After last night’s 5-0 thumping of the Western Conference-leading Chicago Blackhawks, the Edmonton Oilers have officially reached the quarter pole of their season and they find themselves in some rather unfamiliar territory. While it has hardly been smooth sailing throughout, all that truly matters is their place in the standings and as of this moment, Todd McLellan’s crew finds itself perched atop the Pacific Division standings with an 11-8-1 record.
— Marty Klinkenberg (@globemartyk) November 22, 2016
As hard as it may be for some to accept, it appears as though this year’s edition of the Orange and Blue have all the markings of a team capable of staying in the playoff race all season long. The same team that was on the verge of potentially wasting away their impressive start to the year all of five days ago, have seemingly righted the ship overnight courtesy a pair of massive victories over the Hawks and the Dallas Stars. Funny what scoring some goals and having the occasional bounce go your way can do for both a team and it’s fan base.
Oilers Defence is Better
That’s right folks…the line between good and not so good is that fine and the Oilers have received enough quality performances from key personnel to help them land on the right side of that ledger. Cam Talbot has been solid in between the pipes and flat-out carried this team at times over the first six weeks of the season. Kris Russell has been better than expected and along with fellow newcomer Adam Larsson, the pair helped solidify a blue line that still has its issues but now has a chance to at least compete on a nightly basis…unlike the last number of years.
Despite a bit of an uneven start to his season, Oscar Klefbom looks to be finding his way of late and has become an offensive force of sorts over the last week, scoring three times and picking up an assist over Edmonton’s last three games. Youngsters Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse are getting better with each and every game they play and Andrej Sekera has done what Andrej Sekera always does and is without question this team’s best defenceman.
While the Oilers have yet to receive the kind of consistent production that was expected from the likes of Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Benoit Pouliot, others have stepped up and delivered to help fill that void. Patrick Maroon and Tyler Pitlick have scored six goals apiece to this point in the season and the recent emergence of Jesse Puljujarvi and Anton Slepyshev has added a completely different element to this lineup and it should benefit this club immensely from here on out.
— Marty Klinkenberg (@globemartyk) November 22, 2016
With all of that said, none of it would matter if not for the play of Connor McDavid. Despite going 10 games without a goal and playing much of the year with underperforming linemates, this kid has been nothing short of remarkable. After picking up a pair of helpers against the Blackhawks on Monday night, No. 97 reclaimed his spot atop the league’s scoring leaders with 24 points and looks to have only scratched the surface on what he could accomplish over the next four months.
McDavid is Oilers Wild Card
Anyone who has watched the Oilers with any kind of regularity knows McDavid should probably have another 10 or so points on his total but his linemates’ struggles have impacted his ability to post some ridiculous numbers. If that changes over the final 60+ games of the season and the secondary scoring contributes at anywhere near the rate it has against Hawks and Stars, this team is going to be a handful to deal with and No. 97 is going to run and hide in the scoring race.
While no one can be surprised with how good this kid is, the fact McDavid is doing what he is doing at 19-years-old, in what is still a “defence-first” NHL, is downright staggering. Despite this roster’s shortcomings being what they are, he has already proved capable of keeping them afloat in the standings and while that will become tougher to do as the season moves along, my money is on him doing exactly that and the Oilers being in the mix until the very end.
— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) November 19, 2016
Let’s not forget, November was always going to be a challenge for this group to get through, but the toughest part of that schedule came to an end with last night’s tilt against the Hawks. While a 4-6-1 record may not look all that good at the moment, Edmonton has dates against the Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes (twice) and Toronto Maple Leafs to close out the month. All four have to be viewed as winnable games or at the very least, ones they should be able to secure points from.
Oilers are for real, playing like a true playoff contender.
After 10 long years, let me be first to say: FREAKIN' AMAZING!!!!!
— David Staples (@dstaples) November 22, 2016
If the Edmonton Oilers happen to go 2-0-2 over that stretch, which is not much to ask, they would end the month 6-6-3 and in today’s NHL that is considered .500. With 10 of 15 games on the road and regression to the mean all but a certainty after winning seven of nine games in October, the month could be viewed as nothing but a success and another step in the right direction. While it might get a little scary from time to time, is that not what should be expected from a roller coaster ride? It most certainly is, so set back and enjoy the ride Oilers Nation…you’ve earned it.
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.