Despite losing 3-1 on Thursday night to the 30th place Buffalo Sabres, the Edmonton Oilers season is slowly turning around. Helped by some smart trades and a huge upgrade in goaltending, the Oilers have drastically improved their play of late. They have a record of 10-5-3 in their last 18 games.
Power Play Back on Track
The Oilers’ power play has improved dramatically. Head Coach Dallas Eakins sent a clear message when he sent out his fourth line on the man advantage. The top power play units responded, scoring in the past three games on the power play. Justin Schultz scored on the power play against the Caroline Hurricanes, guaranteeing that the Oilers won’t end the season without a power play goal from a defenceman. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored a power play goal against the Nashville Predators, and Taylor Hall scored the only Oilers’ goal with the man advantage as the Oilers fell to the Sabres in the next game.
Ryan Smyth has been seeing a lot of power play time lately, as he tries to score power play goal number 127 in an Oilers’ uniform and take over the franchise lead.
Although the Oilers still give up plenty of shorthanded chances (they have allowed 11 shorthanded goals this year, the most in the NHL), strong goaltending has helped to keep the puck out of their net.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins snapped a 16-game scoring slump when he potted his 16th goal of the season against the Predators on Tuesday. He added two assists for a three-point game. Sam Gagner is also enjoying better offensive production of late. He had a slow start to his season after breaking his jaw in the pre-season. Gagner had a goal and an assist against the Predators. Jordan Eberle also scored twice in the game, adding an assist for a three-point night of his own.
Goaltending has undergone the biggest improvement on the Oilers. Ben Scrivens is second in the NHL in save percentage at .931. He has kept the Oilers in the game night after night. Perhaps more importantly, he is great teammate. When Taylor Hall scored the overtime winner in a come-from-behind victory over the New York Islanders, Scrivens sprinted the length of the ice to celebrate with his teammates. He also came to the defence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, challenging Sabres’ forward Cory Conacher after he caught the Oilers’ centre with his head down.
This takes nothing away from newly-acquired Viktor Fasth. Fasth is 2-0-1 since coming to Edmonton. After allowing three goals in the first period of his first start against Minnesota, he shut the door and allowed the team to claw back into the game. Since then, he has allowed only two goals in two games.
The Oilers may be out of the playoff race for this season, but it is heartening for fans and players alike to see a marked improvement in their play.
I have gained experience writing for the sports section of The Gateway, the campus newspaper for the University of Alberta and blogging for puckrant.com. I am completing my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, with aspirations to try my hand at sports writing for a career.