These are not your same, old Oilers.
It may have looked that way from a distance, when they dropped five straight after a hot start. But the Oilers have since won two in a row, including last night’s 5-0 destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks.
With the wins, Edmonton has climbed back atop the Pacific Division with an 11-8-1 record.
“We’ve been able to snap out of a bit of a funk and we’re looking to go on a run now,” said captain Connor McDavid. “Once you get out of one of those, it is important you take off from there.”
McDavid had two assists last night, bringing his season point total to an NHL-high 24 (8G, 16A).
The 19-year-old center is clearly his team’s MVP. In the seven games that McDavid has failed to register a point, the Oilers are 2-4-1. In the 13 games where he’s succeeded, they’re 9-4-0. They really do rely on him to create much of their offense, even if it bothers the coach that they rely on him so much.
That being said, McDavid isn’t the only one putting the puck in the net. Leon Draisaitl, Patrick Maroon, and Tyler Pitlick have six goals each; Jordan Eberle and Milan Lucic have five each. And not all those guys play in the top six.
The Oilers are also doing good things defensively, like having the NHL’s sixth-best penalty killing. Last year, their PK ranked 18th. The year before, it was 28th. The addition of defenseman Kris Russell seems to have helped in that regard.
The Oilers also have the puck more, as evidenced by a score-adjusted Corsi that ranks ninth in the league. Last year, it was 21st. The year before, 23rd.
And, of course, we can’t forget the goaltending. Cam Talbot has started an NHL-high 18 times this season. He’s 10-7-1 with a .920 save percentage. If McDavid is the Oilers’ MVP, then Talbot is the runner-up.
Granted, all those starts does beg a question — how many is too many for Talbot? He’s currently the only goalie in the league that’s played over 1,000 minutes. Jonas Gustavsson is the backup; he’s only made two starts (1-1-0, .898).
For the Oilers, whether or not Gustavsson can be trusted could end up being the difference between making the playoffs or missing them yet again. After all, Talbot is only human; he’s bound to wear down if the coach keeps running him out there.
Gustavsson started 20 games for Boston last season (11-9-1, .908), before Bruins management identified the backup position as one that needed to be addressed.
“We’re going to try and get Gus more games,” coach Todd McLellan said recently, per the Edmonton Journal. “But it was tough early when we were winning to not play Cam (every game).”
The Oilers play at Denver tomorrow, before finishing their two-game road trip Friday in Arizona.