the game get away from them.

Cam Talbot has found his groove again. In his first 19 starts he was 7-10-1 with a .900sv% and 3.19 GAA. His EV Sv% was .912. In his last six starts, three prior to his injury and three after, he is 6-0 with a .922sv% and 2.14 GAA. His even strength SV% is .939, and Laurent Brossoit’s was .917 in eight starts. Talbot is playing better in the crease and so are the Oilers in their defensive zone.

Their offence has picked up, and it isn’t just Connor McDavid.

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In their first 21 games, McDavid had 26 points, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 17, Leon Draisaitl had 16 (in 17 games), Milan Lucic had 13, Patrick Maroon had 12, Ryan Strome had eight, Mark Letestu had six and Drake Caggiula had five (in 13 games). On defence, Kris Russell had seven while Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom had six.  The Oilers had scored 53 goals, 5th lowest in the NHL.

In their last 14 games, when they’ve won more, McDavid has 15 points, Lucic 12 while Letestu and Draisaitl 10, Ten other players have five or more points. In this stretch, they have scored the 2nd most and McDavid’s points-per-game are lower than the first 21 games. The Oilers supporting cast has stepped up. Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian have made their fourth line just as productive, as their second and third lines.

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Early in the season, a lot of talk surrounding the Oilers was that they were slow. I didn’t agree with that then and don’t know. No one called the Oilers slow last season, and this year’s roster was virtually the same except for Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick/David Desharnais. I don’t believe Ryan Strome, Jujhar Khaira and Jussi Jokinen/Mike Cammalleri are noticeably slower than the trio they replaced.

The fact was the Oilers were playing slow. They aren’t now and no one is talking about their team speed, despite them having the same forward group. The Oilers have a few average skaters, but they have many really good skaters, and when the Oilers are moving the puck quickly their speed is apparent.

The Oilers have a long climb up the standings to get back in a playoff spot, and I don’t expect them to be there until February to be honest. This morning they are five points out of the wildcard, but that could be seven again by tomorrow. The Oilers need to gain two points/month in January, February and March and another two points split between December and April. It won’t be a fast climb, and looking at the standings every day will be nerve-wracking and probably frustrating for many in Oilersnation. There is no quick fix for the Oilers, but they have found their game and you should expect to see the Oilers in the top-ten in points accumulated over the next month.

HERE AND THERE…

Sep 18, 2017; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Drake Caggiula (91) against the Calgary Flames during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Edmonton Oilers won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

— Congratulations to Ken Hitchcock on becoming only the third head coach in NHL history to win 800 games. He trails Joel Quenneville, 868, and Scotty Bowman with an amazing 1244. Hitchcock has 296 wins with Dallas, while he had 248 with St.Louis, 131 in Philadelphia and 125 with Columbus. His coaching record is 800-488-88 (ties)-114 OTL. He should be a lock to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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— Carey Price will start for the Montreal Canadiens in Calgary tonight. Maybe they play him back-to-back, but with it being a 5 p.m. start tomorrow, I doubt he does. The other factor is the Oilers, despite their struggles during the majority of Price’s career, have lit up Price. He is 2-7-1 with a 3.73 GAA and a .859sv% in ten career starts vs. the Oilers. That is his worst sv% and GAA against any NHL franchise. His career average is 2.43 GAA and .919sv%. The Oilers likely will face Antti Niemi tomorrow.

— I think Drake Caggiula will be a good NHL player. I like his quickness, his shot, he can be physical and he has better offensive instincts than some think. He’s only played 84 NHL games. He is still adapting to the league, and learning to be consistent. “I have faith in my abilities. I have a lot of confidence in what I can bring to this team. Sometimes it is good to get a different perspective (pressbox for a few games). It happened last year and I was able to bounce back from it, so I’m looking to play my game more consistently,” Caggiula told me after scoring the game winner last night. He has had two solid game since coming out of the press box, and with more experience he will learn how to noticed more regularly. The Oilers need to be patient with him, because I think he will reward them and be a solid complementary player who can play in various situations.

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— Nikita Kucherov has heated up again with nine points in his last five games. He leads the NHL with 50 points, five ahead of John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. He is nine ahead of McDavid as McDavid tries to become the first player to win consecutive league scoring titles since Jaromir Jagr won four in a row between 1998-2001. If the Oilers powerplay could wake up he’ll have a chance to catch Kucherov. Kucherov has 31 EV points to McDavid’s 30, but Kucherov has ten more PP points 19-9 thus far.

— The Oilers haven’t scored a home PP goal in six games. The early four-minute powerplay last night was dreadful. “We just weren’t sharp. We didn’t win any battles. We didn’t start with the puck off of faceoffs, and that always takes some momentum away. We need to be better,” said Leon Draisailt. They were better on their only other powerplay of the game in the third period, when they actually shot the puck and showed some urgency. The fact the special teams continue to be an issue, yet the Oilers are winning shows me how good of an even strength team they are. They have scored the second most goals in the NHL since November 22nd, and they’ve only scored four powerplay goals in that span.

MONTH OF GIVING

Thank you to Steve for his great bid on the Vivo Ristorante dinner with Ryan Smyth and Mark Letestu. And to the 20 listeners who participated in our Pyramid of Giving and raised $6,250 for Adopt-A-Teen. AWESOME.

FINAL DAY, Package #1: Dinner with the MOP at Sorrentino’s

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  • You and three friends will have a 4-course dinner with beverages (wine included) at either Sorrentino’s Downtown or Bistecca Italian Steakhouse. Their Executive Chefs Alberto Alboreggia (Downtown) and Sonny Sung (Bistecca) will prepare the meals.
  • You will be joined by Edmonton Eskimos Mike Reilly, CFL Most Outstanding Player, (maybe his special hat) and All-star receiver Adarius Bowman and special guest Jason Strudwick.

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260  or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Alberta MS Society

Package #2: Hockey and Dinner at Grand Villa Casino

  • You and three friends will have a five-course meal at Atlas Steak House in Grand Villa Casino. All wine pairings and beverages included
  • Four tickets in a suite to the Oilers/Ducks game on March 25th (just in time for a playoff race).

You can bid by calling 780.444.1260  or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau


  • KevCantDance

    Bad starts still plague this team. Only diff last night is Talbot made the saves he made last year, giving them a chance to slow-start with no consequenses, instead of going down 2-0 5 minutes in, like they usually do, and then having to alter everything playing catch-up. How Talbot wasn’t first star is baffling.

  • OilersBro

    Three lines with superstar centre’s and a strong fourth line is fun to watch. Before the Oilers would have a great shift with Mcdavid on the ice and then play in their own zone for the next few minutes. Now we see consistent pressure in the other team’s zone

  • OilersGM

    Jason obviously the team was underpreforming but there were reasons to why they were underperforming and whether the media wants to deny it or not comment on it there were locker room issues.
    The Draisailt black eye was not from the Trouba hit and of course the coach will say that because he is not gonna reveal the issues inside his locker room. Many will say prove it or this and that but it has been proven to me from a very credible source but I honestly don’t care whether people believe me on this or not I’m just another fan but I know the truth. Having said all that I believe the team has finally worked out the issues that divided them in the first 20 games or so and I am the most excited fan about it. This team will make the playoffs.

  • The Future Never Comes

    I am digging the change of pace and noticeably higher hustle each game. But can someone please throw me a bone why our power play has remained the same? It is astounding to me. It actually boggles my mind, they are not scoring so, it could only go up from here -starting with new combinations. Those combos must be scoring a lot in practice, because they sure don’t score in games. Even in the blue moon when they do score, I could use the phrase “every blind squirrel finds a nut once and a while”.

    • BobbyCanuck

      All the players pass the puck to Connor, he does not like to shoot, so he passes the puck back to them, they think Connor should shoot so they pass the puck back to him, he gets the puck, and feels he should pass it to someone else, someone else gets the puck, and they think Connor has a better shot, so they pass it back to him…it is the cycle of the wheel of life, spinning spinning spinning, but not going anywhere….did that help?

  • oilerjed

    Hey Gregor, How much of this years poor start do you think can be attributed to a young team going deeper into the season in 2016/17 then ever before and suffering the disappointment that they did. I’ve seen other teams that make deep runs in the playoffs start super slow the next year (ala Pittsburgh etc). Could this have been the case with the Oil this year?

    • Jason Gregor

      Hard to say. I think they had many players who underperformed early. Was disappointment still lingering? I’m not sure. I never felt that speaking with them, but I did sense frustration early when they lost three in a row. I feel they truly believed they are a good team, and the early struggles frustrated them. It is hard to say with certainty what was the reason, your theory could be as valid as mine. I’m not sure we can every pinpoint it to disappointment from the previous year or early losses.

      • oilerjed

        Disappointment was part of my thinking but more so I was thinking the length of the season compared to what many of them were used to. I’m not sure how many had playoff experience before last season but I am guessing I could count them on one hand. The extra month of hockey must have had it’s toll on the younger guys, Did any of them talk about the physical effects of playing in the playoffs. Thanks for your reply.

    • It appears that several players started the season with lingering injuries that were probably left over from last year’s playoff run. In addition to the injuries, I believe that all of the hype around the Oilers’ chances of going deep this year might have contributed to a lack of preparation for this year. By the time they remembered how hard it is to win in the NHL, they were already in a deep hole. My point is, it appears that there were many contributing factors to the awful start. Let’s just hope that from here on out they can play at the pace that they played last year (0.634 of available points). That would be good enough for 94 points.

  • Spoils

    Nope. Losing Sekera and Ebs and Talbot being exhausted from overuse combined with the unparalled parity of the NHL derailed the Oilers. Mgt could have managed this.

    Coaching also hasnt dealt with opposition figuring out our special teams.

    But, hey- Jesse has caught up,Talbot is back, sekera is back,

  • OilCan2

    If they keep up with the underlying numbers (& a few bounces toward the twine off the iron) they are going to be full value for the money. With Captain Connor going full speed its a good thing they have plexiglass otherwise the first three rows would have windburn.

  • ScottV

    I’ve never been a fan of the style of play that McL has the team playing. It’s not stable enough. To work – Talbot has to stand on his head, like in several instances in the Blues game and like pretty much all of last year.
    Teams that are coached to play stable hockey, don’t give up that many glaring scoring chances against. They will win most games 2 to1 or 3 to 2 and while not a big margin of victory on the scoreboard, the losing team feels like they never really had much of a chance to win. The Oilers just dont play that way and I really think that they are gonna have a hard time getting over the hump, toward making the playoffs this year and being a real contender in the future.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    People need to shut their mouths about this “nurse punched Draisitl” thing. Nobody has confirmed it, and the only people who bring it up are trolls who are making a poor attempt at stirring up the fan base, because somehow WE are the reason the team sucked for 10 stinking years. WE are the reason Edmonton was lucky enough to select McDavid. If you hate the fanbase, fine hate the fan base, but don’t you DARE start spreading rumours in order to justify your means of hating the fan base.

    You want to tell me that Nurse punched Draisitl

    BACK. IT. UP.