Here come the Edmonton Oilers.
After years of toiling at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, the Oilers go into the All-Star break — are you ready for this? — in a tie with the Sharks with 64 points atop the Pacific Division standings. Edmonton’s 4-1 win over San Jose on Thursday pushed Connor McDavid and Co. only five points back of the conference-leading Minnesota Wild.
They go into the break having won seven of their last eight games.
Andrej Sekera scored twice, including the winning goal. Cam Talbot made 32 saves on a night the Oilers surrendered 81 shot attempts and spent large portions of the third period trying to protect the lead. But those are two points the Oilers will gladly take on the road.
Having McDavid as the centerpiece of your franchise — winning the draft lottery — certainly helps facilitate a quicker turnaround. He leads the league in points as a 20-year-old sophomore player, but others have either emerged or taken the next step in their development, which has contributed to this team’s run of success to this point.
Patrick Maroon has already scored a single-season career-high 18 goals. He’s on pace to shatter his previous single-season best of 34 points (2014-15 with Anaheim). Leon Draisaitl is up to 46 points in 51 games this season, his third in the league after a very promising sophomore campaign.
And Edmonton has received some pretty good goaltending, with the ninth best save percentage in the league at five-on-five. Again, Talbot was almost unbeatable Thursday, coming up with 16 saves in the third period.
Given their sad history over the past decade, this is unfamiliar territory for the Oilers and their fans. Buyers at the trade deadline? Certainly seems like a possibility.
Things can change, but the Pacific Division is right now a three-team race. It may still surprise people that the Oilers are neck-and-neck for the lead at this juncture of the season.
“It’s something we should be proud of (and) confident with, but it’s also only the all-star break,” said coach Todd McLellan. “There’s a lot of hockey left.”