With the Edmonton Oilers coming out of the Christmas break on a four-game winning streak as they face the Winnipeg Jets on the road tonight, there’s been a lot to like about the way they’ve played during a 10-game stretch that’s seen them go 7-3 to move within four points of a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
Stopper Cam Talbot has been back on form and dialed in for most of that stretch and sits atop that list for me. Likewise, the decision by Todd McLellan to split up Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and run them with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle has been significant. McDavid (43 points), Draisaitl (29 points) and RNH (26 points) have all been productive atop team scoring.
The other aspect I’ve liked, and not just during this latest stretch that has seen the Oilers inch closer to the Anaheim Ducks in eighth place, is the even-strength production and the overall body of work we’ve seen from left winger Milan Lucic. Lucic has been a fixture alongside McDavid and has so far responded with 26 points – 20 of those points have come at even-strength.
Given the consternation over the breakdown of his production last season – 25 of his 50 points came on the power play – Lucic came into this season well aware he had to be more of a factor at even strength. So far, it’s been mission accomplished. Lucic has provided the same physical dimension fans have come to expect and he’s scored 6-14-20 at even strength and 3-3-6 with the Oilers enjoying a man-advantage.
RETURN TO FORM
“The five-on-five play has always been the strongest part of my game, and I really have to improve on that this year,” Lucic said heading into training camp. “I just can’t be so reliant on goals and points on the power play.” You can see Lucic’s stats beyond the boxcars here.
Overall, Lucic is producing points at about the same rate as last season. It took him 38 games to hit 26 points a year ago compared to 36 games this season. His goals per-game are down ever-so-slightly (.25 compared to .28). His assists per-game are up a fair bit (.47 compared to .33 in 2016-17). The biggest difference is that his production at even strength more resembles previous levels.
In that regard, it’s looking like last year was a one-off. In the three seasons prior to 2016-17, Lucic had 55 goals at even strength and seven on the power play. For his career, Lucic is 154-37 in terms of even/PP goals through 765 games.
WHILE I’M AT IT
- I don’t recall anybody picking the Vegas Golden Knights to be nearly as good as they’ve been. The Knights went into the break as the NHL’s hottest team in the last 10 games at 8-1-1, including four straight wins. With 48 points, 12 ahead of the Oilers, is anybody picking them to drop out of the playoff picture? The Oilers pumped the Knights 8-2 in November but that was against fourth-string goaltending.
- When you look at Edmonton’s special teams, specifically the PK, it’s amazing they’re even within a $5 cab ride of a post-season spot. The penalty killing comes out of the break dead-last at 72.9 per cent. The power play is 22nd at 16.8 per cent.
- The Oilers can help themselves climb the playoff ladder big-time in over the next month. They play their next 11 games against Western Conference opponents. They’ll get the Jets twice in their next three games and the Chicago Blackhawks come calling at Rogers Place after a game in Vancouver the night before.
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