Are the Oilers the Real Deal?

So here we are. Two and a half weeks into the 2016-17 season and the Edmonton Oilers not only sit atop of the Pacific Division but the entire Western Conference with a 7-1-0 record. While tomorrow evening’s tilt with the Ottawa Senators will bring the month of October to a close, how this team responds to their next 15 games will go a long way towards determining if they will finally break their decade-long exile from partaking in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Now, is it a surprise Edmonton sits where they currently do in the overall standings? Of course but for anyone to have suggested they were likely to get off to a tough start prior to their season opener, would have been selling them short and/or not looking at the situation for what it was. Make no mistake, this roster still has its issues but there is no question it was improved from a season ago. Add that to a schedule that has seen the Oilers leave the province of Alberta just twice and venture no further east than the province of Manitoba and jumping out to a solid start on the year was almost a guarantee.

Oilers Start Not a Complete Surprise

In my mind, finishing the month in anything other than top spot in their division would have been a disappointment for Todd McLellan’s crew. To their credit, this group has taken full advantage of their circumstance and have, in no way shape or form, backed into their current lot in life. While this has not been some kind of smoke and mirror routine, those circumstances are about to start swinging in the other direction and it will be interesting to see how this group reacts.

With 10 of their 15 games in November on the road, including a five-game trek that will see them take on the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins to kick-off the month, the Oilers will be tested. Luckily for them, they will not have to play their first set of back-to-back games until early December but this 30-day stretch will tell us a lot about this year’s edition of the Orange and Blue.

Outside of a performance to forget against the Buffalo Sabres in the third game of the season, netminder Cam Talbot has been fantastic between the pipes and essentially picked up exactly where he finished last season off. Will there be a regression from his most recent five-game segment? Obviously, maintaining a 0.80 GAA and .975 SV% over the course of an entire year isn’t realistic but let’s not forget the 29-year old did post 2.34 GAA and .925 SV % over his final 43 appearances in 2015-16.

Talbot Continues To Quiet Critics

It was back in early March that I put together a piece asking the question whether or not Talbot was a Top 10 NHL goaltender and while many proceeded to tell me I was out to lunch…his play continues to tell us that was not the case. If the former New York Ranger can maintain the level he has shown since last December, the Oilers will be a handful to deal with because that kid who wears No. 97 on his back appears to have kicked his game into another gear for his sophomore season.

He may still be just 19 years of age but for anyone to suggest Connor McDavid is not the best player on the planet is not only absurd…it is downright idiotic. It is true, eight games may not be the biggest of sample sizes but anyone who has watched the Oilers this season has seen the transformation in this his game. As good as he was during his rookie season; McDavid has wasted little time in showing he fully deserves the “generational” tag so many placed on him during his time with Erie Otters of the OHL.

While hockey fans were treated to flashes of brilliance on a nightly basis in 2015-16, McDavid has delivered the complete package to start his second year in the NHL. Not surprisingly, he leads the league in scoring with 12 points and is on pace for what seems like an attainable 123 over the course of an 82-game schedule but it’s not just about the points. Game in and game out, he has opposing teams on their heels, as they come to the realization that defending him in a legal manner is a near impossibility. His speed is too much for anyone to handle and has led to countless odd man rushes and breakaways to start the year.

McDavid Is Driving This Bus

Funny thing is, the 2015 first overall pick is still adjusting to life with Milan Lucic and Jordan Eberle as his linemates and looks to be getting better with each and every game. Add to that, the fact McLellan has been smart enough to use his captain in all situations, double shifting him when the opportunity presents itself, and you have a player who is fully engaged from the drop of the puck to the final buzzer.  In my mind, the scariest thing about McDavid is he appears to never tire…he is relentless from start to finish and it has clearly had an impact on his teammates as well.

Also a Good Read: Buzz Is Back in Edmonton? Oilers Most Have a Prodigy

As good as McDavid and Talbot have been, the Oilers would not have the record they do without contribution from other key players and some timely scoring from so-called lesser likes on their roster. However, they have been carried to this point in the season by their best player and starting goaltender and contrary to the belief of some, there is no shame in that whatsoever. The best teams in hockey tend to get high-end performance from their top players and ride their coattails to victory. This group is no different.

As of this moment, the Edmonton Oilers find themselves exactly where they should be and no one should try to take that away from of them.  It is been a month to remember for this fan base and one that was frankly long overdue. With that said, we are talking about a nine-game segment and it will be up to Connor McDavid and Co. to prove they are ready for the long haul….and we should have the answer to that question by the time the calendar flips to December.