“If it was so easy,” Dave Tippett asked, “why didn’t everybody do it?”
His team has just beaten the Ottawa Senators again, for the ninth time this season, surrendering nary a loser point in a season series so dominant even the glory years Oilers had never accomplished the same feat.
Sure, the Glory Years Oilers beat Dale Hawerchuk, Doug Soetaert and the 1993-94 Winnipeg Jets eight straight times. But not nine, the way the 2020-21 Oilers did to Ottawa.
“Eighteen points against one team,” mused winning goalie Mike Smith, the Renaissance man who stopped a season-high 39 pucks in a 3-1 Oilers win. “That’s pretty impressive.”
It is, in fact, something that has never been accomplished in the history of an organization that has won five Stanley Cups and attended two more. Sure — it’s not 50 goals in 39 games, or 215 points in a season, two of Gretzky’s greatest records. Nor does it approach the NHL record 446 goals in a season, as those Oilers in ’83-’84 scored, many against the hapless Jets.
But let us pause and take stock of an accomplishment that is so rare as this one, nine games in which the Senators could not even wring a loser point out of the selfish Oilers. Even in a game like Thursday’s where the Sens outshot Edmonton 40-23 and could well have walked away with a win.
“You just keep playin’ like that and you’re going to win more times than not,” said Sens head coach D.J. Smith. “We’ve won more games this year where we didn’t play close to how well we played tonight.”
Of course, his post-game sessions have not all been so positive this season as Edmonton put the boots to the young Senators night after painful night.
“Their big guys took us apart tonight,” Smith said after an 8-5 win in January when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl combined for 11 points.
Or this one, after a 4-2 loss in February: “Right now every break seems to go in. Probably I need more from some of the older guys. Probably need more right now from some of the guys who have been in the league.”
Ironically, the deadly McDavid-Draisaitl duo that had gorged on the Sens this season with 41 points in the first eight games, was quiet on Thursday’s score sheet. One lone assist, by McDavid, was all the plucky Sens allowed.
So Edmonton got goals from Kailer Yamamoto (his first in a month) and Devin Shore instead, with Jesse Puljujarvi collecting an empty-netter to seal the Sens’ fate.
“(Ottawa) has gotten better each time we’ve played them, and we just kind of found ways to get wins,” Smith said. “Teams find ways to combat your offence. We’re just finding different ways to win.”
McDavid had more assists against Ottawa this season (17) than 624 NHL players have points.
Draisaitl collected more points (21) against the Sens than Taylor Hall has all season long (19).
“We think the game at the same level. We look for each other,” Draisaitl said prior to a 7-1 win over Ottawa back in March. “I know where and when he wants the puck. Every once in a while I’ll get that pass to him.”
Of course, NHL players being who they are, there was little appetite among the Oilers to revel in having forged a new team record. What nine straight wins against the same team really means is, this club isn’t that club anymore.
The nail, finally, is starting to look more like the hammer.
“We want to build something,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just want to be building. Putting ourselves in position going into the playoffs where we’re playing our best hockey. We’re doing the things it takes to push games along, get important wins…
“We’re not just here to get two points and move on. We’re building for something bigger than just another two points against an Ottawa Senators team that’s going to be a good team down the (road). We’re building for something more.”
Those days of “something more” will arrive soon enough.
For one record-setting night though, we saw something we’ve never seen before.
“We found a way to win nine times, which is great,” Tippett said. “It’s a weird year.”