Keep the Groove
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
9 months ago
It’s a stretch to suggest there’s any significant downside to taking a break on a sunny beach or at a swank resort during another typical Alberta winter, but the reality is the NHL all-star break has put the brakes on a tidy roll by the Edmonton Oilers.
After putting a so-so start to the season in the rear-view mirror and getting their game together on the way to an 8-2-2 run in January, a stretch in which they put together a six-game winning streak, the Oilers hit the break at 28-18-4 for 60 points – fourth in the Pacific Division.
The challenge now is getting back in the groove, a stretch capped by a 7-3 spanking of the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday, when they shake off the sun and sand against the Detroit Red Wings a week from today. How quickly all-stars Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Stuart Skinner and the rest of the Oilers can pick up where they left off is the question.
The Oilers defensive play and five-on-five scoring has been much better. The power play sits atop the league at 32 per cent. McDavid and Draisaitl are, as usual, one-two in the Art Ross Trophy race. Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are enjoying career years. Jack Campbell is stopping pucks. They just got Evander Kane back from his wrist injury. It’s just not the ideal time to hit the pause button.
GETTING BACK AT IT
Sep 28, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft on his bench against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
“I think attention to detail defensively and our goaltending has been excellent,” coach Jay Woodcroft said after the Oilers speed-bagged the feeble Blackhawks. “And our penalty kill has been very good, but ultimately it comes down to the execution level of our players wanting to play the game the right way.
“You couldn’t script it better for us. We’ve taken a step here. It’s a credit to our players. The message heading into the break was we just completed an important segment, but make sure we rest up physically and mentally because the last 32 games are going to be a hard push to get in the playoffs.”
The Oilers were 28-19-3 for 59 points through 50 games last season before putting together a 21-8-3 roll, including a stretch in which they won 13 of 16 games, on the way to post-season. Their last 38 games were under Woodcroft (26-9-3) after he took over from Dave Tippett.
“We want to get in the playoffs, that’s the main thing, but we want to focus on our game and our process,” said McDavid, who has 92 points in 50 games. “Our game is trending the right way and that’s a positive. We feel it’s been getting better and better as the season’s gone on. We certainly liked our stretch before the break. We look for that momentum to carry over.
“We’ve kind of gone about it a little differently, but ever since I’ve been here, we’ve always been a good second-half team. We seem to find our legs and our game in the second half and it looks like it’s going that way again.”
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