51

Roll with it, baby

At this point in the season, nitpickers can always throw out the small sample size caveat, and that’s fair, but there’s a lot to like about the Edmonton Oilers right now after their 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings beyond their 8-4-1 record going into a game against the Washington Capitals Monday.

It’s not just that the Oilers are winning – the stretch they’re on after a 0-2 start now includes five straight road wins – it’s how and why they’re winning games in this largely unexpected bolt out of the blocks through 13 games. After considerable consternation early on, I’m seeing some promising trends and developments.

From where I sit, it looks like coach Todd McLellan might – emphasis on might – have himself a bonafide first-pairing on the blueline in Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson, a fourth-line that can contribute some secondary scoring in Kyle Brodziak, Jujhar Khaira and Zack Kassian and a back-up goaltender worth throwing in the net once in a while in Mikko Koskinen.

Of course it’s too soon to say for sure, but if I’m McLellan I’m rolling with it for now until I see otherwise.

BLUE LINE DUO

Oct 19, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson (6) takes a shot against the Chicago Blackhawks during a game at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Klefbom and Larsson are healthy so far, save for a puck in the mouth and a nasty cut for Larsson, and playing a boatload of reliable minutes to this point. Klefbom played a game-high 24:57 against the Red Wings and is averaging 25:56 this season. Larsson logged 23:43 in Detroit and is averaging 21:47, even with the 22 stitches in his busted lip.

Quantity aside, McLellan is getting quality from both them. With 0-6-6, Klefbom has been pretty good offensively. As important, his advanced stats paint an even brighter picture. They’re here. Same for Larsson, who has some very solid underlying numbers to go with four assists and the physical punishment he delivers on the defensive side of the puck, which is his forte.

While Klefbom and Larsson likely won’t ever shape up as a high-end first pairing offensively, if they can stay healthy, which has been an issue for both of them, and deliver more of the same, that’s a good start on sorting out a blueline that might be more capable than many of us thought going into the season.

THE FOURTH LINE

Successful teams don’t hang their hats on a solid, reliable and occasionally productive fourth line, but almost all the best teams have them. Reclamation project Brodziak, Khaira and Kassian, who struggled last season and again to start this campaign, looked like a reasonable facsimile of that in Detroit.

Brodziak scored two goals, including the winner. They were his first goals with the Oilers since March of 2009 during his first go-round here. Khaira finished with two assists and Kassian was intent on banging bodies and being the pain in the backside he has to be if he wants to stay in the lineup. Again, you can’t hinge your hopes on your fourth line, but you miss it if you don’t have it.

“Not only did they score a couple of goals, but they were consistently one of our better fore-checking lines and created a number of offensive opportunities,” McLellan said. “They’ve been playing very direct hockey. Not a lot of hope plays, not a lot of fancy or cute stuff. They’re big, they’re physical and they can all skate and think.”

THE BIG STOPPER

Sep 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mikko Koskinen (19) skates at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

After beating Nashville 5-3 and hanging a 4-0 collar on the Chicago Blackhawks, Koskinen made it three straight wins with 23 saves on 26 shots against the Red Wings. Koskinen wasn’t as solid as he’d been in his previous two outings, but he was good enough to win and that’s all you want from your back-up.

Through three starts, Koskinen is 3-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and a save percentage of .935. Those numbers will swing a lot given how few games he’s played, but the bottom line for me is he’s looked more than capable of being the 20-game guy GM Peter Chiarelli paid for.

While it’s too early to talk about Koskinen taking the net from starter Cam Talbot, it does the rest of the roster a world of good to know they don’t need to score five goals to have any chance of winning when the big Finn is in the crease. That’s a mental bump that plays into things.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

    • There are some people who aren’t happy unless they’re unhappy about something. After so many years of poor results I understand that there’s lingering frustration, and that’s OK. Nobody has to start whistling a happy tune just because the team puts together a decent streak or has a handful of good games. At the same time, there are those who moan and complain just to do it as sport. It’s their thing. Whether it’s three comments or 300, it’s easy on the back end of the website to search the comments of any given poster and line them up from top to bottom to see where they’re coming from. There’s a minority out there determined to be miserable.

      • Gravis82

        I voice my misery as I am displeased with management decisions, for a team who I spent plenty of time and money. Considering there is no other way to do it than here, what is a fan to do? This is the outlet like it or not. The reason we are good is because of McDavid. and that is literally the only reason for any success since he was drafted. His presence covered managerial mistakes from minor to major, he is that good. We know this. I do not yet see evidence that they are building a top 10 team in the NHL from lines 2-4. This annoys me because I worry that this is not happening because our GM is incapable of doing so. If this is true, then no matter how good McDavid is, we will never win the cup. Until you can show me that Chiarelli has put together a playoff caliber team with McDavid off the ice, I can’t shake the feeling that we could be achieving much much more with a different GM.

        Maybe this year is the year he proves it to me.

          • Gravis82

            Its all a money making a corporate brand, like all sports franchises. Designed to entertain and extract my dollars. I am fine with it as long as I trust the best people are trying their best to leverage my money and time into the most wins as possible. I don’t yet feel they are. My goggles are off.

        • AJ88

          Your “outlet” should be to spend no more time or money on the Oilers. Do you think the Oilers are following your comments on Oilers Nation? Who exactly do you think your audience is with the constant negativity? Advice, quit spending your so called time and money on the Oilers, sounds like you would be much happier. Of course As Brownlee mentioned we all know what makes you happy, nothing.

        • wilco

          And yet we’re talking about a game in which Brodziak scored twice and the backup goalie got the win, in other words a game in which we were good NOT because of McDavid. So that’s evidence, right?

          • Gravis82

            Ummm no. With McDavid, we should be THE dominant team in the NHL without question, as of 2 years ago. The McDavid line, no matter who’s on it, will crush ANY OTHER first line in the NHL, and beat every other top pairing. Do we not get how rare this is? We have a first line that eats the other teams first line for lunch in almost every single game.

            All we have to do it ice lines 2-4 that are slightly average, and we win a cup. Actually put together a great set of lines 2-4, and we are the golden state oilers essentially.

            Everyone thinks that out slightly above average play is great because we are used to being awful.

            Open your eyes. We should be so much better right now, almost at unprecedented levels. McDavid is that good. Why does no one else get this? I seriously don’t understand.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    In regards to Koskinen, it reminds me of a quoute from Steve Dangle when he did a video on the 15-16 Oilers.

    “While Cam Talbot has taken the starters role from Anders Nilsson, Nilsson has played his fair chunk of the games and it’s been to Talbot’s benefit”.

    Nilsson played 24 games in the 15-16 campaign, Talbot played 57. Cam would go on to play 86 games in 16-17 (73 reg season + 13 playoff games), and 67 in 17-18. All I’m saying is that if Mikko can give Talbot 20-25 games of rest, it will benefit both goalies immensely.

    • Quoteright

      Earlier in the year I said win and your in for the goalies. Simple and effective. Why is Talbot gifted the starting job? In small sample size he has been greatly outplayed. Talbot is at the bottom of the list when it comes to save %.
      Considering he is up for a contract, competition could save some dollars.

  • Consultant

    On that 4th line, it’s Khaira that sticks out for me, big guy protects the puck well and makes good passes. Love seeing him cement himself a roster spot. Two beauty assists in Detroit.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      Also, can’t forget that Broziak had 33 points (10 goals) last year in StL. He was also +13…
      There is potential for a great 4th line here, we haven’t seen the end if this.

  • Bills Bills

    The team has looked good. For the most part they are winning games that they were actually the better team in. A good sign they aren’t just getting lucky and scraping out wins.

  • OilerForLife

    The team seems to be carrying a certain confidence in that they trust each other out there. Also the message from coaching is that to focus on playing your game, acknowledge your mistakes but don’t dwell them. Trent Yawney, Gulutzan, Chaisson, Koskinen, and Brodziak have all been outstanding in boosting the team this year. Klefbom and Larsson have recovered from their problems of last year and are very solid looking back there. Many other have improved their games and nearly everybody is finding something they can do to help win games.

    Washington is next up and any game seems winnable.

      • OilerForLife

        Correct, Rieder gets pucks deep on the PK and has helped galvanized the 2nd line. I just can’t wait until the third line gets going as well.They will be unstoppable and are starting looking like the team a couple of years ago or even better than that. Chiarelli also seems to have the Midas Touch for all the changes he’s made in the offseason. There is no easy games in the NHL but I’m also watching more calmly just knowing they will find a way to win. Talbot should come back strongly and the most played goalie of the last two seasons has finally got the deserved rest than he has earned, and should show renewed vigor when he gets back in the back to back games with the Capitals and Bolts.Really looking forward to watching the Oilers this season. Oilers tickets are a hot commodity this year.

  • Rama Lama

    I have to admit PC is looking like a real GM ……..due to Koskinen. I must admit I’m pretty hard on him most times, but he may have just pulled a rabbit out of the hat with Koskinen.

    I do hope that TM sends Yamamoto down to the minors, so that he can gain some confidence and some size. He is a good player but not yet ready for prime time. Too small and constantly getting punch off the puck is not doing him any favours……..he can develop this part of the game down in the minors.

    Everything else seems to be trending in the right direction…….we seem to finally have some depth.

        • wiseguy

          There was a time when Lucic and Yak looked a good pickup too. Expensive UFA and first overall pucks can disappoint over time just as much. Pointless argument?

          • Serious Gord

            Bargain basement acquisitions – either in hockey or in everyday life are bargains for similar reasons – they have known deficiencies- they are damaged, worn-out, out of fashion or serve a purpose that is no longer in demand. That makes them higher risk of not succeeding – but at relatively $hits and giggles money why not? Sometimes they work – many times they don’t. If they don’t the pain is less and more forgettable.

            Over-priced items usually are the opposite in all of those aspects.

  • The future never comes

    Mikko has been the best surprise for me after his sketchy preseason performance. If he continues to maintain his play, give him 25-30 games and allow for Talbot to be more mentally fresh. The new coaching staff has also breathed new air and positivity in that dressing room. Todd’s decision making seems to be better this year and I wonder if that is from him getting his ideas challenged more often from the staff. Caggiula has muted all of his harshest critics for now. I also think having internal competition (Yamo, and now Rattie) waiting in the wings, the players have to play more honestly or they could be scratched from game to game. Accountability is growing, which we have not seen around these parts forever.

    • GRC

      Perhaps Todd is better with his decision making because the input from his assistants has been better. Even though the final decision is Todd’s this isnt a 1 man show. Feedback and alternate input is very important.

  • M22

    As you stated, Robin, it’s still too early to draw conclusions, but I’m seeing the same kind of play from the team that we saw two seasons ago, when the Oilers made their playoff run. Intensity, passion, commitment to their systems, staying in games (which I’ve always believed is one of the key components McLellan instilled in that group), and most of all – confidence. They believe. Their body language, facial expressions, the collective swagger they’re re-discovering – we’ve seen this before, and it was a good season.

    We’ll see what they’re made of when times get tough (injuries, losing streaks, etc).

  • BlueHairedApe

    A lot of comparisons with this team and the one from two seasons ago. Actually I think this team is better. A more experienced McDavid among others. Two solid goaltenders. Fewer soft players that don’t compete every night..no Eberle, Pouliot. We’re missing Sekera but our top pair have elevated their games. A lot to like as far as I’m concerned.

    • percy

      I agree. This team is stronger than a few years ago. The main reason we went on that playoff run was mostly because of Talbot. Hope they can keep it up. Their next battle is going to be complacency.

  • HelpMeBabyJesus

    Keep playing Koskinen until he loses. Let Talbot get hungry again and really want to show what he can do. Ty who? Leave Caggiula alone if he is scoring. Same with Chiasson. Continue to try and find a trade for Kassian. We really need an upgrade on defence, if by the grace of all the hockey gods we make the playoffs. Let’s go Oilers! Now, who’s jersey do I get? Chiasson or Koskinen? Hmmmm…

  • Goaltender Interference

    Two weeks ago I complained that there wasn’t any secondary scoring. Since then we’ve had all lines contributing although in different games. If all four lines get rolling consistently then watch out.

    I’m starting to become a believer but will hold final judgement till the end of the month when they’ve played a series of games against the Pacific division.

      • Goaltender Interference

        Not sure what any of that has to do with my point other than help make it for me by pointing out the scoring is coming from different lines. I didn’t name Kass, Strome or Lucic in my comment.

        That said, I disagree with you. Lucid and Kass have both been playing nice and physically the last couple weeks which helps grind the other teams down. Stroke might not be a point machine but he’s quietly been doing everything a third line center should do.

        Brownlee is right – some people can’t be happy even if the team is winning…

        • Goaltender Interference

          … and he screws up BOTH Lucic and Strome’s names thanks to auto-correct.

          Remember those days when ON had an edit button… Yeah – those were good days…

    • Quoteright

      Holy hand grenade batman is the Pacific looking a lot stronger over the past two weeks!
      Tough division when the worst team by a country mile is the Kings. No one saw that coming

  • Slats

    There’s been a lot to cheer for out of the gate. For me the biggest had been goaltending. As they have gotten the 1-2 big saves they’ve needed in the last few games. Last year they didn’t and they ended up losing many one goal games. The fourth line has exceeded expectations and that will be a big positive over 82G and when you’re down late in game you can lean on your top 6 and they should be fresh.

    Chiasson is a HUGE bonus. That scoring shoot fall off and i hope it’s Reider who catches fire.

    The challenges?
    1. Strome line. Strome is still playing in the safe areas and he’s not been effective and he’s hurting his wingers. Not sure what he’s waiting for but his effort has been C- at best.
    2.The D play when pressured. The worst are #25,#4 And #83. They make way too many plays with their back to the play, no look back passes etc. and that can’t happen in NHL. NHL teams #1 lines will feast on this play. If this does get fixed quick it will be our undoing over the next 10G.

    But the record has 3 more wins from where i thought we’d be so GO-OILERS!

      • scott5017

        Bouchard being sent back is good for his development but dont kid yourself, he was sent back because moving forward the oilers cannot afford to burn a year of entry level, money is going to be tight in our future.

  • OilCan2

    I see the team as firing on all four cylinders. First: we have seen an uptick in all four lines:) Second: the D looks great in spite of losing Reggie for likely the season. Third: the goalies have proven to be FAR better than last year. Fourth: (fingers on the trash buttons) management has provided a functional supply of both young in house solutions and useful lower roster players for this season. Now go get a win on Monday to make me look smarter than I am.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Two other cylinders–the PP & PK–could be a little more consistent, particularly that 1st group on the PP. I think that Lucic’s game has improved this year over last but I would like to see them try someone else for net-front mixes. Eberle scored a pp goal today that makes me wish they had at least one \_ on the ice with that group.

  • GK1980

    So far so good and your right Robin, I’m more impressed on how they are playing. They are playing with energy and tenacity. This has actually been a constant for once. Having McDavid also helps. Larson has looked a little slow on occasion lately, but overall solid.

  • KootenayDan

    Oiler fans can’t handle success always waiting for something bad to happen. Not this time we actually have a pretty good team, depth was always my concern we never had any for the last decade. Maybe the tank curse is finally over.