14

Everyone is buying in

James Neal. Man, what more can you say. An incredible start for a player who is looking to bounce back in a big way.

It’s hard to not get excited at his four-goal game from last night, but it’s something he said earlier this morning that really caught my eye.

And it wasn’t about his own performance.

“I think everybody’s just kind of buying in right from management to the coaching staff, right down… we’re trying to build that belief, that winning attitude,” Neal said to reporters Wednesday. “And you know, we got a good feeling going around the room and we’ve got a good feeling right through camp.

“Everyone came in with a fresh start, a lot to prove and I like that about our group. So, you know, we came in, heads held high and ready to get to work and it’s paid off.”

A fresh start indeed, and boy is it paying off. Things are early, but this Oilers team seems… different.

They’ve shown fight. They’ve shown bite, and they’ve shown a willingness that’s been missing for a few years. One thing that’s surely caught my eye early is how quick the team has looked. It’s been making a difference.

But the Oilers have won three games they should win. There’s no reason the Oilers should’ve lost to Vancouver, or LA. The Islanders, on the other hand, were still a playoff team last year — always nice to beat those early on.

The early buy-in has been great from this squad who is looking to make some noise and hopefully a playoff berth in the new year.

“I think the players have done a really good job of wanting to play like a team, they want to have a team mindset and play like a team where everyone’s contributing,” said bench boss Dave Tippett.

“There’s some tactical stuff you can talk about, different stuff you want to do, but our biggest thing (is) we have a group that wants to work hard and players that are willing to play to their strengths. Our staff is trying to put those people in positions so they can be good at those strengths.”

And the staff has done a good job of that. They haven’t been afraid to mix up lines when they need to, and the players have adjusted well to their different deployments on the ice.

There’s a clear divide in the lineup when you look at the zone start rates already this year. James Neal, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Joakim Nygard are getting the whopping majority of their starts in the offensive zone, while bottom-six guys like Jujhar Khaira, Markus Granlund, Gaetan Haas and Riley Sheahan are all starting on the Oilers end of the ice.

It’s early, but the returns are good and now Edmonton has three intriguing matchups ahead.

Thursday against a 1-2 New Jersey Devils team who have been outscored 15-2 in the last two losses. Saturday morning against the New York Rangers club who has had a week off following a 6-4 W against the Jets and a 4-1 W against the Senators.

It wraps up Monday night against the Chicago Blackhawks who have only played one games this year — a 4-3 loss to the Flyers.

Let’s see how this litmus test goes.