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When Everybody is Smitty

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
7 months ago
When things were sideways and it seemed like @Mike Smith couldn’t stop a beach ball, or at least do it without getting hurt, more than a few fans of the Edmonton Oilers were calling him a washed-up has-been who needed to get gone. You remember.
Now, with a 7-0-0 run on the go since April Fool’s Day, a stretch including a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars last night, some of you are calling him “Smitty” again. I was having fun pointing that out on social media during the game with all the Smitty-this and Smitty-that I was reading.
The reality is, that kind of love-hate vibe comes with the gig and athletes like Smith know it and understand that it’s part of pulling on the jersey and taking the paycheque. Just win, baby. It’s always been a case of what have you done for us lately? As that pertains to the Oilers, 7-1-1 in April after spanking the Stars, 16-5-3 since March 1 and 22-8-3 under Jay Woodcroft, it’s all good.
Smith has plenty of company in @Connor McDavid, @Leon Draisaitl, @Evander Kane and @Zach Hyman, to name the best of a really good bunch as the Oilers roll toward playoffs under Woodcroft. This has felt more like watching a train build momentum than the roller-coaster white-knuckled fans have been on in past seasons. The Oilers are playing their best hockey. Everybody is “Smitty.”

WHAT THEY SAID

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I still get the willies whenever I see the Stars, even though it’s been decades since Ken Hitchcock, Joe Nieuwendyk, Mike Modano and the rest of that outfit spent years getting payback for that upset in the 1997 playoffs. Yesterday marked the 25-year anniversary of the Oilers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit in for a 4-3 OT win in Game 3 of that series, but I digress.
Even when the Oilers coughed up a 2-0 lead, I didn’t sense any panic. I didn’t feel at any point they’d lose this game. And when McDavid picked up an assist on Kane’s 1-0 goal, my sense was there would be more from him. There was. McDavid finished with two assists and added an empty-net goal to vault Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau atop the scoring race. And that’s exactly where he’ll be after 82 games. That’s me talking, not McDavid.
“I think guys are confident right now,” McDavid said. “Up and down the lineup guys feel good about their game and their team game. A lot of good things happening. We’ve got to keep at it. I think our five-on-five game has improved a lot. I like where it’s at.
 “When you defend well, you have the puck a little bit more and you can play offence more and play in the opposing zone. I think we’ve done a good job of defending from the offensive zone, in a sense we have the puck and hem teams in. When you’re doing those things, offence goes up and your goals against go down.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

Mar 21, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) prepares to shoot the puck in the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
With the Colorado Avalanche here Friday, we get another look at where the Oilers are at. The Avs edged them 2-1 in a shootout back on April 9. The Oilers pumped 50 shots at Darcy Kuemper in that game but only Warren Foegele beat him. For my money, the Avs are the class of the west and the road to a Stanley Cup berth goes through Denver. Is that a road the Oilers might take?
“I think we’re building,” Woodcroft said. “We’re improving, and improving’s fun. I think improving leads to feeling confident and feeling confident allows you to gain competence and feel good about certain situations as we head into the month of May. I think our team’s trending in the right direction, but I’ve said it here over the last couple of days — I don’t think we’ve played to our full potential yet.”

Previously by Robin Brownlee

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