GAME DAY BITCHES!!!!! Here we go! Another day to roam around in Orange and high-five random strangers and honk my horn and drive with my car flags flapping proudly. Here we are, in the middle of April, a legit contender. Up 2-1 against the defending Champions of the West, dominating them physically, backing down from nothing, our best player doing very little in the way of offense and being led by a reclamation project and being backstopped by Glen Sather’s last favour to the Oilers.
The reality of the playoff possibility for the Oilers sunk in for me about 2 weeks ago. But last night, as it became official, joy and relief swept through my body. I have been defending Chiarelli and his moves since the beginning. The moves I liked, the moves I didn’t like, the moves I understood and the moves I didn’t understand. And now, here we are.
Since the transition to the Bob Nicholson era, things have been heading in the right direction. The hiring of an experienced GM coupled with an experienced head coach was a signal that the Oilers were going to do things the right way. A statement by the new CEO that everything hockey would report to him. McTavish and Lowe are still in the wings and while at times their fingerprints are visible on some of the moves that are made, the reigns have clearly been turned over.
Halfway through last season I wrote a blog about changing the culture of the team and it looks as though Chiarelli and McLellan have done that through trades, expectations and most of all – winning. We don’t need to re-hash the trades and the moves. There were some winners and there were some losers. But, they all came together to make the recipe that is a team going to the playoffs. Some difficult decisions were made and there was some blood shed, but here we are, on the way to the 2nd season.
Since coming off a bad weekend 8 games ago, the Oilers have really stepped on the gas. After dropping that 4-1 to Montreal, they Oilers have posted an impressive 7-1 record, including 3 games where they scored 7. We haven’t seen a stretch like this since 39 was patrolling the middle. It is perfect timing and the Oilers are picking up steam at the right time. With two games left against San Jose and one against Anaheim, their fate rests solely in the hands of the Oilers. The remaining 3 games are against bottom feeders LA and Vancouver and should be winnable games. Even if they finish 0.500 – they will still have finished the season with an impressive 10-4 record. Calgary has a similar finish to the season as does Anaheim and San Jose. So, it will come down to the interdivision games that make up the next week and a half. Trying to predict who will finish where is a difficult task and no matter how it shakes out, it will be a difficult road.
Hot Talbot, the League’s top scorer and 4 lines that are all chipping in…anything is possible. In 2006 I had one mantra that I said over and over in the dying days of the season and the first couple of playoff games – Believe! Believe in this team until they give you a reason not to.
Can the Oilers beat the Sharks tonight? A quick poll of a few friends would say no. The Sharks are coming off an overtime win last night down Highway 2 against the lowly Flames. The Flames outshot the Sharks 48-23 last night and Martin Jones stole the game enough to get it into OT for Pavelski to end it for the Sharks. Tonight, the Sharks will likely start James Reimer. In his past 4 starts, he has posted the following save % numbers:
What if the Oilers can put together a string of wins and points to make a serious playoff push to end out the season in the final days of Rexall Place? Why not? The Sens did it last year at the end of the season, finishing 23-4-4. They did it on the back of amazing goaltending by the Hamburgler and some good bounces and solid team play. The Oilers made a late surge in 2006 to squeak into the playoffs and it was magic. What if?
A guy can dare to dream, but there was one point of view that struck a chord with me last night while I was scrolling through the Twitterverse. What if the Edmonton Oilers change the way the game is played? What if we don’t need another defenseman? What if we are just able to keep scoring so many goals that it doesn’t matter? I know that this flies in the face of everything that the 90’s to 2000’s have taught us…but, what if? What if we are watching the team that is about to change the way the game is played? What if we don’t need to trade Eberle or RNH or anyone, for that matter? What if this is the system where spare parts like Teddy Purcell can thrive? Every generation in every sport has a team that changes the way the game has been played. What if we are watching the beginning of something special? What if we are watching the reinvention of the game?
If a team is facing Draisaitl and Hall followed by McDavid followed by RNH and Eberle…does it really matter who is playing defense? Of course the answer is yes, but…what if? What if a D corps that features Nurse, Sekera, Klefbom and my drunk uncle is good enough to get it done with those forwards? What if?
In the NFL you are supposed to play good defense and run the ball. That’s how you win. Tell that to Tom Brady and Bill Billichek, who haven’t had a consistent running game in a decade yet have won more than any other team in that time. Sometimes, the right people can make it work. What if it’s Edmonton’s time?
Connor McDavid made his return to the Oilers’ lineup last night and he did not disappoint. He scored the nicest goal that I have ever seen live tonight when he fought off two defenders with the puck seemingly on a string, then pantsed the goaltender before tucking it home. He drove the play all game and every time he touched the puck he was a danger to score or create something incredible. He played on a line with Eberle and Pouliot and while they both had decent games on the scoresheet, I wasn’t overly impressed by either of his wingers. I am of the firm belief that you can take any two capable NHL players that can get the puck off the wall and make a tape-to-tape pass and they will fit in just fine with 97.
If I am GM Peter Chiarelli, I am preparing myself for a month of heavy scouting and working the phones the best I can. The hope of making the playoffs is fading fast and even with the return of Connor McDavid, the team’s chances look slim. February has some very winnable games – Columbus, the Sens, the Habs, the Leafs, the Devils, the Wild, the Jets… But, the hope is fading fast and unless something drastic is done to shore up the right side and Oscar Klefbom returns soon…well…it’s once again over.
The Edmonton Oilers limp into the All-star break leading the N.H.L. in man games lost to injury with 209 games(as of January 23rd). Yet again the team seems jinxed by the hockey gods and I wonder if and when it will ever end. There hasn’t been one game this season where GM Peter Chiarelli has been able to see the entire team play together. Not one and it certainly doesn’t appear that it will happen for the entire season now that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is out until Mid March. Chiarelli may get a few games at the end of the season if he’s lucky. It’s almost unbelievable the bad luck this team has experienced over the last few seasons.
- No RNH in the lineup gives management and fans a look at what life without a 3rd center that can slot into the top 6 looks like. So far, I am not a fan of the image. Please don’t trade Nuge. But, if you must, make sure you get back a legit number one RHD.
- The Oilers have been waiting for some draft picks and low priced players to add some size and grit to their line-up that can move up and down the top 9 if need be. It looks like Kassian, Pakarinen and Khaira will be just that.
- I hope Nilsson finds his form again. It would be nice to have two goalies signed for the next couple of years for a small dollar amount.
- Talbot has been fantastic, but, I am shocked that he got the dollars that he did. Dubnyk was a Vezina nominee last year and their deals are comparable from a cap hit perspective. He’s been great so, I hope that pays dividends.
- On the topic of goaltenders, I hope the way it plays out is that Nilsson shakes back into form and signs a 2 year deal worth about $1 million per season. Then, next season, Brossoit plays so well that the Oilers have no choice but to deal Nilsson in the off-season for more help where they need it. No need to rush Brossoit, but he is knocking on the door.
- At the beginning of 2014-15 I would have identified the team needs as this:
- Center depth
- Size and grit in the top 9