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.
Four of Edmonton’s five wins against playoff teams from a year ago, including the President’s Trophy winners and the Stanley Cup champions.
The worm has turned and it ain’t turnin’ back.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) October 27, 2018
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.