Don’t look now, but the Edmonton Oilers are on a roll. They’ve won 5 straight games, sit tied for first place in the Western Conference with the Dallas Stars and 2nd overall in the NHL behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite injuries to Ryan Whitney and Ales Hemsky, the young Oilers are one of the hottest teams in the league. If any hockey person is being honest with themselves, they did not see this coming. But yet, with a record of 7-2-2 for 16 points through 11 games, there is no question there is something special happening in Edmonton.
After knocking off the Capitals last Thursday, the Oilers turned right around and beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 on Friday. Cam Barker, Andy Sutton and Ryan Smyth all scored, and team was backstopped by Devan Dubnyk who made 40 saves in the victory. Nikolai Khabibulin is one of the best goalies in the NHL, leading the league in both goals against average and save percentage, and back-up Dubnyk stepped in with a huge performance of his own. The Oilers goaltending is one of the biggest stories in the NHL so far this season, and one of the biggest reasons for their success. The team hasn’t been able to generate a lot of shots, but they are capitalizing on their chances and letting the goalies do the rest. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins sits 16th in overall league scoring with 11 points in 11 games, and his line with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have combined for 31 points. This team is clicking and playing with confidence, not looking much like a team who finished dead last the past two years in a row. What’s even more remarkable is the team’s they’ve beaten. The Penguins, Capitals and Canucks are all considered to be main players in the conversation for the Stanley Cup, while the Avalanche and Predators are both in a playoff position. They also beat the Rangers, who are expected to challenge in the Eastern Conference. These are some big wins for this team.
On Sunday night, the Oilers just kept rolling, posting a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues. Ryan Smyth scored two, and Shawn Horcoff and Eberle added the other goals. Khabibulin made 28 saves in another strong performance. The Oilers are 12th in the NHL on the powerplay, converting at 20.8% and 4th overall on the penalty kill, with an 89.1% success rate, a massive improvement over last season. Normally, when a team has this kind of success so early, it’s best not to get too high or too low too easily, because so much can change over the course of the year. The Oilers weren’t predicted to make the playoffs. They were predicted to challenge for a lottery pick. But, they are better in almost every way than they have been the past couple years. Just like the Ottawa Senators, this is a team that had very little expectations placed upon them, and are playing loose and having fun. Regardless of what happens this season, they are making some huge strides forward. They can’t be taken lightly anymore.