It may sound odd to say about a team who currently sits in a tie for last place in the overall standings, but the 2015-16 edition of the Edmonton Oilers deserve some credit. After kicking off their year with what has been an almost obscene schedule over the opening eight weeks of the season and being forced to deal with injuries to key personnel, aka Connor McDavid, this group has managed to find a way to stay in hockey games on a nightly basis.
Following last night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Oilers saw their record “improve” to 8-14-2 on the season and to 1-2-1 on their most recent extended trip away from Rexall Place. We are now 24 games into the season and Edmonton has already had the pleasure of having to deal with three extended road swings and not surprisingly, struggled mightily to earn points in the standings. That said, the effort has still been there.
— Chris Wescott (@TheChrisWescott) November 29, 2015
Make no mistake, this team is still nowhere near good enough to win with any sort of regularity in this league but the numbers do not lie. Outside of poor performances against the Carolina Hurricanes, Arizona Coyotes and Washington Capitals, the Oilers have not lost another game by more than two goals to this point in the season. They have dropped eight games by one-goal, another five by a two-goal deficit and the aforementioned trio of games by three goals.
Oilers Have Rarely Mailed It In
While it may sound like a broken record of sorts, there really does appear to be a difference this time around. Even with a bottom-six forward group that has contributed almost nothing from an offensive standpoint, a blue line that is truly a mishmash of bodies and a goaltending tandem which has already delivered a variety of highs and lows, this team has not quit. Unlike previous seasons, one cannot question this group’s willingness to try and get better.
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Take the current road trip as an example. Record aside, it is pretty difficult to be disappointed with what we have seen. Edmonton was the better side against the Caps on Monday night but were unable to get a puck in behind Braden Holtby in falling 1-0 to Alex Ovechkin’s crew. They followed up their awful showing against the Hurricanes with a nice effort against the Detroit Red Wings before Niklas Kronwall broke their hearts all of 26 seconds into overtime, in handing the Oilers their third straight loss.
Again, not very pretty from wins and losses perspective but not nearly as bad as one might think. Like most teams, Edmonton needs their goalies to perform and while neither Anders Nilsson or Cam Talbot will ever be confused with Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, both have shown the ability to play at this level. Now it is just a matter of them doing it on a more consistent basis. If either one or both can give this team that kind of netminding, the Oilers will start winning some games but those expectations need to be kept in line.
Goaltending Remains the Key
Nilsson was no better than average against Carolina but bounced back with an outstanding effort in Pittsburgh. The 25-year old shut the door in the extra session with a handful of game-savers and was rewarded for his efforts via the shootout. After starting just two games in the month of November, everyone was wondering what Talbot would be showing up in his next start and despite losing to the Red Wings, the former New York Rangers backup looked solid in between the pipes.
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With Leon Draisaitl and Taylor Hall looking more comfortable with each passing game and continuing to carry the load up front, one can only hope they are still firing on all cylinders when Connor McDavid returns. Add to that the improvement we have started to see on the backend from the quintet of Brandon Davidson, Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefbom, Darnell Nure, Andrej Sekera and suddenly it no longer feels as though the sky is falling.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.