Photo Credit: © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

After 30

Like a much-needed blast from the past, the Edmonton Oilers hit the 30-game mark of this season with a 1-0 win over the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place on Sunday, a victory that improved them to 7-2-1 under new head coach Ken Hitchcock and 16-12-2 overall for 34 points.

It’s a win that sent the faithful filing into the parking lots happy and a result that has the current edition of the Oilers sitting pretty much where they were two years ago, when the team started out 14-11-5 for 33 points on the way to making it into the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

After having the carpet pulled out from beneath them last season after a long-awaited sniff of the post-season in 2016-17, the buzz is back, the building is alive again and fans are happy enough right now that they’re cheering Milan Lucic, who has scored exactly two goals in 75 games. This is a different team with a different coach, but it’s much the same feeling.

“This was like a playoff game,” said Hitchcock, who has turned the Oilers on a dime since arriving. “We did a really good job in the first and third periods and it got away from us in the second because of their stretch (offence) game. This was the first time we’ve got challenged like this off the rush. But I liked how we stayed with it. I liked how we protected the lead in the third and we’re learning how to play as a unit of five. That’s a good sign.”

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Mar 24, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) tries to check Los Angeles Kings defensemen Drew Doughty (8) during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Damn straight it’s a good sign. A goal by Connor McDavid and a 24-save performance by Mikko Koskinen for his sixth straight win at home and his third shutout in that stretch, got it done. Two years ago, by the way, McDavid was on his way to his first Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion with 12-26-38 through 30 games. McDavid is at 16-25-41 now. As for Koskinen, who has a gaudy .972 save-percentage at home, he was toiling with St. Petersburg in the KHL before general manager Pete Chiarelli, ahem, astutely offered him $2.5 million a season to play here.

When you look back at all the moaning about Koskinen’s contract in pre-season compared to what is being said and written now and you hear Lucic being serenaded with “Loooch” after belting Travis Hamonic and scrapping Anthony Peluso in the aftermath – hell, he drew cheers just chugging in on the forecheck during one shift — you know the worm has turned.

Hitch Hockey likely isn’t going to produce at a 7-2-1 pace the rest of the way, but when Hitchcock says the Oilers are executing at only about a 60 per cent clip compared to what he’d like to see, as he did today, you know where he’s set the bar. Hitchcock isn’t going to take his foot off the gas now. No chance. He’s not satisfied.

I’m trying to recall a three-week stretch when I’ve seen as drastic a turnaround – in performance on the ice and in the confidence of the players — as we’ve witnessed with the Oilers in the last 10 games. In all my years, I don’t recall one. With the Oilers playing in Denver Tuesday and Winnipeg Thursday, we’ll see if the roll continues. They’ll jump their jet six points out of first place in the Western Conference.

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  • I mentioned this on Twitter Sunday, but I think it’s worth repeating. Coaches can tell a player they believe in him, that they’ve got that player’s back, but actions always speak louder than words. Hitchcock had a lot of good things to say about Jesse Puljujarvi when he got him recalled from the AHL, and that’s fine, but seeing Puljujarvi out in the final minute with the game on the line against the Flames Sunday says more than words ever can.
  • The power play is 0-for-17 over the last five games, so bet your bottom dollar there will be plenty of time spent on that in coming days. The Oilers could’ve ended any drama against the Flames Sunday with the man-advantage but got zippity-do-da on three PP attempts in the third period.
  • Through 30 games this season, the Oilers have scored 82 goals and allowed 87 for a minus-5. Through their first 30 games back in 2016-17, they’d scored 90 goals and allowed 83, for a plus-7.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I’ve had high hopes for JJ and Jesse for a good while now and have been frustrated in how their playing hadn’t really evolved offensively and as more well-rounded players under McL. Yet over the 10 games of Hitch hockey I’d say that I’ve seen material changes in both their games where I’ve got confidence that they can become clearly good top six choices–they’ve got the wheels, smarts, and touches to help complement RNH and create a solid second line and they”re showing that they’ve got the sticks, reach and big bodies to play in their own end as well.
    As much as the Identity line was almost an instant success (I was delighted with that line within their first 15 minutes together), I expect that the Nuge line might be the most important development for the Oilers longer term.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    It’s nice to see the Oil get a win, the lack of goal scoring since Hitch took over is a little concerning ( besides the 7-2 game )But I think that is more a testament to Hitch playing more of defensive system, and the guys buying into that. I believe the scoring will go up some if the PP can get clicking the PK needs some work but it seems a lot better.

    One thing I do like is that Hitch has the team pressuring the puck carriers more when they get over center and especially in are end which isnt giving them a ton of time to look and see what they can do and what passes they can make, something I thought TM didnt have the Oil do enough of in our end.

    Hitch will get the most out of a player, cause if he doesnt ten to one your rding the bench for a period or in the pressbox. The oilers defensive system seems to be working because under TM I had no clue what type of systems he was working, Hitch has them trying to keep the shots from the outside abnd kepp the opposing team bottled up along the boards.

    Koskinen has been really really good which after the preseason I didnt think much of him but I like the fact that he gets p.o’ed when he lets in one he thinks he should have had, because he is playing with some emotion and seems to just buckle down. Nice to see Talbot get some wins as well I hope for his sake he can stay on that train cause it can only boost his confidence and the Oilers are going to have to decide at some point what to do with these two since both of their contracts are up at the end of the year, and I dont see the Oilers keeping both especially at the money they are making now when both will be looking for more money and more term


      I’m not too concerned with the lack of goal scoring. The chances have been there, but the players have been lacking finish. Draisaitl had an excellent breakaway opportunity last night, and Lucic had a couple in the Wild game. When they start burying those chances AND get their powerplay where it needs to be, the Oilers could be a top 5-10 team in the League.

    • BR

      If our PP starts clicking then these one goal games become 4-2 or 3-1 games with some 5-1 games. but thats IF we get the power play back to being a top 5 in the league PP. With Mcdavid, Drai, and nuge on them team they definitely have the tools. a RHD up top would go some way.

  • Just facts

    While they had another good ten game stretch earlier in the season, their focus seems better under Hitch (hopefully I’m not just not seeing what I want to ). With his emphasis on getting them to play better defensively, I don’t think its surprising that the power play may be a bit off. As the defensive piece becomes more second nature, they will be better able to let things flow on offense.

  • “Puljujarvi out in the final minute with the game on the line”

    Makes me wonder what Hitch sees and others missed. One mans garbage is another mans treasure.
    Finnish GM Kekalainen from Columbus was expected to draft Puljujarvi, but made it clear he wasn’t interested in his fellow countryman. Oilers snapped him up and here he is. In the dog house one day, playing top line minutes the next.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      During the scrum today Hitch said of Jesse that he was well coached as a younger player and has the ability to hide and then use his stick very effectively to check, and that with his reach he’s a great defender. He also said (and I’ve never heard this used in sports before), that Jesse’s got a conscience that really makes a difference. Ultimately Hitch has deep trust in the kid and hopes to have him between 13 and 16 minutes asap, with time killing penalties within the next few weeks.

      Found here:

      • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        Hitch also said that Koski starts against the Avs and Talbot against either the Jets or Flyers, TBD.
        His take on Koski is something to hear: total pro.

      • I like how Hitch is putting a positive spin on everything. He’s not knocking heads or kicking a*s. He keeps his criticism to a minimum, probably saving it for a losing streak, but for now it’s all good, and so it should be.

        Oilers 7 – 2 – 1 under Hitch.

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          Well the thing with Hitch is you ask a question you will get an answer, with TM if the media asked him a question TM would do the ottawa two step and say a lot but never really answer the question. Hitch isnt afrais to say what he things he isnt afraid to say if this player has a bad game or he think this player needs to do this and less of that.

  • oilfan4ever

    What a change there is in the Oiler team dynamic. Previously the question was,”Who can we put in to fill this hole or that hole?” Now its “Soandso is coming back,who do we have to take out?”

    • OilersBro

      I’m actually so excited. This season and next.
      I think we’ll have at least 3 wingers like Yamo Benson and Marody competing for more playing time with defencemen like Bear, Bouch, and a possibility of a recovered Sekera… all guys who can fill their top 2 respective lines… Wowza

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Yes, as long as someone can convince Ken to re-sign?
        Right now, I think he may want to, but he did retire?
        Also, will we still be behind him as fans if (when) the team goes on a losing streak?
        I certainly hope so. It’s human nature to respond positively to positive reinforcement and vice-versa.
        We tend to pile-on quickly when it comes to negative outcomes. More so than other NHL fanbases.
        This negative energy isn’t helpful to a team, it’s human nature.
        If the fanbase piles on Hitch during a losing skid, I can’t see him coming back. I also can’t see players wanting to play here based on that.
        The Oilers player as well as the rest of the NHL resect & admire Hitchcock (just ask any that played for him). and if the fans run him out, who would want to be an Oiler in the future, with our recent history?
        We must remain positive because the negative will happen.

  • FlamesFan27

    I thought Calgary’s first line would chew up the Oilers “identity” line. To their credit, the Oilers did a really good job of limiting the Calgary opportunities, with a lot of time spent in Calgary’s end.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      If the Oilers make the playoffs I wonder what they do with Hitch? Would they try and sign him as the HC or would they include him in the organisation under another role? Remember Hitch is only here till the end of the season, but I bet if Hitch does well the Oilers will ask him if he wants the HC job

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Also worth a shout out from last night: the home blue jerseys, always amongst the best in the league. Classic.
    For the old hockey gords and the new, please make the orange ones the 3rd jersey.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      If I am the Oilers I still fire Chia at the end of the season, they might have solved their coaching pronlem but we wont know that till the end of the season as to whether the Oilers want Hitch to stay on and he wants to stay or if Hitch was only filling in till seasons end, right now that is up in the air.

      Chia has left the Oilers in a financial hell and he needs to go for it, just cause the fans are soothed for now doesnt mean Chia should get a pass, the axe should still fall on Chia IMHO

      • oilfan4ever

        Chia deserves the blame for some questionable moves but at the same time, Who hired Hitch?Who recruitedKos? Chiasson? Cag? Restocked the farm system?Prospectsin CHL and Europe? I don’t think Chia’s demise is so definite as many of you wish for, nor should it necessarily be so/

    • Marcus

      Wife thinks I’m crazy. I think I’m crazy. I have never listened to another professional sports coach like I do Ken Hitchcock.

      I grew up playing hockey in Sherwood Park when Hitchcock was on his long run there. How I wish I was good enough to have played for him.

      • Frank Rizza

        I remember Hitch coming to town each spring when I was in high school and university. He would roll through before the series and tell everyone who would listen how good the Oilers were. He had you believing that Dallas was the underdog because the Oilers were so good. It was the first time in my life that I really wanted to listen to a coach who didn’t coach my team. Of course his team rolled through the oil for many years in a row and I ended up hating him for a long time but I never got tired of listening to him talk hockey. Now that he coaches the Oilers, it’s even better.

        P.S. my wife thinks I’m nuts because I used the word seductive when poorly trying to explain why I love listening to the coach.

  • Arfguy

    I am still bothered by the lack of scoring and the abysmal power play. Both RNH and Draisaitl had glorious chances to score but couldn’t sink them. I kept thinking that those missed opportunities would come back to bite the Oilers in the butt. When Calgary scored, I basically threw my arms up in the air. Luckily, the Oilers got one of those rare calls going their way.

    I hate to say it but McDavid, RNH and Draisaitl are not in sync on the power play. I think RNH can run the 2nd unit power play, since he seems to be looking to make plays happen. I think it’s time to try a Rattie, Puljujarvi or a Zykov where RNH is.

    I am glad the Oilers are winning, but these close games are nerve-wracking.

  • Serious Gord

    30 games in – a fired coach, lots of changes on the line up, completely different style of play and scratching for a playoff spot.

    Let’s see what the next thirty games bring…