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Back In?

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

Oct 23, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl (29) celebrates a second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

    • Alfonso

      There is zero chance these Oilers make the playoffs …

      I mean, if there is only a 20 %ish chance of a team making the playoffs if they are four or more points out at Thanksgiving … well, how much chance can you logically give a team that is 7 points out on March 3rd?

      The hapless Oil are seven points out with 17 games remaining … who sees them going 12-6-1 to garner the 88 points needed to get to the last wildcard spot while jumping over four teams to do so … ? Anybody, anybody at all … ? That’s .735 hockey … this hapless team has never played .735 hockey now, has it … ?

  • The Oilers have a weak schedule to end the season so there is a chance they can slip in but it depends how the other teams fighting for the playoffs do. I think they will fall 6 points short as this teams lack of consistent defensive play and leadership that knows what it takes to win will be their downfall.

    • macinmillwoods

      Supposed weak schedule means nothing. This team repeatedly follows up a good effort with a loss to a team they should be able to beat. A winning streak is followed up with a losing skid. They were done a dozen games ago.

  • Canoe Ride 27

    Is it just me or does this team look better without JP? Not to say that he still can’t be a player, but he clearly should be in the A earning his way.

  • Soccer Steve

    I see Hitchcock is still lying and people are still lapping it up. In a season where it will take like 88 points to make the playoffs and we aren’t even going to come close to it. Impossible for me to draw any positives from this nonsense.

  • RJ

    If you go back through the decade of darkness, there were always games and small stretches where they played very well. And all the way along, people were like “they’ve turned a corner!” Then they would come out flat and lose the next stretch of games.

    They played well. Can they keep it going for five more games? Even if they don’t win all of those five games, as long as they’re showing the effort, that’s the main thing.

  • RJ

    Hey Brownlee, when can we expect an article on Draisaitl?

    We all know if you shut down McDavid and Drai there isn’t a ton of secondary scoring consistently. Even with all the defensive focus on him, he’s still tied for second in goal scoring in the NHL. I don’t honestly see him passing Ovechkin or breaking 50, but it’s been a great season for him either way.

  • RJ

    Hey Brownlee, when can we expect an article on Draisaitl?

    We all know if you shut down McDavid and Drai there isn’t a ton of secondary scoring consistently. Even with all the defensive focus on him, he’s still tied for second in goal scoring in the NHL. I don’t honestly see him passing Ovechkin or breaking 50, but it’s been a great season for him either way.

  • Total Points

    Every year the same thing. Play well in the stretch once they are out of the race. The OBC think everything is good for next year and don’t make changes, either with themselves running things.By next year around Christmas everyone realizes nothing changed and we do it all over again.

    Maybe by next Christmas McDavid, Drai will have had enough and demand changes to the management structure and loser culture.

    Those 2 can’t be the problem as they were both in grade school when this Zhit show started

  • Mooseroni

    Got to believe..u never know with the oil. Mind always goes to the third period goal against the stars when they were down 5-2 with 6 minutes left and got two then Todd Marchant put one past Belfour to tie it up…win in overtime to face the avs. Best late 1990s oiler season

  • Arfguy

    This team has quite a few good pieces, a couple of great pieces. Just needs some supporting players. Preferably, inexpensive supporting players that can chip in secondary scoring.

    I just finished watching the Jets vs. Blue Jackets game. Despite having some really good players, Columbus lost. I think it will take some time before newcomers like Duchene and Dzingel will start making a dramatic impact. If the Oilers even had a couple of players like Anderson and Dzingel, I think they’d be much better off.

    I am glad the Oilers stood pat. I do not think this is the year they will make the playoffs, but I hope they can be better next season.