The Edmonton Oilers have been out of the playoff race for as long as everyone associated with the organization would like to recall. But that hasn’t stopped them from playing hard and competing, game in, game out. They are currently riding a three game winning streak, beating playoff-bound teams along the way.
There’s something to be said about a team playing with little worries about the standings. They are firmly entrenched at the bottom of the conference and the entire league, as well, boasting a whopping 55 points to their credit. Even if they run the table down the stretch, highly unlikely as it is, they will only move up one position in the entire National Hockey League standings.
But let’s not put a damper on this winning streak. The Oilers haven’t had much to smile about this season.
First off, losing at the rate the Oilers have this season, makes everyone involved completely miserable. Secondly, the myriad of injuries to key players throughout the season, including Ales Hemsky and thought-to-be free agent prize Nikolai Khabibulin, have left a team already questionable in talent, that much thinner. Then the embarrassing off-ice saga with aforementioned Khabibulin, to pour salt on the already gaping wound that is the 2009-10 season in Edmonton, has tested the character and leadership of this once proud organization.
But credit to head coach Pat Quinn and assistant coach Tom Renney for being able to keep this beleaguered bunch motivated and playing hard. It also helps that Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk have given the Oilers something they haven’t had through a large majority of the season and that is good goaltending. Drouin-Deslauriers and Dubnyk have stolen the show these last three games, Dubnyk especially.
In the wins against the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings, the 2004 first round pick stopped 61 out of a possible 64 shots, many of them of the high quality variety. For Dubnyk, the time is now to really make a statement with the organization that selected him 14th overall six years ago.
Although he only has played 15 games in total this season, in a world that adheres to the mantra ‘what have you done for me lately?’, Dubnyk is leaving the Oilers brass with something to think about. As long as he maintains his recent high level of play, the Regina native will get a fair shot going forward.
Drouin-Deslauriers, before his solid performance against the rival Vancouver Canucks, was struggling, just like his team, losing three straight. But in Tuesday’s 3-2 win against their division rivals, the lanky lefty didn’t drop the proverbial ball that Dubnyk had previously carried the in the previous wins. He flashed his lightning glove against Sedin Twins Inc. and preserved the win that may very well hurt those Canucks effort to obtain home ice in the first round.
It’s all about the little things and ask anyone around the league in the Oilers current scenario, playing for pride is a given, but hurting teams ahead of you in the standings, especially divisional rivals is a sweet perk as well.
What has also been a sweet perk for the Oilers, amidst this mostly miserable season, is that younger players are getting every chance to show what they can do and gaining valuable experience along the way. Injuries and trades of some veterans have allowed otherwise afterthoughts, to get a chance in the line-up and really show what they can do. Sometimes all you need is an opportunity.
Well that opportunity has knocked for Gilbert Brule. The former Blue Jackets first round draft pick, acquired in a 2008 trade that sent fan favorite Raffi Torres the other way, is getting serious ice time and lately is looking like the highly touted prospect that he was when drafted in 2005, sixth overall. His numbers are modest, 15 goals and 35 points in 61 games, but with each passing game, his game has grown exponentially. It is safe to say, if his game stays on the positive trend, Brule will be apart of the Oilers core for sometime. Opinion obviously, but I trust I am not alone in this thought process.
Although struggling mightily this season, with only nine goals and 23 points, Andrew Cogliano is still thought to be apart of that young core, going forward. He scored the deciding goal in their latest win, displaying the attributes that make him a vital piece, even without impressive statistics. You can’t teach speed and not many players are speedier than this Toronto, ON native. A strong finish will also go a long way into improving his status on this team.
A strong finish is something the Oilers are striving for. Anything short of a miracle will affect their Taylor Hall aspirations, so why not ruin other teams playoff positioning or aspirations along the way?
Playing with nothing to lose and still a lot to gain, very few teams can lay that claim. On second thought, it isn’t all that bad being an Edmonton Oiler.