The Edmonton Oilers will be back in action Friday (Dec. 31), visiting the New Jersey Devils for a matinee matchup on a day that has been most unkind to them.
Since joining the NHL in 1979, Edmonton has played 20 times on New Year’s Eve, posting a 3-13-1-2-1 record, which is a .250 point percentage. For context, in the worst season in franchise history, 1992-93, the Oilers had a .357 point percentage.
Edmonton has lost just about way possible on New Year’s Eve: they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and been blown out of the rink; had games where one goals wins and games where the last goal wins; been beaten in overtime and in a shootout. The Oilers even tied once when that was a still a thing. The only thing they’ve almost never done is win.
It’s unfathomable how the Oilers have been so consistently unsuccessful on this one particular date on the calendar. Maybe they’re still a step slow from all that turkey over the Christmas break. Maybe they’re already counting down to the ball drop before the puck has even dropped. Maybe it’s just coincidence. Here’s a look back at one franchise’s trials and tribulations over four decades of New Year’s Eve debacles.
A Rare Victory
To appreciate how difficult it has been for the Edmonton Oilers to win on New Year’s Eve, we only need to go back to Dec. 31, in 2019, their last New Year’s Eve game, against the New York Rangers at Rogers Place.
The Oilers were rolling, having scored three times in the opening period, then added three more goals in the first 15-plus minutes of the middle frame, building a seemingly insurmountable 6-0 lead. Even when the Rangers scored a late goal before the second intermission, there wasn’t an Oilers fan among the sellout crowd of 18,347 that was concerned the night would end in anything other than celebration.
Confidence remained high after the Rangers scored again in the first five minutes of the third. It was still a four-goal advantage with only 15 minutes to play. But then New York got another goal at 11:29, and another one 38 seconds after that. And then at 16:15 Mika Zibanejad beat Oilers goalie Mike Smith, and suddenly the Oilers were clinging to a one goal lead with far too much time left.
It wasn’t until Kailer Yamamoto scored into an empty net at 18:53 that anyone inside Rogers Place took a breath. And over a minute later, they could finally exhale. The Oilers had hung on and won 7-5 to snap a winless streak of 16 New Year’s Eve games. It was Edmonton’s first win on Dec. 31 since 1985, when Wayne Gretzky scored a hat trick in a 4-3 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at Northlands Coliseum.
The Oilers’ very first Dec. 31 game came in 1981, one night after Gretzky reached his famous 50 goals in 39 games milestone, by scoring five times against the Flyers in a 7-5 win at Northlands. Twenty-four hours later, The Great One was held without a point as the Vancouver Canucks beat Edmonton 3-1 at Pacific Coliseum.
The Oilers got their revenge 365 days later, when they returned to Vancouver for a second straight New Year’s Eve match-up, and clobbered the Canucks 8-1, with Gretzky and Ken Linseman each scoring twice on Dec. 31, 1982.
After beating the Flyers in 1985, the Oilers were actually 2-1 in their first times playing on New Year’s Eve. The fact is, such a game was a rare occurrence over the team’s first couple decades: Edmonton played on Dec. 31 five times in the ‘80s, but only once in the ‘90s. Since 2001, the Oilers have had a game on New Year’s Eve 15 times.
All 11 New Year’s Eve games the Oilers played between 1989 to 2004 were on the road, and their hosts were never gracious; the Oilers lost 10 (twice in overtime) and got their lone Dec. 31 tie, 2-2 in 2001 at Calgary, over this span. The Oilers since took their turns hosting, playing five straight Dec. 31 games at home since Connor McDavid has come into the NHL, every year from 2015 to 2019.
Thirteen of Edmonton’s 20 New Year’s Eve games have come against Canadian opponents: five versus the Calgary Flames (0-3-1-1), four against the Winnipeg Jets (0-4), three versus the Canucks (1-1-0-1) and one against the Montreal Canadiens (0-1).
The Oilers have only played four times on New Year’s Eve outside of Canada: against the Dallas Stars in 2002, Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011, New York Islanders in 2011, and Phoenix Coyotes in 2013.
Of Edmonton’s 16 losses on New Year’s Eve (including overtime and shootout results), none have come by one goal. Eight times the opponent has scored the winning goal in the final 10 minutes of the third period of after regulation. The Oilers have lost six times when they’ve held a lead on Dec. 31, including three games that they led by two goals.
In 2013, Edmonton went ahead 3-1 in Phoenix before the Coyotes came all the way back, scoring the tying goal with just 1:10 remaining and the winner with 7 seconds left in overtime. One year later, Edmonton blew leads of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Flames, who won in OT after scoring the tying goal with less than nine minutes remaining.
The Oilers have only lost three Dec. 31 games by more than two goals, the most lopsided coming in 2017 when the Winnipeg Jets sucked the festive atmosphere out of Rogers Place 5-0 with a 5-0 win. The Jets took control with two first period goals, and slowly built their lead while adding to Edmonton’s misery, scoring two more goals in the second and another in the third.
The New Year’s Eve 2017 loss was Edmonton’s third straight coming out of the Christmas break, and part of a 1-7 stretch that the Oilers, who had been on the edge of the playoff picture, would never recover from.
Edmonton’s all-time New Year’s Eve classic arguably came in 2005, on Hockey Night in Canada against the Flames at Pengrowth Saddledome. It had a big fight feel, as the provincial rivals entered the game tied with 48 points and in the thick of the playoff race at the season’s midpoint.
Calgary jumped out to a 2-0 lead just over 12 minutes into the first period, before the Oilers responded with two quick goals to head into the intermission level at 2-2. Jarret Stoll scored midway through the second to give Edmonton its first lead, but that lasted less than two minutes before Matthew Lombardi evened things up with a goal for the Flames.
A wild third period saw the teams go back and forth. Edmonton scored after falling behind 4-3 and tied the game again with just over 5 minutes remaining after Calgary had retaken the lead at 5-4. Finally, at 18:45 of the third, Flames forward Kristian Huselius scored what would prove to be the winning goal in Calgary’s 6-5 win.
While the Oilers left the Saddledome without a point on Dec. 31, 2005, the excitement of the game and resilience of their performance were signs of what was to come on their Cinderella run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final a few months later.
2021: A New Chapter?
This New Year’s Eve, the Oilers are back on the road for a Dec. 31 dance with the Devils. The Oilers are bringing a one-game Dec. 31 win streak with them to the Prudential Center for a 1 p.m. EST face-off. With the Oilers struggling through a 2-7 slump and desperate for a win, maybe they’ll find the afternoon is kinder than the nighttime on Dec. 31.
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Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.