For the past few years, it’s been a popular topic of conversation among the hockey media to ruminate about ‘what is wrong with the Edmonton Oilers’. They had the best hockey player in the world in Connor McDavid but they couldn’t do anything as a team. McDavid would put up insane numbers but just didn’t have any help around him. The Hockey News Preseason Preview magazine had this quote about the player known as ‘McJesus’:
“The question is never about his skill or worth; it’s whether it will matter at the end of any given season.”
It’s early in the 2019-2020 NHL season but the answer to the previously mentioned query this year is ‘not a whole lot’. The Oilers look to be a team transformed under new GM Ken Holland and head coach Dave Tippett. At the very least, it’s hard to think that they’ll miss the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons.
The Oilers are doing everything right including winning games. In particular, an offseason trade that looked pedestrian at the time is starting to look like a stroke of genius. When Ken Holland send Milan Lucic to Calgary in exchange for James Neal the best thing the hockey media could say is that the Oilers’ GM had ‘rid himself of his worst contract’. At the time, The Hockey News called Neal an ‘overpaid underperformer’. Now? Not so much. Neal is leading the NHL in goal scoring with an absurd 9 goals in 8 games. 6 of his goals have come on the power play. It’s impossible to expect him to maintain that blistering pace which has him on target to score 92 goals this season but there’s no doubt that the ‘underperformer’ sobriquet no longer applies.
Winnipeg was expected to struggle defensively coming into the season and they have–they’ve got the #25 scoring defense in hockey. What wasn’t expected was for them to struggle to score goals. The Jets have the #17 scoring offense in hockey putting up just 2.89 goals per game. Winnipeg also has the worst penalty kill in the NHL at just over 56%. That’s bad news against an Edmonton team that has the best power play in the NHL. What’s most impressive about the Oilers is their balance–in addition to their top flight power play they’re in the top 6 in every other significant statistical category.
Wrong team favored here. Look for Edmonton to win and some goals to be scored.