EDMONTON — They look like a team that could take you somewhere, these Edmonton Oilers, when they roll out a defensively sound, 60-minute, 4-2 win like the one they played Thursday.
It reminds one of the way they looked for three months from February to June last year: two hyper-dangerous lines up top, a group of supporting forwards grinding through their shifts, scoring a little and giving up even less, and a defensive corps that just made its plays — nothing fancy.
Defensively sound, with goaltending that bailed them up when the inevitable chances arrived.
Remember that team?
On Thursday, that’s what greeted the New York Islanders, who stumbled into Edmonton only to run headlong into a surly group of Oilers coming off a tense players only meeting the day before — not to mention five straight losses at home.
It was an Oilers team that looked and played like fans rightfully expected them to be playing, after having found an identity last spring of a team that — when they faltered — came back with their ‘A’ game the very next night.
“This wasn’t the first time that we have played a full 60,” assessed up Zach Hyman, who delivered a goal and five shots on net. “It is about, what are we going to do next? Can we string wins together and play like this consistently and turn the page here?
“We have a great test here on Saturday against the team that knocked us out of the playoffs (Colorado). So it is going to be an exciting one for us.”
This is a team that has chased its ‘A’ game as often as they’ve chased the scoreboard in the season’s first half, when scoring first was simply out of Edmonton’s reach on most nights. Of late they’ve been better, but results have eluded them in 4-4-2 10-game segment that easily could have yielded six more points than it did.
So, as the losses mounted, so too did the pressure.
You can’t hold one of those come to Jesus meetings every week. So when you do, you’d best make sure it has the desired effect.
“We haven’t been good on home ice, we talked yesterday and the guys responded well and we got a big two points,” said goalie Jack Campbell who was tidy enough in stopping 20 shots.
What was said in that meeting?
“We hadn’t been playing good, myself included,” Campbell said. “No more excuses, it’s time to do it. Now we have to keep it going.”
When you see their ‘A’ game, the one that limited the Islanders to 22 shots on Thursday, it looks legit. Edmonton came out with an assertive first period, didn’t look fragile when the Isles climbed back to 2-1, and successfully protected a 4-2 lead after 40 minutes, allowing only seven third period shots.
You can’t have a better first period than the Oilers had, outshooting the Islanders 15-4 and building a 2-0 lead on goals by Leon Draisaitl (powerplay) and Kailer Yamamoto (shorthanded). But Edmonton had held 2-0 leads in two of their past three home games and lost them both by a 5-2 score, so you could say the Islanders had Edmonton exactly where they wanted them.
The dressing room chatter between periods was more focused, as a team that has mastered the art of 40-minute efforts made darned sure they played 60 on this night.
“One of the things was just being positive,” Hyman said of the discourse between players. “I think that exudes energy from the entire group. We are definitely talking more and I think our breakouts were way better today. The D were moving it quick and Soup was playing the puck great and moving it to the D and getting it out.
“That talk on the ice, talk on the bench and in the locker room, it helps to create a positive environment.”
In a game where Connor McDavid recorded is 500th assist and Leon Draisaitl notched his 400th NHL helper, Edmonton led 2-0 and 4-1 before clamping down in a third period in which the Isles earned very little.
And so it was, one strong, responsible game in a row from a team that is trying to figure out where to find the repeat button.
The Avalanche are here Saturday, a team that was missing the injured Gabe Landeskog, Josh Manson and Bowen Byram Thursday night in Vancouver.
It’s game No. 41 for the Oilers — the last game of a first half that leaves plenty of room for improvement.
We can’t put it better than Hyman did, when he asked the pertinent question:
“What are we going to do next?”