Oilers’ patient play propelling Edmonton to unexpected, record-setting start

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Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (97) celebrates after scoring a goal against the New York Rangers during the third period game, Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Oilers won 4-1. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

NEW YORK — The Edmonton Oilers boarded their plane on a Newark tarmac Saturday afternoon in first place in the National League. A perfect 5-0 record was packed underneath, the NHL’s two leading point-getters and its leading goal scorer sitting pretty up top.

Yep, that’s the Oilers we’re talking about, tearing through New York like the Joker while Batman’s on vacation.

Edmonton set a National Hockey League record by becoming the first team to go 5-0 to start off the season after trailing in every single game. Meanwhile James Neal — who leads the NHL with seven goals and was robbed of his eighth by the great Henrik Lundqvist’s glove on Saturday — notched a new team record with his hot start, no easy feat on a franchise that used to score 400 goals in a season, stocking the Hockey Hall of Fame with eight players in all.

It marks the first time in team history that Edmonton ran the table on a three-game trip through New York and New Jersey, beating the Islanders, Devils and in a high-paced Saturday matinee, the Rangers by a convincing 4-1 score.

It’s crazy, that this team is setting these records. Particularly if you’ve watched them bumble through these last couple seasons, when two of these three games would have surely gotten away from them.

"Absolutely," said Connor McDavid, who logged another two-point night for a league-leading 4-8-12. "We were talking about that Jersey game (a 4-3 shootout win), especially. We usually found a way to lose that game by two or three, just because we open it up.

"We have to stick with games. Play the full 60 minutes. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true."

If you’d have looked at the NHL schedule on October 1 and put $20 down on which of the 31 teams would go 5-0, tell us, would the Oilers have even been in your Top 20? With this goaltending, a bunch of brand new players, a new coach and a completely new system?

"It’s definitely fun," smiled McDavid. "I said it (Friday): Everyone was always kind of waiting for the bad stuff to happen for our group."

Leon Draisaitl had another two goals and an assist, and was an absolute horse on this trip. Like the Devils and Islanders before them, the Rangers just couldn’t handle the big German, who had another four shots on goal and an empty netter — his first in two seasons. He didn’t have a single one in his 50-goal campaign of a year ago.

But the theme here is of a team that has figured out that if it hangs around long enough, McDavid and Draisaitl are likely enough to find a game-tying goal. Or someone else, like Oscar Klefbom, who has seven points in his first five games, scoring the 1-1 goal Saturday.

"One thing I’ve figured out quickly with this team – especially with some of the talented players that we have – is that there’s more incentive to keep the game close," said goalie Mike Smith, who allowed the game’s first goal but was not beaten again on just 21 Rangers shots. "You have guys on this team that can change the game in the blink of an eye … one goal is nothing. Guys are starting to figure that out."

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And those players are learning to be more patient in waiting for their chances. It has become a deadly mix.

"Guys are recognizing what we have to do to win," said head coach Dave Tippett. "Just because you’re up 3-1 doesn’t mean you have to make it 5-1. You make sure the 3-1 stays in place. It’s about winning games. The two points are more important than how many goals you score."

The Oilers won their first seven in 1983-84 in the franchise’s first Stanley Cup season, and two years later had a 5-0 start. On this day they killed a 40-second five-on-three in the opening eight minutes of the game, as Smith robbed Mika Zibanejad and Brendan Lemieux on what seemed like certain goals.

Zibanejad came into the game with eight points in the Rangers first two games. The only number he posted on Saturday was a minus-3, however.

On the day the hockey world learned of the death of beloved former Oilers coach Ted Green, the Oilers played a defensive, detail-oriented game that Teddy would have been proud of.

Now, they’ll take their show to Chicago for a Monday nighter that closes out a four-game road trip, six points already in the bank.

It’s insane what’s happening here. Truly it is.

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