Let me take you back to the 2016-17 season for a minute here.
The Oilers were off to a hot start. The team had been so poor for so long prior to this hot start that nobody was sure if those Oilers were for real or not.
Sitting at 5-1, the Oilers welcomed the Washington Capitals to Rogers Place on October 26, 2016.
The Oilers had faced some strong competition in St. Louis and Winnipeg and won, but they also got blown out by the lowly Sabres at home.
The Caps were a step above the others though. They provided a true measuring stick for the Oilers at that time.
The Oilers would defeat the Capitals 4-1 that night.
I remember attending that game. The Oilers were by far the better team that night. They dominated a true contender.
That win was the first real sign that the Oilers were a team to be taken seriously in 2016-17. They would go on to earn the 2nd seed in the Pacific Division, and they lost to the Ducks in Game 7 of the 2nd round in the playoffs.
Ah, good times.
Fast forward to this season, and the Oilers went into Thursday’ game with a record of 7-2-1. Another hot start, and another home game against the Caps in late October.
The result this time around? While it wasn’t a dominant win like the one 3 years ago, the Oilers did beat the Caps once again. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl led a dramatic comeback in the 3rd period. The Oilers were down 3-1 after 2 periods. Connor to Leon, 3-2. McDavid almost tied the game on 2 separate ridiculous individual efforts in the 3rd, but he finally tied it with the goalie pulled late in the 3rd. Connor and Leon finished the night off by converting a 2-on-1 in OT.
4-3 Oilers in OT. 8-2-1.
Will this win be as big of a sign of things to come for the 2019-20 Oilers as the win against the Caps was in 2016-17?
Both versions of the Oilers were getting solid goaltending. Cam Talbot had the best season of his career in 2016-17. This year, the Oilers have two goalies playing well. Mikko Koskinen (.927 sv %, 2.35 GAA) is 5-0, a record start for an Oilers goalie. Mike Smith’s record hasn’t been quite as good, but his numbers (.925 sv%, 2.15 GAA) are just as impressive. Rest for both goalies through the year should increase their odds of continued strong play.
Oscar Klefbom is tied for 8th in the league in scoring by defencemen with 9 points. Darnell Nurse isn’t far behind him with 8 points. Klefbom and Nurse are leading the charge from the Oilers blueline. They are both scoring points at a pace no Oilers defenceman has been able to match in a long time. Having two D producing like they are is HUGE for this team, especially since the bottom 6 forwards aren’t scoring.
In 2016-17, the Oilers were running a similar 2-headed monster on defence. Klefbom finished with a career-high 38 points, and Andrej Sekera had 35 points. Klefbom and Nurse are scoring at a much higher pace at the moment, but if they can both finish in and around that 40-point mark, it will go a long way towards the Oilers making the playoffs.
The big difference between the 2016-17 Oilers and this year’s Oilers is the depth scoring. The 2016-17 Oilers had 12 goals from forwards that McDavid and Draisaitl were not in on after the Washington game (7 games).
This year, There have only been 4 goals from forwards that the two big guns weren’t in on through 11 games… 3 of those were scored by James Neal.
The only goal from an Oilers forward that Connor and Leon had nothing to do with was the faceoff play at 4-on-4 between Gaetan Haas (Bakersfield) and Joakim Nygard (IR) against the Kings. The current Oilers bottom 6 has contributed absolutely nothing offensively!
The 2016-17 Oilers made the playoffs largely on the backs of McDavid and Talbot. They also did it with solid structural play and with a reasonable amount of depth production. They beat the Capitals that late October night on two goals from Benoit Pouliot, and one each from Pat Maroon and Milan Lucic. Klefbom and Sekera each got a point from the defence. McDavid got 2 points, of course. Talbot stopped 34 of 35 shots in a solid performance. That was pretty much a microcosm of that season.
Thursday, the Oilers won the game with a goal from Darnell Nurse and 3-point nights from McDavid and Draisaitl. Koskinen wasn’t spectacular, but he was good enough to get the win. Aside from Koskinen’s performance against the Flyers, that’s pretty much how the season has gone for the Oilers.
While a recipe that is super reliant on the top players doing all of the scoring isn’t chef recommended, we can only hope that beating the Caps at home in late October in the midst of a hot start is a good omen. If beating the Caps at home in late October in the midst of a hot start in a way that is a microcosm of the whole season always results in a playoff berth, then the Oilers are in a good spot!
I’m not going to be fully convinced of the Oilers being for real this year until I see some production from the bottom 6, but one can hope that the good times keep rolling here in Oil Country! Any win against a recent Stanley Cup champion is a positive at the very least.