Six wins in a row and second place control in the Pacific. Who saw it coming for Edmonton two months ago?
If how your team plays is more important than any seed at the start of the playoffs – and that is, unless you are in the top 8 team – then suddenly the defensive word Edmonton Oilers is rising to the top at the right time.
In a second-place fight in the Pacific Division, Edmonton moved to Los Angeles and took a game in hand to beat the Kings 3-2 in control to move three points away from the LA. They never backed down in a game, it was Edmonton’s sixth consecutive win – and for the first time in the franchise’s history, they will return home from a California road trip on Friday morning, breaking the Ducks, Sharks and Kings.
It seems like a long time after the 9-5 rate in Calgary, right?
“We had a tough game in Calgary a few weeks ago,” started head coach Jay Woodcroft, “where we gave up a lot more goals than we lost.
“I just look at this road trip: we have conceded four goals in three games and two of them were even stronger. So that’s a good sign for us, as we stretch out here and navigate our way. ”
As the playoffs draw closer, and five-on-five hockey has become a currency on which teams are able to move forward, the Eulers’ equal-strength game has been excellent. They have allowed two or fewer goals in four of their last six games, a sign that the good defensive structure is being supported by NHL caliber goaltending.
Suddenly Mike Smith took the No. 1 job in his last seven starts, going 6-0-1. “The numbers don’t lie,” said Evan Bouchard, who played the first three-point game of his career.
Smith’s puck-handling skills made the game infinitely harder against the Oilers and he had another impressive night on Thursday. Starting a game where he set up Connor McDavid’s overtime winner with a beautiful stretch pass, Smith passed a 10-foot pass to Duncan Keith that most goalkeepers would never pull.
The puck went through four other skaters from Keith and ended up on Warren Fogel’s tape for a beautiful feed goal by Derek Ryan. Then, with the Oilers leading 3-2 in the final minutes, Smith repeatedly collected Kings dump-ins and pushed over the Oilers Defender’s tape to get out of the easy zone, thwarting LA’s offense.
We know – Smith is 40, and staying healthy is always a problem. But when he stops Pak as he is now, and plays better or better than any other ‘tendy’ in hockey, he is really a weapon.
“I do not think so. I think you have the right to feel confident, “said Woodcroft. “And for Mike, he got that feeling because he kept the job. He has put the work into practice. His puck-moving ability is elite, but he has saved something for us at the right time. ”
If Smith finds his two-way game, he’s right behind captain Connor McDavid, who started scoring, added an assist and was a monster defensively as the Kings tried to tie the game. Since playing that Calgary, he has been a plus player in all of the plus-6 wins.
McDavid’s Plus-22 is the top 15 in the NHL, and his 53.8 percent faceoff percentage is career best. And, of course, he’s on his way to another Art Ross Trophy.
Like it or not, McDavid has got his own moment and his game is better for it. So are the oilmen.
“He’s taking us forward with his crime, sure,” Woodcroft said. “But he is driving us with his attention to detail on the defensive side of things. And when your captain does that – when the top scorers in the National Hockey League are committed to playing that way – it resonates with the rest of the group. It became a contagious kind of attitude. ”
In his current 15-game point streak (his second this season), McDavid has 12 multi-point games for 29 points.
Meanwhile, the young Bouchard had a home bomb and two apples as a main target. And perhaps more encouraging, he was defensively strong on the Plus-3 night. Playing with Duncan Keith is accelerating the development of the young defender, a vague one that will bear fruit year after year after Keith leaves.
Bouchard knows he can score from the point with the bomb he has, and he always picks up points. But like the team around him, if Bouchard’s defensive play can mature, personal success can turn into team success.
“It’s a big focus for us going to the playoffs,” said Bouchard, who collected a $ 212,000 bonus for his tenth goal. “You have to be really strong defensively, and it helps when our goaltenders are standing over their heads and that’s what they’ve been doing lately.”