After years of futility, are the Oilers finally competitive again?

Editor’s note: Cold As Ice correspondent Phil Stacey looks at the Edmonton Oilers’ unexpected hot streak.

What in the name of Willy Lindstrom is going on with the Edmonton Oilers?

Reduced to Dollar Store status by many in the hockey world after rookie wunderkind Connor McDavid injured his collarbone Nov. 3 against the Flyers and word came down he’d be out of action at least two months, the suddenly resurgent Oilers have won six straight. The latest in that surprising streak: a 3-2 overtime triumph against the Bruins Monday night in Boston, where they hadn’t won since 1996.

oilers logo

That’s right: the Edmonton Oilers, not of Gretzky, Messier, Coffey and Fuhr but of Letestu, Korpikoski, Sekera and Talbot, have picked up 12 of a possible 12 points in the 12th month of 2015.

Call it a young team starting to find it stride, call it making the most of the opportunities presented to them…call it Christmas magic if you want. The bottom line is the Oilers—who’ve won only 156 of a possible 492 games since the 2010-11 season, worst in the NHL—are one game under .500 (14-15-2) and, at 30 points, are starting to creep into the Western Conference’s playoff picture. The Pacific Division is so bad that Edmonton is actually tied with Arizona for second place, trailing only Los Angeles.

To be certain, there’s talent on the roster. (Picking first in the draft for what seems like the last 14 years helps.) When the spirit moves him, Taylor Hall can create offensive opportunities with the puck on his stick, using equal parts speed and skill. Jordan Eberle had himself a fine game Monday night against the Bruins (goal, 2 assists) and got himself involved in the play virtually every time he hopped over the boards. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also played well Monday (goal, assist) and constantly moved his feet, with or without the puck.

But let’s be serious. This is still a team that currently uses Leon Draisaitil as its top line pivot. It employs Jujhar Khaira (all together now: WHO?) in a top six role, has someone named Oscar Klefbom playing almost 22 minutes a night and has Darnell Nurse and Andrej Sekera as its top defensive pairing.

Yet Todd McClellan’s charges keep finding ways to win. Monday night they gave up a staggering 49 shots, but managed to survive. As a team, they seemed to take their collective skates off the gas pedal after jumping out to a 2-0 lead 14 minutes in, allowing the aforementioned Bruins’ bombardment of shots.

But when the final goal had been scored, courtesy of a Sekera putback after his original shot went off of Bruins defenseman Torey Krug’s left out front of goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, two more points went in the Oilers’ bank. Same as what happened the last time these two teams met back on Dec. 2 in Edmonton (a 3-2 shootout win). Or Dec. 4 against Dallas (a 2-1 win), Dec. 6 against Buffalo (4-2 victory), Dec. 9 against San Jose (a 4-3 triumph) or Dec. 11 against the Rangers (a wild 7-5 affair).

Edmonton’s streak is probably (almost certainly?) going to come to an end before Santa is finished with his cookies and cocoa. The Oilers play at the Rangers Tuesday, in Chicago on Thursday and in Colorado Saturday before returning home to the cozy confines of Rexall Place Dec. 21 for a clash with Winnipeg.

Still, for long-suffering Edmontonians—can you even fathom living there year-round?—this has been a much-loved but totally unexpected early Christmas gift. Common sense would say enjoy it while it lasts, but with a group as plucky as these Oilers, you just never know.

And besides, if the bottom eventually falls out and they go in the tank, the Oilers can always hold Jaroslav Pouzar Night to get the fans happy again.

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