Ups and downs are normal for NHL teams. There will be great stretches and not so good ones. (Unless you’re the Washington Capitals, who never seem to go through any adversity or suffer major injuries). The majority of the league will go through tough times, even to the point of seeming undeserving of a playoff spot. But perception is different from reality when it comes to sports. Case in point, the Oilers.
Expected to Fail?
The last time the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs was in the 2005-06 season where they went all the way to Stanley Cup Finals. In some regards, it was a magical run that they shouldn’t have been on. But all you need is to get hot at the right time. Their luck eventually ran out (you could argue it ran out when Marc-Andre Bergeron ran into Dwayne Roloson), and they fell short of a championship.
But a quick look at their line-up, filled with veterans and guys playing over their heads, coupled with the loss of Chris Pronger, suggested the run wouldn’t be repeated. And it wasn’t. For 10 plus years. Here we are in 2017, and the Oilers are entrenched in a playoff spot on February 3rd. Despite losing two in a row, they’re eight points clear of the fourth place LA Kings.
Incidentally, they face the Carolina Hurricanes tonight, the team that beat them in the 2006 Cup Finals. Those Hurricanes have a lot of good young talent, but they’re on the outside looking in. It could be the perfect chance for the Oilers to bounce back after stumbling out of the All-Star break. But another loss? People may start panicking.
What’s the temperature around the team right now? It should be calm, because they were so hot going into the break they were bound to regress a little. Plus, they’re still in striking distance of first place in the division. Connor McDavid has been held pointless the last two games. That isn’t going to continue.
But there’s always that “here we go again” feeling with the Oilers. The expectation is that they’ll mess things up and miss the playoffs; that the last decade will rear its ugly head. The skepticism could be the result of the many years of failure and disappointment that hasn’t quite been washed away. But the team is different.
The Oilers are Good
The Minnesota Wild are the best team in the Western Conference. There’s no shame in losing to them. Some might view the Wild as a measuring stick, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What the Oilers have done this season is worthy of praise.
Their secondary scoring is often non-existent (looking at you Jordan Eberle). Their defence is suspect on certain occasions (don’t mention the name Kris Russell to Oilers nation). Yet they are still in contention to win the division.
It’s really a testament to how good McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are, and how good Cam Talbot has been. Imagine if the high-paid players get their acts together, and Peter Chiarelli shores up the blueline at the trade deadline? The team could really be a force. The Oilers aren’t playing over their heads. It’s quite the opposite. There are guys not pulling their weight, but they’re still finding ways to win.
It’s also a testament to guys like Patrick Maroon and Adam Larsson, who have found key ways to contribute and make a difference. Todd McLellan, while criticized for his decisions, has been able to figure out what works and what doesn’t work for his team. We haven’t seen the best of the Oilers so far. A couple of losses are not indicative of who they really are.
The loss to Nashville wasn’t the prettiest, being shutout never is, but the Oilers’ penalty killing was strong, and they dominated the third period, holding the Predators to four shots. They simply couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne, who has been an elite goalie at times. No one would blame fans for having their finger on the panic button because the Oilers have a way of disappointing.
But these Oilers deserve the benefit of the doubt. How they respond on Friday night will be important. In fact, it was earlier this season against the Hurricanes when they bounced back from an ugly loss to go on a five-game winning streak. Oilers fans, don’t worry. Your guys are going to be okay. They’re different this time around.