The Edmonton Oilers have been up and down more times than an express elevator in a downtown office tower so far this season, and it’s no surprise the emotions of a passionate fan base have been along for the ride for every one of the games they’ve played. That’s just how it goes around here.
Up. Down. Up. Down. You get the picture. With a 7-3 spanking of the Arizona Coyotes in the books, the Oilers hit the NHL All-Star break on a 6-1-1 roll, giving fans 10 days to catch their breath and contemplate what comes next. That stretch comes on the heels of a 2-7-1 slide. Yet, here they are today at 26-18-5 for 57 points through 49 games. The Oilers haven’t looked this good since starting 7-1-0.
That 57 points represents their highest total since they had 60 points through 49 games in 2016-17 — the season they made the playoffs for the first time in a decade — as they scatter for points-elsewhere far more exotic than Edmonton before taking on the Calgary Flames Jan. 29.
While there’s lots of hockey left to play with 33 games remaining and there will be more ups and downs to come the rest of the way, the timing of this latest swing couldn’t be better. If you’ve got to take a 10-day break, nothing sucks more than feeling like you’re upside down and on fire in the ditch going into it. Likewise, nothing feels better than being on a roll with a long, cold drink in your hands and your toes in the sand.
I can’t even imagine the consternation around here had the Oilers hit the break on that 2-7-1 toot. Ten days of angst and the gnashing of teeth heading into the Troll Bowl against the Flames in the first game back. Armchair general managers imploring Ken Holland to turn the roster upside down. You know the routine. You’ve lived the routine too often these last several seasons.
Instead, the Oilers will welcome Matt Tkachuk back to Edmonton with Leon Draisaitl on an eight-game points streak in which he has produced 5-9-14. Instead, Mike Smith takes a break having won five straight games after a hideous December when he couldn’t stop a beach ball. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 6-7-13 in his last eight games. Riley Sheahan had the first four-point game of his career Saturday. Josh Archibald and Kailer Yamamoto have had a big hand in these last eight games.
“We’ve had a good run,” coach Dave Tippett said after spanking the Coyotes. “The guys will get a good break and then we’re right into the stretch drive. The rest will do us good . . . I like the way our team is playing lately. There were things that we did in the game that our group has been talking about here that are keys to us playing well and we have done a pretty good job at them.”
“It’s really big,” said Archibald, who scored a goal and added an assist filling in for suspended Zack Kassian alongside Connor McDavid. “Especially going into the break, it’s a good feeling and everyone’s happy.” Said Sheahan: “It makes it more fun. You get some confidence, and it’s fun to be out there in the offensive zone. I think just supporting our top guys, they carry so much of a heavy load on their shoulders. It’s nice to provide some secondary scoring and I think we’ve been doing a good job of that lately.”
So, we emerge from this brutal deep freeze and hit the break with the Oilers right in the thick of a Pacific Division race that’s tighter than a drum, McDavid and Draisaitl one-two atop the scoring race and with meaningful games to play down the stretch. Just as important, this is a team that looks like it might be capable of making some noise the rest of the way, maybe more if Holland makes a tweak or two.
Of course, we don’t know that for sure and that’s why they play the games. Be that as it may, contemplating that possibility for the next 10 days, whether you’re kicking back on a beach or slugging it out at work, sure beats the hell out of the alternative — on both sides of the dressing room door. Take a break. Enjoy it.
If you’re looking for a hockey fix during the break, Bryn Griffiths and I will be talking to Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin Monday morning in the latest Episode of The Outsiders.
Guerin enjoyed a terrific career, including 211 games with the Oilers, and he was a lot of fun to be around as a player. He’s got stories to tell. We’ll also talk to him about making the transition from player to GM. It’ll be worth a listen.