At a time when every single point counts in a Western Conference playoff race that looks like it’s going to go right down to the wire, the Edmonton Oilers have cobbled together their best stretch of the season, a 7-1-2 record, after a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Place Friday.
This was a game, facing the Stanley Cup champions after a 4-3 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on an emotionally charged night with a rematch coming in Cowtown tonight, the Oilers used to lose nine out of 10 times. Instead, they didn’t fold after the Blues tied it 2-2. They buckled down, grabbed a 3-2 lead on Leon Draisaitl’s second goal of the game and ended any drama when Josh Archibald scored into an empty net.
Along the way, the Oilers looked like a team that’s well down the road of learning how to win – something they’ve done with regularity with the money on the table these last 10 games as the stretch drive begins. They have not been perfect, not even close, but they have found a way to get points that eluded them far too often in recent seasons.
Coming off a tough night against the Flames, Draisaitl grabbed the game by the neck and didn’t let do until he’d moved in the lead in league scoring – this while playing on his own line separated from Connor McDavid. Mikko Koskinen shook off the rust he built up during a strong stretch by Mike Smith and the all-star break with 30 saves. Like Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is on a heater with 16 points in his last 10 games.
The Oilers have shown us a lot to like. Now, can they turn that into a win against the Flames tonight?
ALONG THE WAY
“These are games where you learn an awful lot about your team,” coach Dave Tippett said. “That’s a good, deep team and I thought our guys met the challenge.
“When Leon gets going, he plays a big man’s game. He got the two goals and they were well-earned, good shots. I thought our pushback was huge. It’s no secret that team over there knows how to win hockey games and to have them tie it up and for us to come back, it’s a big confidence boost for sure. Great step in the right direction.”
Instead of buckling when Robert Thomas pulled the Blues even early in the second period, Draisaitl took a backhand feed from Kailer Yamamoto and snapped it past Jake Allen to put the Oilers up 3-2. The Oilers had to close the deal shorthanded and took care of that when Archibald, money in the bank this last month, raced down the ice and hit an empty net.
“Every game is huge. Standings are tight, points are tight,” said Draisaitl, who is on a 10-game point streak with 7-11-18 and sits atop NHL scoring with 29-50-79. “Just have to keep grinding away, keep getting points. Hopefully, at the end it will be enough.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
At 27-18-6 for 60 points, the Oilers are tied with the Flames in the Pacific Division, two points back of the Vancouver Canucks and one point up on the Vegas Golden Knights. The trick now, with a jolt definitely back in the BOA and another step taken in the win over the Blues, is to beat the Flames straight up – something they haven’t done in three meetings sine Dec. 27.
That remains to be seen and it’ll be played out on Hockey Night in Canada tonight with a lot of eyeballs glued to television screens right across the country. There are more steps to take before the Oilers get where they want to be, and this is another. Stay tuned.