There are a lot of ways to win, and the Edmonton Oilers have used a bunch of them on the way to a 7-1-0 record while we try to figure out exactly how good they might be when the ridiculous hot streak they’re on inevitably comes to an end.
The Oilers have won games after falling behind, like they made a habit of early. They have won tight games, four of them after Friday’s 2-1 decision over the Detroit Red Wings. They’ve won ugly, as was the case in a sloppy 6-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. They’ve won with special teams. They’ve won with great goaltending. They’ve won simply because Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have grabbed games by the neck and James Neal has been hotter than a $3 pistol.
The Oilers have been uneven and imperfect along the way, as all teams are, under coach Dave Tippett. He’s been the first to point that out, as you’d expect. With a new group of players and a new coach, it’s going to take awhile for everybody to get on the same page consistently — for Tippett and fans and the players themselves to figure out how this is going to look.
The bottom line is they’re 7-1-0. After years and years where the learning curve included loss after loss after loss, of looking for silver linings after defeats and fans being told to be patient, the Oilers aren’t only putting the pieces together and learning as they go, they’re winning as they go. The points are in the bank and that beats the hell out of any consolation prize.
"It was probably the kind of game we needed after that other game (vs. Philly). Anytime you can learn like that & still win, we'll take that."
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 19, 2019
Tippett talked about where the Oilers are now and where he wants them to be in the big picture after beating the Flyers on a night his team was outplayed and outworked. “The goal is a lot bigger than winning on a Wednesday night, seventh game of the year,” he said. “The goal is to be much better and be a playoff team
“To win a game that your goaltender steals or your star player has five points, it all looks fancy on the scoreboard, but those two points don’t earn you the right to be a playoff team. It’s how you play over 82 games and how you build your team that earns you that right.”
Friday against the Red Wings, Mikko Koskinen improved his record to 4-0-0 with 25 saves on a night McDavid, who had five points against the Flyers, was held off the scoresheet. Goals by Ethan Bear and Neal in front of a locked in Koskinen got the job done. They won a tight game, the kind we’ve seen them lose so often in recent years.
“I thought we checked well, had some good opportunities that we missed on,” Tippett said. “We competed hard the last 10 minutes of that game. They were pushing hard and we were not giving up a lot. All in all, it was probably the kind of game we needed coming off the last one.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
I’m not suggesting the Oilers are winning with smoke and mirrors here. That’s not the case. It’s not a matter of them being outlandishly lucky. It’s not about waiting for the wheels to fall off, even if it stands to reason they aren’t going to win at this pace over the balance of an 82-game schedule.
This is about getting results and gaining confidence and winning games even with lapses or deficiencies here and there – like giving up 52 shots in the win over Philly. Players don’t want to grasp for silver linings and mutter about sticking with it as the losses mount. Fans around here certainly don’t want to hear it – again. Neither does Tippett.
The Oilers go into Winnipeg to face the Jets Sunday with 14 of a possible 16 points in the bank. They sit, for now, atop the Western Conference. That guarantees nothing of course because we’ve seen fast starts evaporate into nothing before.
That said, I’d suggest it’s easier for every player in that dressing room to buy what Tippett is selling when they can concentrate on tweaking what they’re doing while winning instead of questioning everything while in the confidence-busting throes of a 2-6-0 start that has them chasing yet another season. Results provide a reason to believe.
We don’t know what the 2019-20 edition of the Oilers is yet, but I’m guessing nobody has an issue with them banking points while everybody figures it out along the way.