Oilers Need to Take Advantage of Easy Schedule

There’s a wise old saying for those of us who grew up in a rural community that you have to make hay while the sun shines. This definitely applies to the Edmonton Oilers at this moment in the 2022-23 season. They are currently a team on the rise in the Pacific Division having won five games in a row from Jan. 11-19.

Connor McDavid Evander Kane Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid and Evander Kane of the Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers’ next eight games are against teams currently not in a playoff position. If they can win the majority of these games against non-playoff teams they might finally prove they have the focus and maturity to make some noise in the postseason.

Recent Schedule Has Helped Oilers Build Confidence

If you look at the first half of the NHL season, the Oilers faced travel challenges, injuries to key players such as Evander Kane, as well as some very tough opponents. (But that’s really no excuse because every team faces its share of adversity during an NHL season.) In terms of the Oilers, they were sputtering and barely holding on to a .500 record at the halfway point of the season. But it seemed like the California road trip in early January helped give the team a much-needed boost of confidence – especially on the offensive side when they scored 13 goals in two games against the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 11 and the San Jose Sharks on Jan. 13.

Oilers Showing Signs of Improvement From the Goal Crease Out

During the Oilers’ January winning streak, they have been playing some of their best defensive hockey of the season. Goaltender Jack Campbell has definitely stepped up his game, and is currently riding a five-game unbeaten streak. During the streak, he has posted a 2.20 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage (SV%).

Latest News & Highlights

His recent play has improved his overall numbers this season, but more importantly, it’s helped boost Campbell’s confidence, and the players’ belief in him. The Oilers goaltending tandem of Campbell and All-Star Stuart Skinner are also starting to make believers out of opponents and early season skeptics of the team, including myself.

Oilers Young Guns Starting To Get It in Gear

You can see that young Oilers such as Ryan McLeod, Dylan Holloway, Philip Broberg and Evan Bouchard seem to be gaining confidence with each passing game. The most impressive young gun or “rookie” in the last few games might be 26-year-old defenceman, Vincent Desharnais. Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant coach Dave Manson know him well from their time together with the Oilers American Hockey League (AHL) farm team, the Bakersfield Condors.

You can see the confidence the coaches have in Desharnais as he is being deployed in key situations on the penalty kill and in the final few minutes of games against teams such as the Vegas Golden Knights and Tampa Bay Lightning. Time will tell if he has what it takes to stay up with the Oilers, but his first five games have been impressive. And you can’t help but cheer for a guy who has paid his dues in the minors.

Oilers Toughen Up During Recent Winning Streak

You need grit to go anywhere in the playoffs, and the Oilers are starting to show that they’re a team that won’t be pushed around as easily as they have before. Desharnais has definitely added a physical element to the back end, while forwards Klim Kostin and Kane are providing the right amount of sandpaper to the forward group.

Klim Kostin Edmonton Oilers
Klim Kostin, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Kostin has been a revelation this season for the Oilers, contributing offensively and with his physical play. Meanwhile, Kane is a welcome addition to the roster after suffering a horrible wrist injury on Nov. 8 against the Lightning. It seems like all of a sudden the Oilers are a tougher team to play against, and not a lot of people saw that coming.

Next Eight Games Will Reveal if Oilers are Contenders or Pretenders

The Oilers have a history of either playing up or down to their opponents. It often showed that this was a team that lacked an identity and didn’t have a lot of confidence in themselves. The recent winning streak in January may prove that they have turned the corner. You can almost see the determination on the faces of team leaders Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, who have both shown more tenacity recently – especially in their own zone.

Related: Oilers Heading in Right Direction in Year 8 of Connor McDavid

The Oilers can’t take any team lightly if they truly want to climb the Pacific Division standings. If they can continue to extend their winning streak or take at least five out of their next eight games, they might be well on their way to living up to the potential they showed when they went all the way to the Western Conference Final last season.

Sign up for our regular 'Oilers Newsletter' for all the latest.