Despite going 1-2 in their trip down south, the Oilers showed that they might actually be good.
I’ve been pretty openly critical of the Oilers this season, even in the stretches where they were winning, but the hiring of Jay Woodcroft was something I was very excited about. After starting off 5-0 with him behind the bench, the Oilers have gone 1-3 in their last four, which may be cause for concern in some cases. For Edmonton though, there’s plenty of optimism to go around.
The Oilers had a three-game stretch of “prove-it” games as they traveled down south to take on three of the league’s best in the Lightning, Panthers, and Hurricanes. I don’t really tend to believe in “moral victories” because when it comes down to it, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. If there ever was a moral victory though, it was absolutely in the three games.
The team opened up the trip in Tampa, with Jesse Puljujarvi out of the lineup, and took it to the defending back-to-back champs. The Oilers outshot the Lightning 30-23 and significantly out-chanced them throughout the game, but fell short of sending the game to OT. It was almost the complete opposite against the Panthers though, as Florida more than doubled the Oilers shot total, with the Oilers squeaking out a 4-3 victory, thanks to a lights out performance from Mikko Koskinen, combined with a Derek Ryan hat trick. The third game in Carolina was a very similar story to the one in Tampa, with the Oilers putting on the pressure all day, but the Canes just barely coming out on top 2-1, thanks in part to a disallowed McDavid goal due to a reviewable offside.
Only getting two out of a possible six points is never ideal, but the Oilers outplayed the Lightning, beat the Panthers, and stood toe-to-toe with the Canes. The fact is that they went up against three of the leagues best and not only held their own, but did so without Puljujarvi, RHN, and Yamo missing by the end of it (not to mention the crucial 4-minute powerplay that McDavid was out for). The drive that this team has been playing with is more than encouraging, and while there’s still a long road to the playoffs, the Woodcroft Oilers might just have things figured out. For now, at least.