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Is it Really Happening in Edmonton? Finally.

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Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
I know CeCe Peniston wasn’t thinking about sports or hockey when she wrote her most famous song, Finally. It was released in 1991 and reached number five on the Billboard hot 100 in January of 1992. It was her first (and biggest) hit song, and while the song was about finding the right man, some of the lyrics should resonate with Edmonton Oilers and their fans.
After many years of hope, faith, frustration and anger, is Oilersnation actually witnessing the arrival of an overdue ingredient for prolonged success?
Offence has never been the main issue in Edmonton. There has been lots of focus on unproductive bottom-six forwards over the years, even some top-six forwards, and while at times it would have been nice to have more production, a lack of offence hasn’t held the Oilers back from going deeper in the playoffs.
Have the players finally bought into what they need to improve?

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Oilers fans could sing this part of Peniston’s hit tune and wonder if it’s actually real.
Finally you’ve come along
The way I feel about you it just can’t be wrong
If you only knew the way I feel about you
I just can’t describe it, oh no no
Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face
My feelings can’t describe it
Finally it has happened to me right in front of my face and
I just can not hide it
The main area of weakness for the past few years has been the Oilers’ lack of commitment and willingness to play sound defensively. Reduce the high-risk passes. Avoid low percentage pinches. The live-to-fight-another-shift mantra has been lacking.
Down the stretch last season, the Oilers reduced their overall goals against, but the glaring turnover or five-star error still made appearances. It cost them the series v. Vegas, specifically in the second periods of games five and six. It was a tough learning lesson. They started the season wanting to be better defensively, but it was the opposite. They allowed eight goals on opening night in Vancouver and continued to leak goals until Jeff Jackson and Ken Holland decided to make a coaching change.
The players knew they contributed to Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson’s firing. They weren’t playing to their potential, and Woodcroft couldn’t find an answer to turn things around. A change was made, and the results have been promising.
It has only been 13 games — and more specifically, the last eight games — but the Oilers’ commitment to sound defence has been apparent during their eight-game winning streak.
Last night, Chicago had two high danger chances and three scoring chances off the rush in the first period. They finished the game with two HD chances and four scoring chances off the rush. The Oilers didn’t allow one high danger chance over the final 40 minutes.
Head coach Kris Knoblauch didn’t love their start.
“I didn’t think we were solid defensively in the first period, but the second and third we were very solid,” said Knoblauch. “It was one of those games where we weren’t quite ready to play. It is tough (not to overlook them). Chicago is not having the best start to the season, and they also have a lot of injuries and that makes it really tough. I know our guys look at their lineup and say it is going to be easy, but they didn’t make it easy, but then we woke and decided to really pick it up and play better. And in the second and third we played a really solid game.”
Knoblauch’s honesty and fair assessment of what he sees is refreshing. He doesn’t rip his team, he simply points out the truth of the situation. No team is going to play a great 60 minutes every game. Last Friday v. Minnesota the Oilers had a great start, but then Minnesota scored twice early in the second, and unlike in the past, the Oilers didn’t start taking chances. Connor McDavid tied the game soon after, and Edmonton just went back to controlling the game, by limiting chances against and using their best assets, skill and speed, to generate chances.
Very few teams have the offensive firepower of the Oilers. We know they can score — they led the NHL in goals last season. And even after a brutal start, where they ranked 26th in goals scored before the coaching change, they’ve climbed to sixth in goals/game at 3.50. They have the two most productive players in the NHL over the past five years, and a solid supporting cast across all four lines. The fourth line of Sam Gagner, James Hamblin and Derek Ryan scored their seventh goal in the past 13 games. Impressive. The power play continues to score, and Evan Bouchard extended his point-streak to 12 games. His streak is the longest by any player in the NHL this season, and second longest in franchise history by a defenceman.

IS IT ACTUALLY HAPPENING?

In keeping with transparency, I tweeted this out earlier today, because I wanted to use the meme in my article, but am not tech savvy enough to do it, without embedding a tweet. Sorry if it led you to wondering if some sort of trade or bigger move was coming.
The question I have, and I’m sure many in Oilersnation are also wondering: Is this defensive run by the Oilers them finally showing they understand their path to Stanley must involve better team defence and decision making?
Because the change, since Knoblauch arrived, has been dramatic. I’d argue it’s as much of a new-coach bump as it is a guilty feeling of costing two men their jobs.
It hasn’t been instant, as they Oilers blew 2-0 leads in Tampa Bay and Florida, and then got crushed in Carolina, but the foundation is noticeable. Their 5×5 play and penalty kill has been excellent during their eight-game winning streak.
In their first 13 games of the season their stats were ugly:
A record of 3-9-1.
3.92 goals against/game (31st overall)
They allowed 31 goals at 5×5.
Their PK was 70% allowing 15 goals on 50 kills in 75:41 of penalty kill time.
In the 13 games with Knoblauch, the changes are glaring.
A record of 10-3.
2.60 goals against/game (8th).
They’ve allowed 25 goals at 5×5.
Their PK is 91.5% allowing four goals on 47 kills in 80:01 of PK time.
Dig into their past eight games and it is even better.
They are 8-0.
1.63 goals against/game (1st).
They’ve allowed 12 goals at 5×5.
Their PK is clicking at 96.2% allowing one goal in 26 kills in 47:24 of PK time.
Last May during their end-of-season availabilities their leaders spoke about the need to be better defensively. To be comfortable playing with a lead. Be comfortable being hemmed in your own zone for 30 seconds and not panicking. They repeated those refrains during training camp and the preseason. I believe they wanted to do it, but then it spiralled in the complete opposite direction, and they couldn’t turn it around.
Then Knoblauch and Paul Coffey arrived. They focused on positive messaging, rebuilding the team’s confidence as well as the confidence of individual players. They made some small systemic tweaks, but more so Coffey focused on encouraging his defencemen to make more plays. Smart plays. Less risky plays. The results have been remarkable, and I don’t mean that as hyperbole. Anyone watching can see it. The high-risk plays have diminished significantly. The mindset of “just get the puck out,” which often resulted in an icing, is down. From Darnell Nurse to Vincent Desharnais the D-men are looking to make more plays with the puck. And they are.
I understand the trepidation some will have reading this. Or even watching the games. You’ve seen good streaks before, only to see the group revert back to their bad habits. This time it feels, and looks, different. As mentioned earlier, last year when their goals against came down, we still would see the glaring error/giveaway or high danger plays, whether it was a pass, a pinch, trying to make an extra move at the offensive blue line. It was still in their game, but during this winning streak, those plays are rare. Extremely rare.
There will be off nights. They won’t win every game. We all know this. The players know it too, but can they remain committed to playing sound, smart, low-risk hockey more regularly? They will want to, but wanting and doing are very different. What happens after they lose two games? Will the frustration mount? Will the need to “make a play” creep back in their game rather than “make a smart play.”
I can’t say for sure, but this stretch of games looks different to me than hot streaks of the past. Maybe it is recency bias, but I feel the risky, low percentage plays are much less frequent than in the past.
We won’t know for another few months but considering the players’ thirst for playoff success and a possible Stanley Cup, they could be watching video of their games and singing along to Peniston’s 1991 hit song with a few new words.
It seems so many times we seemed to be the one
But all We ever wanted was to have a little fun
But now we’ve come together and tightened up our zone
In our hearts we feel it, we’re a team that’s really grown
Has this mindset Finally landed in Edmonton?

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thanks to Bobby and his great bid on the Brick package yesterday. We are over $75K so far.
DAY Eight: 🎁 Farm and PBR Night out courtesy Ryan Denis and What The Futures! Podcast.
  • 2024 Mentorship Program “Farm Business Mentorship.” A subscription to Harvest Profit to create and execute your 2024 farm business plan. Along with individual support and mentoring from Ryan Denis from What the Futures! Podcast to maximize profits.
  • 80 acres of Pioneer canola seed (valued at over $6000). They will pick a variety that compliments your farms agronomic plan.
  • PBR (Professional Bull Riding) night out on Friday November 8th, 2024. Includes eight tickets as well as dinner and drinks.
You can bid via text between 2-6 p.m. on Sports 1440 by texting 833.401.1440 (can call same number) and include your name and donation amount. Money raised will support The Christmas Bureau.

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