Edmonton Oilers' current strategy is effective.
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Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers’ current strategy is effective.



So far in the series, the Oilers have outscored the Kings, blown them out, and fought back from behind (but lost in OT).

The most serious criticism leveled against Edmonton is its goaltending vulnerability. So on Sunday night, it managed to win 1-0.

Four days, four games, and four distinct methods to play well. It’s like watching a dog spot a goodie and then do every trick it knows in quick succession.

Everything is going well. Connor McDavid is not only playing like the best player in the game. He’s making the guys next to him appear like numbers two and three. If goalie Stuart Skinner decides to put in a couple man-of-the-match performances, this is a potent combo.

Nobody genuinely questioned that the Oilers could defeat Los Angeles. Going wild on the Kings has become a form of annual prairie rumspringa. But, given that the most recent NHL theory is that sweeps are terrible for momentum, may the Oilers be showing off?

No, no. No, no. Nobody wants to speak like that. Kris Knoblauch, the Oilers’ head coach, sounds more depressed as the team performs better.

“We can’t always predict how the game will go,” Knoblauch said after Sunday night. “We’re going to have to win a lot more games like tonight.”

So you have the best player, possibly the second-best player (Leon Draisaitl), and possibly, at the time, the third-best player (Zach Hyman), but you don’t get to decide how the game will play out?

It’s possible that the Oilers win the next game 10-0 and Knoblauch weeps in his postgame press conference. And if that’s the case, he’d be correct. Whatever’s going on in Edmonton right now is working.

With the customary wave of ‘long way to go here,’ the Oilers appear to be demonstrating this year the value of a major jolt to the system.

The Oilers, like other Canadian clubs, planned to utilize the 2023-24 season as an extended training camp. It’s time to make a few adjustments and get their bearings. The regular season would begin in April.

Most teams that plan to have a disaster year require a few days to adjust to the situation. Not the Oilers. They lost their season opener 8-1.

They lost six of their first seven and ten of their first twelve. The Oilers would have been better off calling in ill throughout October and then showing up tanned and ready to play in November.

It wasn’t simply losing. It was how they did it. Again, like a dog and its tricks. They were getting blasted out, come back on, squeaked, goalie’d, then knifed during overtime. It seemed as if every character in Clue had cornered them in the billiard room and was beating on them with anything not nailed down.

The low point was achieved in early November, when Edmonton fell to San Jose. That was embarrassing because the Sharks aren’t really an NHL franchise, but rather a group of people who play hockey only for fun. The loss sent the Oilers to dead bottom in the league.

They did the only thing a team in an extended nosedive can do: chuck the coach out of the plane to alleviate the burden.

This works approximately half the time. The other half produces a chain reaction that affects everyone within the corporation.

Firing Jay Woodcroft and hiring Knoblauch did not seem like a significant change. It was one nameless minor-league strategist vs another. But it brought the operation back to normal.

Nonetheless, the Oilers were rated 30th out of 32 teams at the U.S. Thanksgiving deadline, which is when the postseason picture is semi-locked down.

From there, they embarked on an eight-game winning streak, but by the conclusion, they had only come back to.500.

It took them until January to secure a wild-card position. They didn’t have a good postseason footing until February. They didn’t cruise until March.

This six-month-long emergency is what sports looked and felt like until they realized it made more financial sense to have everyone make the playoffs. If you fell over once, you’d have to finish the race at a dead sprint.

Nowadays, no one talks about sprinting. They discuss hoarding their resources, attempting to keep everyone well, and the time it takes to get all of the lads on the same page. How many pages are there in the book that they keep referring to? Cannot they read it over the weekend? Why is it taking months to get through?

While other teams could afford to take their time during the coldest months of the year, the Oilers were in complete panic mode. If this team failed to make the playoffs, everyone at the top would be sacked. If Edmonton had missed them as terribly as it appeared to in November, every possibility would have been considered. Calls for McDavid’s humane release to a caring team would have picked up.

That possibility appeared to leave an impression. So, here we are.

Nobody considers the Oilers to be their favorite team. They allowed in too many goals. They do not have much depth or history. And, as good as they appear right now, this is the same squad that stumbled out of the gate in October and spent the entire month skidding on its face over the floor.

But if things continue in this manner, maybe more can’t-miss teams should give their opponents a 10-game lead to start the season. At least in this country, it appears to concentrate minds.


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