In know I’ve said this before, but who saw this winning streak coming? The Edmonton Oilers are now 5-0-0 to start the NHL season. As noted, they haven’t started this well since 1985-86. On Saturday in Madison Square Garden, they beat the New York Rangers 4-1.
About the 1985-86 Season
Many Oilers’ fans, at least from my generation, will recall that 1985-86 season well. The team had just come off back-to-back Stanley Cup wins and were indeed settled in as a dynasty.
During the 1985-86 season, Wayne Gretzky set an NHL season’s record that still stands by scoring 215 points in the season (52 goals, 163 assists). He won his sixth Art Ross Trophy and his seventh Hart Trophy. His partner Jari Kurri led the team in goals with 68, adding 63 assists, scoring 131 points. Defenseman Paul Coffey set a record for defensemen with 48 goals (breaking Bobby Orr’s previous mark of 46). Coffey won his second Norris Trophy that season. The goalies were Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, who split time. Fuhr had 29 wins and Moog had a 3.69 GAA.
It was a strong season for the team. But they couldn’t win their third Stanley Cup. It was the season that defenseman Steve Smith put a clearing shot off Grant Fuhr into the team’s own net and the Oilers lost to the Flames in seven games at home. All this goes to suggest that the best team doesn’t always win the Stanley Cup each season.
Back to the Present
Against the Rangers on October 12, Connor McDavid scored the winning goal and Leon Draisaitl had two goals and an assist. It was a tight game until the third period, and the Oilers opened it up to beat the New York Rangers 4-1. Oscar Klefbom had two points (a goal and an assist) and goalie Mike Smith looked strong in stopping 20 shots to help Edmonton complete a three-game sweep of all the New York-based teams. The Oilers beat the New York Islanders 4-1 on Tuesday night and edged the New Jersey Devils 4-3 in a shootout Thursday night.
Interestingly, and who keeps such stats, Edmonton became the first team in NHL history to win its first five games after trailing in each. Here are my takeaways for the game.
Takeaway #1: Connor McDavid Is, Well, Connor McDavid
From the word we had, this summer Connor McDavid worked to rehab his injury with the will of a titan. It worked. It seems that just days before the opening of the regular season, there was fear McDavid wouldn’t be ready – and, in all honesty, perhaps he wasn’t. However, as the sub-title of this takeaway suggests, McDavid is simply McDavid.
All I can think is that he must be having a good time this season. At first, the team’s wins seemed sloppy and lucky: no longer. The team is playing confidently, well, and scoring legitimate wins over opponents. And, except for opening night, all on the road. The streak has to end sometime, but Oilers’ fans are enjoying it while they can.
In the 4-1 victory over the New York Rangers, all McDavid did was score the game-winning goal on the power play and add an even-strength assist. The 22-year-old superstar had a plus-2 rating for the morning’s work. McDavid has scored four goals and now has 12 points to lead both the Oilers and the NHL in scoring.
By the way, guess who’s second in both Oilers’ and NHL scoring. None other than amigo Leon Draisaitl who, with Zach Kassian, have – at least so far this young season – formed one of the most potent first-line combinations in the NHL.
Takeaway #2: James Neal Still Looks Great, and Got Robbed
For those who believed James Neal’s scoring was a fluke, for one more game he proved them wrong. He didn’t score, but he had a chance. In a really good-looking play, Neal set up in front of Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist and tipped an on-coming puck towards the glove-side, open net. Had it not been for a great save by the Rangers’ experienced goalie, Neal would have had his eights goal of the season.
He was robbed. Two great plays – Neal’s and Lundqvist’s – but this time the goalie won. My point? Neal will get number eight sooner rather than later. By the way, Neal still leads the NHL with seven goals.
Takeaway #3: Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl Is Proving Last Season Wasn’t a Fluke
Draisaitl scored two even-strength goals and added a power-play assist on Connor McDavid’s game-winner in Saturday’s 4-1 win over the Rangers.
He rounded out his performance with four shots and a plus-2 rating. That’s now four goals and 11 points through the first five games of the season for Draisaitl, who’s proving last year’s 105-point breakout was not a fluke.
Draisaitl gave the Oilers a 3-1 lead when he hacked in a loose puck in front of Lundqvist. The Rangers goalie thought he had covered the puck, but because officials didn’t blow a whistle Draisaitl kept beating on it and it went in. Draisaitl also scored his fourth goal – an empty-netter – just before the game ended.
Takeaway #4: Alex Chiasson and Marcus Granlund Looked Good in Their Roles
To my eye, Alex Chiasson and Marcus Granlund looked strong in their limited roles. Chiasson had a chance on a nice tip, which was stopped. Granlund looked like value-added to the team. He might never reach the offensive potential he was once thought to have, but he can play.
Takeaway #5: Mike Smith Won Again and Looked Stronger
Although Mike Smith hasn’t lost this season, in the Rangers’ game he looked stronger than he has in other games. He stopped slap shots by Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, and Brady Skjei. He also stopped Pavel Buchnevich and Brendan Lemieux later in the game to keep the Oilers ahead by a goal.
What’s Next for the Edmonton Oilers?
The Oilers travel to Chicago to meet the Blackhawks on Thanksgiving evening to complete their successful four-game road trip. The Blackhawks haven’t won a game yet this season. But the Oilers’ streak has to end sometime, doesn’t it?
By the way, the 1985-86 Oilers lost their sixth game of the season 9-3 to the Winnipeg Jets. I wonder what that bodes for the team in Chicago.