The Edmonton Oilers are 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but it doesn’t feel like they are gaining much momentum because those seven games occurred over 25 days, and an ugly loss to the Buffalo Sabres left a bad taste in the mouths of the players and the fans.
Are the Oilers finally turning the corner?
After watching the Oilers dismantle a tired Tampa Bay team, led by Connor McDavid’s career-high four goals, Oilersnation is buzzing.
As it should be. There hasn’t been much for fans to cheer about. McDavid was on another level last night.
“It helps when you score the first time you touch the puck,” he said. “I felt good before the game, but I got energized from that goal and I think our entire team did. We played fast and we need to do that more regularly. We have a lot of speed, but we haven’t shown it regularly,” said the NHL’s fastest skater.
McDavid was flying, but he was also shooting. He matched his career high with nine shots on net, scoring four times. McDavid knows he looks to pass too much, he’s talked about it many times. A few weeks ago he talked about what he wants to improve in his game. “I need to finish off more chances. I’m creating a lot, but I need to finish them by either shooting or making the right pass,” he explained.
He led the charge last night, but it wasn’t just McDavid.
The Oilers were flying from the opening faceoff. They drew an early penalty, and then actually scored on the powerplay with precise and quick puck movement.
“It’s like you were on the ice yesterday at practice,” Ryan Strome said to me after I asked him about the Oilers powerplay finally moving the puck quicker. “I got yelled about exactly that (moving puck to slowly) during Monday’s practice. Just move it quickly, don’t over handle it, or overthink. Having Connor and Leon on the power play, sometimes you want to defer to them too much. We have a lot of skill and we need to use it better on the power play,” said Strome after last night’s victory.
Strome is playing his best hockey of the season lately. He has five points in three games, and he’s moving his feet. He is carrying the puck into the zone and backing off defenders. Earlier in the season I didn’t think he could excel as a centre, but he’s proving me wrong. He has looked much better and he’s elevated his game since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went down.
Now he needs to continue to play well. The Oilers can’t get comfortable. They’ve done that far too often this season.
Even during this recent streak, they laid an egg versus the 30th place Buffalo Sabres, but winning five of seven is a good start. Now the Oilers need to keep it up.
After 52 games last season the Lighting were 22-24-6 (50 points), then they finished the season 20-6-4 and finished with 94 points, missing the dance by one point. I suspect much of the Oilers current roster will return next season. This group needs to play for each other and finish strong.
The Oilers have a massive hill to climb, and the playoffs seem unlikely, but they can’t waste these final 31 games. Edmonton has amassed 11 points in their past seven games. Only Winnipeg has picked up more points, going 5-0-2, within the Western Conference.
The Oilers’ ascent up the standings will be very slow. Compare their past seven games with the six teams they are chasing for the final two playoff spots (third in the Pacific and the wild card).
Minnesota gained nine points, Los Angeles eight, Anaheim and Colorado seven, while Chicago and Calgary produced six points.
The Oilers need to pick up at least 10 points in every seven game stretch, and probably eleven in a few of them, to slowly close the gap on the teams they are chasing.
SEVEN GAME STRETCHES
Starting today I’m going to monitor how they fare versus those six teams over a seven-game stretch. This upcoming seven-game stretch will be the most difficult for the Oilers. They play six road games and one home game. They are in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Anaheim and San Jose on Friday and Saturday, home to Florida next Monday, back on the road to Vegas next Thursday and then Arizona and Colorado on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
A positive seven-game stretch would see them gain at least two-four points on LA, Minnesota, Anaheim, Colorado, Chicago, and Calgary. You could argue LA, Anaheim and Calgary are the teams to focus on, because if they somehow manage to catch all three then they would be in, but with Minny and LA tied in points today, I think it makes more sense to include the second wild card spot as well.
The Oilers need to go 5-1-1 or 4-1-2 over the next seven games. It won’t be easy, but that is their reality.
1. Connor McDavid became the sixth Oilers player to score four goals in a game since Wayne Gretzky scored five goals on December 6th, 1987 versus Minnesota.
Glenn Anderson did it twice. March 4th, 1988 versus Philly and November 19th, 1988 versus Toronto.
Mark Messier also did it twice. February 21st, 1989 versus Hartford and March 3rd, 1990 versus Philly.
Vincent Damphousse scored four versus Winnipeg on December 14th, 1991.
Alex Selivanov potted four in Chicago on November 14th, 1999.
Sam Gagner had four goals versus Chicago on February 2nd, 2012.
McDavid scores his four versus Tampa on February 5th, 2018.
Selivanov was the only one to do it on the road, while Gagner had the most points, eight, Gretzky had six and McDavid, Selivanov and Anderson (PHI) each had five points.
Gretzky had 13 shots on goal when he scored five goals. Anderson had 12 in both of his games, while Damphousse fired ten shots. McDavid tied his career-high with nine last night. Selivanov scored his four goals on five shots. Gagner and Messier (HAR) were the only two to score all four goals at even strength.
2. Streaks can change quickly. McDavid has six goals in his last two games. He had one goal in his previous 13 games. His five-point performance saw him jump from 13th in league scoring up to a tie for third with Nathan MacKinnon and Jakub Voracek, with 61 points. McDavid is now five points back of Nikita Kucherov in the race for the Art Ross. McDavid is looking to become the first player since Jaromir Jagr (1998-2001) to win the scoring race in consecutive seasons. And trust me, he wants to win it.
3. The Oilers scored two powerplay goals last night on four chances. They had two powerplay goals in their previous fifteen home games and were 4.9% (2 of 41). They had only scored three PP goals over their previous 19 games (3 of 50 for 6%). It was only one game, but last night the powerplay actually looked good. They created many good chances. I will need to see a solid 10-game stretch before I’m prepared to call their PP good, but at least they showed a pulse with the man advantage. Having Strome on the left boards has helped, no question, but the players had more much more movement yesterday. They weren’t standing still as much as we’ve seen for most of the year. And the early PP goal was a huge boost. All the players admitted it. Even Steven Stamkos said he felt the early PP goal really gave Edmonton a boost. Now let’s see if they PP can maintain some success.
4. Prior to last night, McDavid was on pace to score 28 goals. Now he is on pace for 33. He was on pace for 92 points before the game and now he’s on pace for 98. I’m always cautious of prorating projections because they can change quickly, especially for elite players like McDavid who are capable of a breakout game at any point.
5. McDavid now has nine multi-goal games. As a rookie, he scored two goals three times versus Calgary, Toronto and Buffalo. Last year he opened the season with two goals against Calgary and then scored a hat-trick in Dallas on November 19th. He had a hat-trick on opening night this year vs. Calgary, then a pair versus Vegas in November, two on Colorado last Thursday and four last night. Prior to his last two games, six goals, the most goals he’d scored in consecutive games was three.