EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers were always that team that could not be convinced there were 60 minutes in a game. They just never believed that, if you just survived the opponent’s push, there would be time left to have a push of your own.
“In the past we tried to come back from a (deficit) by cheating on offence, and it was led by Connor and myself,” Leon Draisaitl admitted moments after sniping the game-winner in a 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets. “Him and I, we figured out that, if you stay patient — if you continue to play good defence — you’re going to get your chances.”
That, dear readers, is leadership.
They are the best two players on the team — the captain and an assistant — who don’t just talk the right game. They’re playing it now, and as such, so is the entire Edmonton Oilers lineup.
“We’re trying to build something here, and there’s a long way to go,” McDavid said. “There is that belief — we’re doing a better job of holding teams when they are up. We (used to) have nights where we’re down one, and we let them get another one, and dig ourselves an even bigger hole.
“When you’re down you’ve got to hold ‘em. And if it takes all period long, then it takes all period long. We’ll take our chance when we get it.”
On Hockey Night in Canada Saturday, the game played out exactly the way McDavid and Draisaitl described:
Winnipeg scored twice before the game was 16 minutes old on a pair of lucky-bounce, pinball goals, a hint that perhaps this wasn’t going to be Edmonton’s night. But the third goal never arrived, and before the horn, McDavid made the score 2-1, pulling into a tie with Auston Matthews with a league-leading 21 goals.
Neither team scored in the second, a period in which the old Oilers traditionally would have pushed the envelope, taking all kinds of chances to tie the game. As if it somehow had to happen before the end of 40 minutes.
Instead, they came out in the third, got yet another goal on a lovely shot by Darnell Nurse, and laid down a third period in which the Jets had only eight shots. Finally, their break arrived as a puck kicked out to McDavid as he flew through the neutral zone, and Draisaitl hustled down the right side to find a shooting position.
McDavid dished and Draisaitl dined, one-timing a laser just inside the post from distance. Patience, and then opportunity — the exact formula of which the Oilers' two superstars speak.
“Not much to explain,” shrugged Draisaitl. “A pretty pass. He made it easy for me to put in.”
“I mean, the guy scored 50,” said McDavid. “It’s not an easy goal by any means. He’s still a long ways out there. And puts it right in the right spot.”
The real point is, when you have the quick strike ability that the Oilers possess, and you build a lineup that can check well enough to hang in there long enough for the right chance to arrive…
Well, they’re tied in first place in the North this morning. We’re thinking that they just might have something here.
“We’ve four ways to win … in different ways,” said goalie Smith, who erased any advantage in goal the Jets might have by simply being better than Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck. “We’ve been behind and come back, we’ve been in close games, we’ve been fortunate to have big leads in some games.”
Smith turns 39 on Monday. He’s been on a lot of teams over the years, in a lot of different stages of their maturity. His current team has found its stride with an 18-7 record in its last 25 games, and just knocked off an excellent Jets team with a 2-1 win and then a 4-2 victory in which they trailed by a pair.
“It’s valuable to get used to playing in close games, coming from behind in games during the season,” Smith said. “Some games are filled with power plays and penalty kills, and other games there doesn’t seem to be much space out there, and you try to win a five-on-five battle.
“It’s all valuable confidence, and valuable information that goes into the back of your mind every night. Heading into playoffs, you want to be as prepared as possible.”
McDavid has known nothing but the orange and blue of Edmonton. He’s never felt the vibe here before, that he’s feeling right now.
“The confidence, you can just feel it throughout the lineup. We’re getting contributions from everybody … from the net out, guys are working hard and buying in,” he said. “Starting to believe is a big part of it.
“Guys are buying in. It’s dangerous, and contagious.”