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Photo Credit: Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

Walk the Walk

The San Jose Sharks had beaten the Edmonton Oilers pretty much for fun over a span of nine games when the puck dropped at the SAP Center last night, so there wasn’t any doubt the Oilers had their work cut out to open a five-game road trip – a swing that will be a measuring stick of where they’re at right now.

With stops in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Arizona and Colorado still to come, the Oilers faced a San Jose outfit that waxed them 6-3 a week ago and had handled them 8-0-1 over the last nine meetings. That the Oilers said all the right things going into a rink where they usually leave second-best is one thing. That they jumped a jet for L.A. with two points after a 5-2 win is certainly another.

There’s talking the talk and there’s walking the walk, which is what Dave Tippett’s team did on the way to improving to 14-6-3. At a time in the season when some fans are waiting for Lucy to pull away the football again, the Oilers got it done to kick-off a road trip that’s going to go a long way in defining them, and how this season might look the rest of the way.

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Perfection? No. Far from it. They had a leaky and loose opening period in which they gave up 18 shots but hit the intermission up 3-1 on goals by Markus Granlund (yes, really), Zack Kassian and Jujhar Khaira in front of some stellar work by Mikko Koskinen. A masterpiece it wasn’t early on. Doesn’t matter. They found a way.

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MAKING A STATEMENT

Nov 19, 2019; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira (16) celebrates with defenseman Oscar Klefbom (77) and defenseman Kris Russell (4) after scoring a goal against the San Jose Sharks during the first period at SAP Center in San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

“We have a lot to prove this year, especially after the last couple of seasons. We want to be a playoff team. A contender,” said Khaira, who has shaken off a slow start with three goals in the last two games. “Beating these guys is one of those steps. After last week’s game, we had a mission coming into today. Top to bottom, everybody played well. We gave an honest effort out there, and it paid off.”

“Last time we played these guys it was not our best game, obviously,” said Oscar Klefbom, who logged 31:38 of ice time. “We felt like we had a lot to prove for ourselves and for the fans. I’m really happy and proud the way we responded and the way we played in the first period. I think we played a solid 60 minutes and obviously Mikko had a really good game for us as well.”

Fresh from blowing a two-goal lead and losing in overtime to the Dallas Stars at home Saturday and having been outclassed by the Sharks the last time out, this is the kind of game that could easily have gone sideways on them. We’ve seen that a time or two. Along comes Granlund, who couldn’t put the puck in the ocean off a pier until now, and Khaira, bumped to the second line.

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It’s just one game. It’s just two points. Somehow, at least for me, it feels like there’s more to it than face value. We’re seeing signs of a more resilient team, a team that doesn’t get rattled as easily. A team that doesn’t spiral into self-doubt when circumstances get difficult. Now, the Oilers go into Tinseltown fresh from a solid win instead of on a two-game losing skid. Another small step forward, no step back.

THE WAY I SEE IT

We know what we’re going to get from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who both extended streaks against the Sharks. Through 23 games, we’re starting to believe that the tandem of Koskinen and Mike Smith might be good enough – I had my doubts coming into the season, so did many of you.

With James Neal, who made it 4-1 with his ninth power-play goal of the season, Kassian delivering like there’s no tomorrow with a contract in the balance, and Khaira (maybe even Granlund) starting to contribute, might there be enough depth scoring to get by? And what about the special teams? Mercy.

When the Sharks pumped the Oilers a week ago, Tippett said his team looked “content.” I suggested how they responded against Colorado at home the next time out would give us a look at where they’re at. It did. That game started with Kassian mowing down Nathan MacKinnon off the hop and ended with a resounding 6-2 victory. Then, they coughed it up against Dallas in that 5-4 OT loss before hitting the road.

They talked the talk before the rematch with the Sharks. Once again, they walked the walk. What we’re witnessing right now is the growth of a team one step at a time. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more bumpy patches along the way. What it does mean, at least from where I sit, is this group of players looks capable of navigating them without hitting the ditch, of not just talking a good game, but playing one. Teams like that don’t miss the playoffs.

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Previously by Robin Brownlee