How the Edmonton Oilers got their swagger back

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Photo credit:Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
1 month ago
Just over 200 days ago, the Edmonton Oilers were near the bottom of the NHL standings and all hope appeared to be lost. You all know the story that ended up playing out and the mid-season surge that propelled them to where they are today: about to play in the Stanley Cup finals.
The Oilers got their swagger back and from basically December 1st on, they looked like an entirely different hockey club. They looked like a legit Stanley Cup contender and now here we are, one day away from Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
When the team was really struggling, it felt like they had no identity and despite not making any big roster changes or anything like that, they found a way to get things back on track. 
What was the moment that this group really felt like they had found their swagger again? I had a chance to ask a number of players that question today at NHL media day and to my surprise, they all pointed back to the same game.
Back on November 24th, the Oilers were 6-12-1 and sat in 30th place. They were in the midst of a long road trip on which they’d already lost games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes and had all 17 goals in those three games. 
That’s when this team ultimately decided that they had enough.
“The big win in Washington, we kind of remember that as a marker of when we turned things around. We all look back at that game as the start of the new season,” said veteran defenseman Brett Kulak.
“I felt like we really got back to our game and dominated for truly 60 minutes,” said Leon Draisaitl.
The Oilers dominated the Capitals that night right from the jump. They outshot them 21-6 in the first period and ended up winning the game 5-0.
On the surface, it would appear to be an offensive explosion that ended up sparking things for an Oilers team that traditionally relies on their high-powered forward group but the team wasn’t focused on outscoring their problems anymore.
“We had a tough game in Carolina and a few games after we played Florida and I remember our mindset kind of shifted,” said first-year Oiler Connor Brown. “We said we were going to commit to defence and we went out and scored five goals that night. It’s funny how those things work.”
The team knew they needed to be better in their own end and knew that it wasn’t just going to be one or two players who pulled them out of this slump and that’s something that the team’s big guns recognized.
“We had a little team meeting before the game and there was just something different,” said Vincent Desharnais. “There was confidence.
“A couple of the veterans, Leon and Connor, they all got up and said ‘Boys, now. It’s happening now. The ship is turning around. Everyone together.'”
He added, “The message was it’s not just Connor and I. It’s not just Ekholm or Skinner. We need everybody. All six d-men, all four forward lines, both goalies.”
The ship certainly did turn around. They won their next eight games and, after dropping a few, went on their franchise-record 16-game heater.
It wasn’t just the big guns and usual leaders who stepped up vocally, either. Connor Brown credited Mattias Janmark a lot.
“The mindset of our team shifted that night and a lot of it was a testament to Jamark. ‘The Janitor’ gave us a speech in Carolina after the game about how he’d been through a similar situation in Vegas where they had a tough start and their team mindset shifted to defence and I think that was the turning point. We went on to win eight in a row, lost a few and then won 16 in a row.”
The first six weeks of the season really felt like an eternity for both fans and the players on the team. The losses were piling up and doubt was beginning to creep in if this group was capable of pulling themselves out of such a prolonged slump.
Now, they’re one day away from playing in their first Stanley Cup Final as a group and that adversity they went through only brought them closer together.
“It took a while to find our mojo and find our game but very, very proud of the guys with how we stuck through it,” said Draisaitl.
“We turned our season around, we learned from it and learned from the adversity. Everyone got more mature and if we don’t go through that, we might not be here,” said Desharnais.
Solid defensive play and a commitment from everyone in the room are ultimately what pulled the Oilers out of their slump and got them back to feeling like themselves, but make no mistake — this team is at its best when it plays with a little bit of swagger.
You know that feeling when the weather is good, you crank up the music in your car, you roll down the window, and throw your elbow on the ledge? It’s like nothing can stop you. That’s the feeling the Oilers have when their game is at it’s best and they truly feed off that.
A clip of Draisaitl trying to hype up his teammates in the locker room by saying, “Windows down, elbows out,” went viral on Twitter a few weeks ago.
I asked him about it as well today and he didn’t want to let the outside world in on their internal slogan.
The team rallied around each other in November and now? They got all the swagger in the world as they head into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

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