How did the Oilers turn their season around?


The Edmonton Oilers lost to the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, ending their winning streak at 16 games and falling one short of tying the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for the longest NHL streak. So what’s been the key to their turnaround after a terrible start? Are they back to being a Stanley Cup favorite?

We asked our experts to answer questions about the NHL’s hottest team.

What’s been the biggest key to the Oilers turning their season around?

Ryan S. Clark, NHL reporter: It’s the work that’s been done by Kris Knoblauch and his staff. They found ways to get the Oilers back to being a team that can score in even-strength and power-play situations which was a strength last season. Perhaps the most crucial thing they have done is getting the Oilers’ defensive structure situated. They’re in the top 10 or higher in categories such as shots per 60, scoring chances per 60 and high-danger chances per 60. There’s also the work they have done with Stuart Skinner, who has been one of their most consistent performers.

Kristen Shilton, NHL reporter: There are a couple of key places the Oilers have improved since Knoblauch took over in mid-November. (This isn’t to gloss over how good Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have been, but I mean, we expect excellence from excellent players, right?) For me, it’s the Oilers’ goaltending going from dismal to dazzling that’s set a certain tone. Skinner was at an .876 SV% and 3.27 GAA when Knoblauch took over; he’s posted a .923 SV% and 2.10 GAA since then. And then there’s the penalty kill. It was bottom-five in the league at 71.7% at the coaching change; Edmonton has the league’s best PK (89.3%) under Knoblauch’s watch. When you see those stats trending in the right direction, it’s leading to good things.

Greg Wyshynski, NHL reporter: For lack of a better description, it’s being the Oilers. McDavid told me that for better or worse, they’re a streaky team. Like when they were 18-4-2 after Jay Woodcroft was hired in 2022. Like when they went 15-0-1 to close out last season. The Oilers’ underlying numbers were good under Woodcroft this season. McDavid was confident that if he could perform to his standards and the goalies could make a save, that Edmonton could turn things around. Maybe the turnaround doesn’t happen if Woodcroft isn’t shown the door, as it was a shock to their system. But internally, the Oilers always knew they had this in them. They’ve done it before.

Are the Oilers back to being one of the favorites in the West (and in the NHL overall)?

Clark: Yes, but for different reasons than what was initially expected. One of the glaring details about their postseason exit last season was the lack of depth when compared to the Vegas Golden Knights. What we have seen so far under Knoblauch is that the Oilers can receive contributions elsewhere. All but two of Ryan McLeod’s points this season have come since the coaching change. Warren Foegele is another player who has benefitted while defensemen such as Cody Ceci, Mattias Ekholm and Darnell Nurse have also provided secondary offense.

Shilton: Definitely. It’s important to see Edmonton with seven double-digit goal scorers, and five players averaging around (or above) a point per game. Because that means the Oilers are more than just a one-two punch up front; they’ve got enough contributors across the board to be effective in all situations. Add to that the terrific goaltending and special teams advancements, and there’s not a whole lot you can point to as a weakness in Edmonton right now. Yes, it’s still early February, but if their train keeps rolling there’s no reason to think the Oilers won’t be able to make noise in the postseason.

Wyshynski: I picked them to win the Stanley Cup before the season. At one point, I think their bandwagon was Zach Hyman and me. Now everyone has sprinted to get back on that bandwagon, and rightfully so: They finally look like a champion again and the betting market has reestablished the Oilers as the Stanley Cup favorite. But the path out of the Western Conference might as well be something out of “Max Max: Fury Road” — that’s how intense it’s going to get. If the Vancouver Canucks remain healthy, they have the high-end talent and goaltending that can hang with the Oilers. The Winnipeg Jets are an incredible defensive team in front of a potential Vezina winner. Oh, and that’s if they get past the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in a potential first-round matchup, having lost to the Golden Misfits last postseason. Edmonton is the favorite, but hardly a sure thing.

Biggest need ahead of the trade deadline?

Clark: Possibly adding one more middle-six forward to strengthen their third line. It’s been a mix of hit and miss for them with their bottom-six as a whole. McLeod, Sam Gagner and Derek Ryan have been constants whereas the Connor Brown plan hasn’t quite worked out and Dylan Holloway remains a work in progress. Signing Corey Perry allowed them to fill that need with the idea that one more forward could potentially provide a solution.

Shilton: The Oilers would benefit from targeting depth on defense. It appears (when the team is healthy) that Edmonton has the offensive weapons to shine. But a team determined to go far in the playoffs often needs options on the back end. And don’t sleep on those unsexy, third-pairing acquisitions. Sometimes, they’re the ones who can become a steady presence in the lineup and make a game (or series) changing difference. Edmonton doesn’t have many gaps on display at the moment, yet it’s imperative they don’t get complacent, either. Especially when injuries can crop up at any time.

Wyshynski: Cody Ceci is one of those players who inspires intense debate. Either he’s an underrated defenseman who’s worth more than his $3.25 million cap hit or he’s miscast playing big minutes as Nurse’s defensive partner. That combo only has an expected goals percentage slightly over 50%. I think there’s room for an upgrade. I’m not sure how much Flyers defenseman Sean Walker might be one. I am sure that Flames defenseman Chris Tanev would be one, but that move would be one rife with Albertan political concerns.

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