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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The C-Word

Confidence isn’t a commodity you can put your finger on. You can’t measure it. You can’t run it on a spreadsheet, if that’s your thing, like you can with numbers. Yet, when teams are playing as well as the Edmonton Oilers are right now, it comes up often. Two games into the season, we were hearing the same word, but players were talking about a lack of it.

It’s a chicken-and-egg thing – when teams are confident, they win, when they win, they’re confident. We heard plenty of talk about confidence again post-game Saturday after the Oilers ended a 13-game losing streak against the Nashville Predators with a 5-3 win that has them sitting with a gaudy 5-3-1 record going into Chicago against the Blackhawks today.

Speaking of confidence, I had none the Oilers would play this well when they jetted off to Europe to start a tough schedule with four straight games on the road before facing teams dubbed Murderer’s Row. I thought the Oilers would be lucky get nine points in their first 11 games, and so did many of you, judging by a poll I posted on Twitter when the team was 0-2. Here we are, and they’ve got 11 points in nine games after knocking off Washington and Nashville back-to-back.

For me, confidence kicked in with that 5-4 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets on Oct. 16 when the Oilers roared back from a 4-1 deficit. Since then, they’ve played really well – even in a 3-0 loss to the Predators and a 6-5 OT loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Those around the team all the time as I once was are using the C-word plenty right now. Even at arm’s length, the team that beat the Predators Saturday looks loaded with confidence to me.

WATCHING IT BUILD

When you’re around the team, you can sense when confidence is building, just as you can when it’s waning. Like I said, it’s not necessarily something you can put your finger on or measure, but I’ve seen both ends of it at work. Jack Michaels, the radio play-by-play man for the Oilers on 630 CHED, has as good a feel for the team as anybody. Michaels put out a tweet Saturday that grabbed my attention. Yes, he’s an employee of the Oilers, but I put weight in his takes. He wasn’t the least bit wishy-washy.

Michaels isn’t suggesting the Oilers won’t ever lose again or that there won’t be difficult stretches and even the odd wretched performance because there obviously will be, but I’ve seen teams turn the right way during times like this. I was around for the longest win streak in franchise history, when the Oilers won nine straight games from Feb. 20 to March 13 in the 2000-01 season.

It was a stretch backed by Tommy Salo playing out of his mind with three shutouts. This was a so-so team (39 wins), but for three weeks that edition of the Oilers believed they could beat anybody, and they did. They waxed the LA Kings 5-0 and it started from there. Practices were crisp. Lots of laughter on the bus. It’s a you-had-to-be-there thing, so I won’t go on, but the sense of confidence was palpable. This is not that – different group, different time – but I’m hearing many of the same things.

“We got a confident group,” said Drake Caggiula, who scored two goals against the Predators that were the product of solid second efforts. “As the season’s gone on, you could see every game we’ve gotten better and better. We’re a very confident group right now.” Coach Todd McLellan seconded that: “We’re at a point now where the guys are believing in themselves. As you do that and you start to win, you believe in it a little more. It’s a powerful thing.”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Yes, it is. That said, talking the talk is one thing. Walking the walk is another. That much we know. It is, however, a lot easier bolting out through the gate at times like this. It seems like the bounces go your way. You play on your toes instead of on your heels. You don’t just want to win, you expect to win. There was nothing lucky about that win in Nashville Saturday, and against a team that’s beaten them for fun in recent seasons. The Oilers were full marks for it, right from untested Mikko Koskinen on out.

The Oilers arrived in Chicago last night early enough to get out for some dinner and to have a few laughs – there is always plenty of that at feel-good times like this. With Koskinen having passed his first test, Leon Draisaitl coming off a two-goal game and rolling and Milan Lucic playing his best hockey since the first half of last season, the Oilers will send a rested Cam Talbot to the crease to face the Blackhawks.

If the Oilers get past the Blackhawks this afternoon, that’s three wins in-a-row and then it’s back home to face the Minnesota Wild at Rogers Place Tuesday to close out an 11-game stretch that could have buried them early. That’s not going to happen. Suffice to say, fans are feeling more confident about this edition of the Oilers than they were after that 0-2 start. More important, so are the guys who are playing the games.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • KootenayDan

    I really hope there is no letdown today and the team keeps rolling along. I have no problem when the team loses if they are playing well sometimes the other team just has it that day. Fun being an Oiler fan again.

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    May sound odd, but I’d like to see Talbot steal a game that the team shouldn’t win to be more confident from the net out. I’m not bashing Talbot, but I haven’t seen a game where the goalie stole the show/ game–unlike the 0-3 loss to the Preds where Saros deserves credit for keeping the Oil off the board.

      • Himynameistaylor

        Or his sound positional play and head trajectory, and rebound control versus Washington. I don’t get the ragging on Talbot. He’s been the best goalie the team has had since Dwayne Roloson.

        • Rufio Barcoli

          How about all the goals he let in with generous rebounds, weak 5hole and slow reaction.
          Just like you want him not to ignore the positives, you can’t ignore those negatives neither.
          Talbot has been average or above average at best so far this season.

          • Himynameistaylor

            Talbot has played well more often than he’s played poorly and the record is an indicative of that. He also set a franchise record in wins two years ago like
            There is no pleasing you people the dude could pitch 82 shutouts and still not be your guy.

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        That was great ‘tending. Would love to see a win go along with it–which isn’t just on the goalie, the team needed to respond with the offence to make the efforts in net matter. Full disclosure: I think the team’s played better in every single game and that the last four games are great indicators of what’s possible. I don’t see a problem in Talbot’s game this year, but I’d love to see him steal a game and have the team respond in front of him appropriately when he does.

      • Canoe Ride 27

        I hope he continues to make me eat my words. It’s one game but $2.5M is starting to look likes it’s worth every penny. Koskinen is inspiring confidence and it’s doesnt hurt that he’s an intimidating 6’7 monster.

        • Spydyr

          IMO he looked more technically sound than Talbot. Koskinen tracked the puck better, played his angles better and just looked confident. He also fills more of the net when he goes down.

          • Himynameistaylor

            You have 0 clue about the goaltending position if you think Koskinen looked more technically sound. Talbot is one of the best goalies at cutting off his angles in the league. Koskinen was beat by a puck in his feet for God’s sake lmao.

        • Need to see some more. Koskinen was was good early and a bit lucky at times — that breakaway save was with the knob of his stick and the Preds hit two goal posts with him beaten cleanly. He finished up at .889 (three goals on 27 shots). Overall, he looked solid and in control.

      • Shameless Plugger

        Oh man if that was Talbot with an .889 save % you’d be ripping him. Saying things like the team won despite him or that they were lucky to leave with two points. Save % is your main argument against Talbot nearly every article. Yet You want to give Koskinen the next start because he “earned” it with his gaudy .889%. Weird how your standards have dropped suddenly 😮!

      • Ithompson

        Since when is it a good thing to have any goalie play back to back games without a rest period between them? That was the big argument for the past few years when Talbot would play both games in a back to back… “you’ll wear him out playing him that much no goalie can play back to back games and expect to win” was the prominent complaint about Talbot playing without a break.

        • Himynameistaylor

          It’s just the modus operandi of some people on this website to yearn for the goaltending days of Ben Scrivens and Jeff Deslauriers. Those people we like to call delusional.

    • wiseguy

      Personally I would much prefer that the team plays consistently well that the goalie never has to “steal” a game. Usually that means you’re being badly outplayed.

    • Dr

      I think it’s better that they haven’t had to rely on him stealing games. I would’ve thought they would’ve needed that against the top teams, but they’ve won as a team, not with goal tending only.

  • OilerForLife

    I think they are playing better than they did 2 years ago, because when they started that season the had a favorable schedule. They started at home and had a lot of easier teams, if there’s such a thing. They seemed to draw teams playing the second game of a back to back.

    This time is different! They and their fans now have confidence.I know it’s early but this looks really good. New coaching is working and there is a definite change on the PP and PK , it’s literally shut the mouth of belligerent fans of other teams and they realize the Oilers are now very good. We’ve avoided any major injuries of key players, and other teams are struggling with that. Players are being held accountable and for the more part are responding.

    In other words the hockey gods even seem to be on our side!

    This

    • FISTO Siltanen

      I agree with the challenge of the schedule.

      I can’t imagine this team would be brimming with confidence if they were 5-3-1 off games against non-playoff teams last year. It’s great that it’s been great teams they are passing the test with.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    Well I certainly hope they’re brimming with confidence. Start 0-2 then win 5 of your next 7 games?

    These last few games have reminded me of the 16-17 club. Good goaltending, solid defensive work, support from all 4 lines. It’s not exact (I’d still take the 16-17 club over this one right now) but this club is trending in the right direction. Now they need to continue that momentum and finish October strong.

    Win tonight, and they’re first in the Pacific Division. Let that sink in for a bit.

    • Dubz337

      Team bud, not club my friend, they’re playing hockey here, not soccer. The fact that Larsson came back after a puck to the chops instead of rolling on the ice like he’d been shot last game should let you know they’re not playing soccer lol

  • Whaler

    Usually some adversity is needed. The young players learned some hard, valuable lessons last year. Oh ya, and it also got us the RHD pp specialist who is big AND 19 years old. Last year could be a blessing in disguise.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      If the options are making the playoffs and getting smoked (see Kings and Ducks) or missing and coming back refocused with a strong draft as well, I’ll take the latter.

  • Johnny Zylon

    Confidence begates confidence. Winning any game helps but the last 3 games have given hope that maybe, just maybe we can dream of playoffs. Why not start Koskinen again today? Nothing against Talbot but he just beat Nashville. Let’s see what he’s got in back to back games. Play him till he looses.

  • Rama Lama

    Confidence only last as long as your goalie is punching above his weight. Cam Talbot had a rough start and as a result the team lacked confidence. If Cam and Mikko can continue with their above average play……..I like our chances!

  • Hockeytalkguy

    Totally agree with Brownlee that things changed with that comeback against Winnipeg. I just can’t believe how they have played better and better in each passing game. It’s like watching a totally different team. Good for them that they may have it figured out. Love the effort theses past 7 games.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    I love wins but can live with losses. I appreciate a good effort by the team but understand when they are less than sharp and lack focus. I expect them to take no team for granted but suspect it’ll happen a few times still.

    What I judge this team on is how they respond the next game. That’s what I did in 2017 and was a very satisfied fan. I see that resilience setting into this roster and I love it.

  • Heschultzhescores

    Confidence is what carried Vegas and carries all winning teams. It is hard to get, but once you get it, good things happen. Everyone starts contributing. We have more than CMD now. Much more!

  • Whaler

    I think it was Gretz who said the best teams have guys embrace their roll on the team. It seems Drai is realizing he needs to push the tempo as a second line. He might not rack up the big points with Connor but he realizes winning is what matters. I also see this with Lucic on the third line, him and Strome have been great there, and the points will come. We are having depth guys like Chiasson, Rieder, and Caggiula complement our core guys. They all seem to buy into a winnint system and that would be directly related to a good coaching system. I’d rotate the goalies and see if one of them can grab the reigns and run with it. If Talbot plays lights out tonight then I’d go back to him, but if he is just OK, I’d try the giant again and see if he can grab it for a bit. Confidence is just as vital with goalies. I’m torn with EB. He looks like he should stay, but that expansion makes things tricky. If Bear is playing well in the A, I’d bring him up and see if he can play as well, then maybe you could send EB down. But I love the kid, he’s got ice in his veins and he clearly knows how to get a puck thru to the net. If they do keep him I wouldn’t mind him on the top pp by mid year.