Photo credit:Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
Off the Top of My Head: Oilers grab big wins before the break, Adam Erne, and wrapping up 2023
2 months ago
I’ll resist the urge to suggest that Christmas came early and on back-to-back nights for the Edmonton Oilers because it’s the kind of cheesy cliché we get too often this time of year. That said, if you consider how the final two stops of the Oilers’ three-game pre-Christmas road trip unfolded, it’s true.
A furious frenzy of three goals in a span of 69 seconds as part of a four-goal barrage in the third period lifted the Oilers to a 6-3 win over the New Jersey Devils Thursday. Four more goals in the third period against the New York Rangers on Friday at Madison Square Garden did the trick in a 4-3 win as the Oilers hit Christmas at .500 with a 15-15-1 record.
The two wins put an end to a losing streak that reached three games after a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders to open the trip and keeps the Oilers in the hunt for a wildcard playoff spot in the Western Conference. They hit the break in a far better frame of mind than they would have been in at 13-17-1, which is the way it was looking before the two third-period rallies.
The difference on Friday was the Oilers scoring four goals on 10 shots against Jonathan Quick, who’d shut them out for five straight periods going into the final frame after blanking them 3-0 in the previous meeting of the teams Oct. 26. While there remains a lot of work to do if the streaky Oilers are going to make a post-Christmas playoff push, they’re in the mix.
A RARE FEAT
Dec 22, 2023; New York, New York, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan McLeod (71) celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports
“You don’t get very many come-from-behind wins in the third period when you’re trailing,” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “It’s very difficult to win those games and we were able to do that twice and back-to-back, so that’s even less likely.
“I liked our guys’ perseverance. They’ve worked hard and stuck with the game plan, and they deserve a nice little break for Christmas. We’re looking forward to getting started again.”
With the loss to the Islanders Tuesday, it took a fair measure of moxy to turn the trip into a positive. The Oilers should come out of it feeling good about themselves with 51 games remaining going into a trip to California with stops in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.
“I think a lot of resiliency, not changing,” said Stuart Skinner, who beat the Rangers with 31 saves, including a brilliant blocker stop on Mika Zibanejad to keep it 1-0. “You can really see that we’re coming along and we’re really mature about the game and we play the same way — even if we’re down one goal or up five.”
Given how up-and-down the Oilers have been through 31 games, I’m not as certain as Skinner about this team’s maturity level or consistency, but these last two third periods on the road keeps them in position to make a post-season push. That’s a start.
WORTH THE WAIT
Adam Erne’s goal to make it 5-3 against the Devils was his first goal as a member of the Oilers. Erne, in the line-up for Connor Brown, hadn’t scored a goal since March 12, 2023 with Detroit against Boston. Erne, a veteran of 369 NHL games, had his father in the stands.
“Yeah, it’s great,” Erne said. “Dad’s in the stands, best buddy’s in the stands, so it’s a good time to get my first one for sure. Yeah, just feels great. We only come out here once this year. Usually, I’ve been around here a lot more playing in the East, so it’s definitely special to be able to perform in front of them.”
Hands up everybody who thought that Erne would have more goals than Brown at the Christmas break.
WHILE I’M AT IT
It’s been a year of unique challenges on a personal level, some of them profound and ongoing, but as we head toward 2024, I’m very happy to have spent another year writing at Oilersnation, where I’ve been scribbling since 2008.
Likewise, I’m glad to be back in the fold on the latest edition of the Jason Gregor Show on the new and exciting venture that is Sports 1440 with old friends like Jason, Kevin Karius, Allan Mitchell and Mark Spector, to name just four. Being part of this moving forward is not something I take for granted.
Merry Christmas to you and yours.
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