To borrow from Michael Corleone in the Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” So it goes these days, at least for me, as I watch the Edmonton Oilers in the stretch drive. It continued in a matinee at Nationwide Arena today with a 4-0 waxing of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After insisting longer than many the Oilers still had a shot at making the Western Conference playoffs — to much derision from rightfully frustrated fans — I wrote off this team’s post-season hopes after a 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders back on Feb. 16, their fourth straight loss during a five-game winless streak. OK, they’re done. It’s over. Well, not so fast . . .
It might, indeed, be over, but there’s a lot more drama left in the 17 games the Oilers have remaining after their blanking of the Jackets in one of the best performances we’ve seen under coach Ken Hitchcock. The Jackets are no slouches, having loaded up for a playoff run, and they got no sniff today. Streaky as they have been, the Oilers are 4-1-1 in their last six games.
I’m saying there’s a chance. I’m essentially flip-flopping after being broken by that five-game winless streak. There’s no margin for error the rest of the way, to be sure, but the team I watched school the Jackets today, warts, losing streaks and all, has what it takes to keep my attention far longer than I thought they might just 10 days ago. They’ve pulled back me back in. You?
THE RIGHT STUFF
Leon Draisaitl remains hotter than a $3 pistol. He scored his 40th goal of the season and extended his points steak to 10 games with 8-7-15. Connor McDavid picked up three assists and Alex Chiasson put a 21-game goal-less streak in the rear-view mirror with his 18th goal of the season.
The shift the Oilers put together on the 2-0 goal by Josh Currie was as dominant as I’ve seen this season – they had the Jackets boxed in their own zone for 90 seconds. On top of that, Mikko Koskinen has looked locked-in since Cam Talbot was traded to Philadelphia and made 30 saves for the shutout. There’s a lot going right, at least for the time being.
“It was another good team performance,” said Hitchcock. “You don’t have to have the best players in the league to be successful, you need to have the best team. That’s what we’re proving night in and night out. We’ve got a helluva team going on right now. We’re not going to let go of the rope.
“You don’t know how long it takes to come together, but this group is very tight and very cohesive with our game right now and we want to keep it going. You’re seeing a lot of things. People making sacrifices. The big guys are showing up, and we need them, but there’s other guys contributing in little ways that really help us win hockey games now.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do, but if we continue to be the type of team we are right now, we’re going to be a really hard out. That was the goal and I said that to people two weeks ago. We keep playing at this level, eventually the hockey gods help you. That’s exactly what’s going on now. We’ve been at this level for almost a month . . .”
THE WAY I SEE IT
It was obvious in today’s post-game Hitchcock was raw about being written off by many despite seeing his team play some good hockey that didn’t yield much-needed points. The part that sticks with me is this:
“People bitch and complain about what we don’t have,” he said. “What we’ve got is a team. So, to me, you’ve got to give us that. You can complain about what we don’t have, we’ve got AHL this or whatever, but what we’ve got is a damn team, and a good one. We’re not going to be easy to play against for the rest of the year.”
The smart money says the Oilers don’t make the playoffs. They’ve left too many points on the table to get into the top eight with 17 games to go. They’ll need, what, at least 21 or 22 points from the 34 available to get in? Might they get two more in Buffalo? If you’re already out, that’s fine and certainly understandable. Me? I love a longshot.