The Oilers have turned things around, but can it last?

Lauri Korpikoski joined Gene Principe to talk about the Oilers’ win over the Rangers, and how he scored his hat trick.

Winning hockey has returned to Alberta, with the Calgary Flames on a nine-game home winning streak and the Edmonton having just swept their five-game homestand. This week, Sportsnet looks at how the Oilers and Flames have turned things around.

Mark Spector looks at the Oilers today, and the Flames on Tuesday.

My message gets returned from a go-to scout.

“Are you phoning to size a ring for me,” he says in jest. “You know, I think if you go right down Jasper Ave. with the parade, then come back up by the Westin…”

Ha, ha.

It’s been a long haul in Northern Alberta, where the Oilers are flirting with their tenth consecutive playoff miss — an all-time worst in the 98-year annals of the National Hockey League. There is traction this week, however. Legitimate cause for hope that has not been evident in years. It’s not just the fact the Oilers swept a five-game home stand, but how they did it.

With structure in their defensive game. With goaltending. With a team that didn’t put its collective tail between its legs when Dallas or the New York Rangers erased an Edmonton lead, but instead dug in and forced overtime, or won the game back in regulation.

So, what’s different about the Edmonton Oilers this season?

“Here’s what I see,” begins our scout, who has watched the Oilers on and off for this season and the past 20. “(Leon) Draisaitl has come into his own. They’ve given Darnell Nurse a chance to play and he’s grabbed it. He brings a physical presence to Edmonton’s game and he looks mature, for a young guy. With that, he’s brought some people along with him.

“The other guy who’s played way better under Todd McLellan is Taylor Hall. He’s more engaged in the game, using his energy and speed to his advantage rather than running all over the place. Now Eberle has found some swagger too, and somehow McLellan has gotten into the faces of (Anton) Lander and (Mark) Letestu — and I’m not a big fan of either — and said, ‘If you want to stay in the lineup, here’s how you have to play.’”

Surely, the Oilers haven’t received goaltending the likes of what Anders Nilsson is giving them for many moons. But, it must be said, there hasn’t been a goalie that has had a structured defensive effort in front of him for just as long.

Edmonton has been a goalie graveyard for years. But that is changing. Credit for that falls to McLellan, who took over a team that used to give up scads of Grade A chances while running around its own zone like shoppers on Black Friday. Just 30 games into the season the difference is obvious: defensively, Edmonton can bend without breaking, and with some goaltending, this team has become far, far harder to score against than in the past.

“It was a good homestand, but it’s a different animal on the road,” warned GM Peter Chiarelli in Boston Sunday. “But it looks like the guys are starting to believe in themselves.”

The Oilers GM built a rugged, heavy team when he worked in Boston. In a third of a season in Edmonton, we’re seeing a team that is heading in that direction, with still a long, long ways to go.

“There are a couple of players who’ve brought that, and others have come along for the ride,” Chiarelli said. “Leon is a heavy player. J.J. (Jujhar Khaira) and (Iiro) Pakarinen play hard, heavier games. The other guys have followed suit. We’re a rush team. It would be nice to get some cycle time, just ‘cause you end up leaning on the D and tire them out over the course of the game. That element, that attitude, I see it coming.”

An element that always crippled Edmonton was its inability not to crack in a close game. Teams played Edmonton patiently, waiting to convert on inevitable, predictable breakdowns. Then they would capitalize again on the chances Edmonton gave them as the trailing Oilers gambled in a comeback attempt.

“The team of last decade is still prevalent most games, but there’s a new team creeping in,” said a second scout we contacted for an impartial viewpoint. “There aren’t a lot of veteran leaders, but they’re playing a consistent, smarter all-around game for three periods. Or closer to three periods than before.

“Earlier in the season, they’d have two bad periods and one random good period with a strong team game. Now, they’re playing one random period of bad hockey.”

Hall’s all-around game catches everyone’s eye. A player with one “plus” season on his six-year resume is suddenly ranked second in the NHL at plus-15, and his production is still top notch: 14-20-34 in 30 games, ranked at No. 4.

“On the ice he looks a lot more professional,” said the second scout. “His body language is better, his whole demeanour is better.”

For our money, the common thread on why Edmonton appears to finally be on a sustainable rise after years and years of false starts and failed rebuilds, is the coach. All the things that are going right have McLellan’s fingerprints on them: from the play of Hall, to the defensive game, to the eradication of a “tails between the legs” culture when things went bad.

This is not the 2014-15 Flames, with a collection of once-in-a-lifetime stats and half the roster enjoying career seasons. It’s a management team that knows what to do, and players who’ve been so beat up playing for Edmonton, they couldn’t possibly be more receptive to change.

“The guy behind the bench, he’s a good coach,” said our first scout. “The Oilers never quit (in recent wins over) Dallas or the Rangers — two pretty good teams. They stay in the game right to the end. That’s the difference.

“Before, if a team had tied them up, they’d just go away.”

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