Surging Oilers keep checking off boxes as they round into form

Connor McDavid scored the overtime winner to get the Oilers a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks.

The Edmonton Oilers opened the season with a slate of unchecked boxes, then went 0-2 out of the gates. Yikes!

But, slowly, the blanks have started to fill in. First, the goaltending came around. Check.

Then the team defence. Check.

Finally, some support scoring. Check.

Special teams. Check.

Suddenly the Oilers, who just swept a weekend road trip through Nashville and Chicago, are 6-3-1 and playing .650 hockey through their opening 10-games of the season — by far the toughest stretch of their 2018-19 schedule.

They didn’t just survive this killer start to the season — Edmonton crushed it. Now the Oilers come home for games against Minnesota and Chicago this week with a three-game winning streak and a 4-2-0 road record. A once-fragile team couldn’t be more confident.

Here are some takeaways from a four-point weekend, capped off by a Draisaitl-to-McDavid overtime winner that makes the Oilers perhaps the best OT bet in hockey.

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Klef-Balm

Trent Yawney gets credit for his fine work with the many young defencemen the Anaheim Ducks churned out during seven years in that organization. Now he’s running Edmonton’s defence, and suddenly Oscar Klefbom looks like he’s taking a big step.

Klefbom’s career-average ice time was 21:55 prior to this season. Through 10 games this season, he’s playing 26:01 — including a solid 30:15 in Nashville and another 25:56 Sunday in Chicago.

He’s working the top of a power play that is back to being dangerous every night, and presiding over a defence that has helped to allow just 17 goals-against at five-on-five in 10 games. Klefbom may not be a consensus No. 1 D-man, but he is Edmonton’s No. 1 and Yawney is playing him like one.

And he’s healthy — and no one ever said Klefbom couldn’t play, as long as he stays healthy.

Peace in the Pipes

Cam Talbot has been the Cam Talbot we saw two seasons ago, which is imperative for anything good to happen in Edmonton. He’s been solid: no bad goals, battling, and keeping the score within reach no matter how the team in front of him is playing.

On Sunday in Chicago, he was forced to be better than Cam Ward in Chicago’s net and Talbot obliged with 31 saves, beaten only on a Brent Seabrook rocket on a five-on-three power play.

Then there was Mikko Koskinen’s work in Nashville, which must have drawn a huge sigh of relief from Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli, who paid Koskinen $2.5 million this season — two or three times what most backup goalies make — based solely on a KHL performance that does not always translate to the NHL.

The Oilers, from the players right up to the GM, all spoke confidently that Koskinen could be an excellent backup this season. But here’s the plain truth: until he does it a few times, does anybody really know?

Stopping 24 Nashville shots, but more importantly, everything he was expected to stop and more, just checks off another box for Edmonton of things we weren’t sure about, but may turn out just fine.

Teams that are Special

The Oilers’ special teams sewered them last season. You just can’t be last (PK) and seventh from last (PP) and expect success.

On Sunday the powerplay went 0-for-3 but was dangerous, and was a Connor McDavid goal-post away from scoring the go-ahead goal in period No. 3. We all wondered how you could have the Art Ross winner and the 24th-best power play on the same team.

Well, through 10 games this season, McDavid (eight) and Leon Draisaitl (six) have 14 power play points and six power play goals. In 82 games last season, they combined for 31 points and 11 goals with the man-advantage. They’re roughly halfway there in 10 games in 2018-19, more good news in The Big E.

A Little Help…?

Remember when McDavid was in on the first nine goals the Oilers scored this season? Well, that has begun to change, and McDavid’s ice time has begun to come down.

Drake Caggiula scored twice in Nashville, then Zack Kassian potted the only regulation goal in a 2-1 overtime win on Sunday. Meanwhile, McDavid’s ice times this weekend were 21:10 and 22:51, respectively, after playing over 23 minutes in six of the Oilers first seven games.

They can’t be a one-man team, and on the other hand, when players keep up to McDavid, maybe now you’ve got a team that can contend.

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