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‘We’re finding our game’: Oilers establishing consistency, structure as season rolls on

EDMONTON — Slowly, the fog lifts on a team that had something special last spring, but couldn’t find its way once the new season began. 

Some order has dawned on the Edmonton Oilers’ game. Some consistency, some structure, from one line to the next. 

A level of play that has won six of the last eight games, and beat a Minnesota Wild team 5-2 on Friday night with a steady, level effort that never wavered from the first line to the fourth. 

“When you’re getting contributions throughout the lineup, it’s awesome,” said Zach Hyman. “It provides momentum for the team, you get off to a quicker start — the last couple of starts have been good — and it just gives confidence to everybody through the lineup. 

“I think we’re finding our game,” he said. “(But) I think we have another level.” 

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For the first time this season the notoriously slow-starting Oilers have jumped out to consecutive 2-0 leads. The goaltending has surely settled, with Stuart Skinner playing all four games of this 3-1 homestand — allowing 10 goals in four games — the only loss by a 3-2 count to Washington. 

A depth line of Derek Ryan, Devin Shore and the emerging Klim Kostin has lent some stability, not to mention some offence, with goals in consecutive games. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1-2-3 on Friday) has 14 goals and 33 points after 28 games, and is running a line that includes neither Connor McDavid nor Leon Draisaitl. 

“I see a maturity to our game,” offered head coach Jay Woodcroft. “I see an understanding of what it takes to win. That’s a good hockey team we just beat tonight — they played hard and they were right there. But we found a way to win and it’s a credit to our players.” 

And, of course, the big boys are still relentless, as an Oilers powerplay that went two-for-three was perhaps out-performed only by a four-for-five penalty killing unit that surrendered their only goal while down two men. 

Add those all together, and you can say good riddance to a seven-game losing streak to the Wild, a big, physical club that has handled the Oilers with ease over the years. It’s simply been a bad matchup for Edmonton, one that the Oilers turned around on a Friday night at Rogers Place. 

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“Each night is a new game, but at the same time they’ve kind of had our number in recent games,” admitted Nugent-Hopkins. “We needed a good start, they’re a good starting team. We did that and got better as the game went on.” 

With a goal and an assist Connor McDavid moved into the league lead in all three categories with 25 goals, 29 assists and 54 points. Stretching his goal-scoring skein to seven games, he became the first Oiler since Jimmy Carson in 1988 to enjoy a streak of that length. 

Amazingly, McDavid has already had six four-point games this season, and we are only 28 games in. This is the best start of his NHL career, and he has a chance to win both the Rocket Richard and the Art Ross — and with those, the Hart — if it’s not too early to be talking about such things. 

“They are special players. They know where each other are,” said Minny’s Joel Eriksson Ek. “They caught a break on the last goal, but they are skilled players and they are going to make plays if we give them time. They did today.” 

An 82-game NHL season can be a long slog, and every team does its best to, as Hyman says, “flatten out the roller coaster.” 

For Edmonton, a 7-3 opening 10 games morphed into a 3-7 record over the ensuing 10-game segment. Today the Oilers are 16-12, within reach of the important teams in the Pacific Division and starting to build some cushion above the also-rans. 

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Most importantly, however, after a spate of injuries that saw a new player leaving the lineup every second game, now the opposite is occurring as a different player returns every other night. Kailer Yamamoto scored in his second back from injury, while Warren Foegele is expected back during this two-game, Monday-Tuesday road trip through Minnesota and Nashville.

The lineup he’ll join has taken on some structure, and isn’t bleeding chances the way it had before. 

It looks again like a deep enough lineup that, with a tweak here or there, can win its share by buttressing the best one-two punch in the NHL with some solid play for the 37 or so minutes that McDavid and Draisaitl are on the bench. 

“What we’re learning is that when you play towards a structure and an identity, it allows you to win hockey games. Even if you are banged up; even if you are missing important pieces,” said Woodcroft. 

“As much as everybody wants it to happen immediately. It is a process.” 

A process that’s beginning to make these Oilers a team we recognize again. 

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