February 28th, 2024

Whether they’re paying attention or not, Oilers are close to NHL history

By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on January 19, 2024.

Toronto Maple Leafs' Pontus Holmberg (29) and Edmonton Oilers' Vincent Desharnais (73) battle for the puck during third period NHL action in Edmonton on Tuesday January 16, 2024.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON – The Edmonton Oilers head into a game against their provincial rivals with a chance to close in on NHL history.

The Oilers will be going for their 13th win in a row when they visit the Calgary Flames on Saturday night. The NHL record is 17 consecutive wins.

It’s OK if you can’t immediately recall who holds that mark, because Oilers defenceman Vincent Desharnais doesn’t know, either.

“I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I don’t really care,” he said after Friday’s practice at Rogers Place.

That would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on a 17-game heater through March and April of 1993.

In front of the cameras, Desharnais and his teammates tell reporters that they really aren’t paying any attention to the record books. But the current 12-game mark is tied with the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens for the longest winning streak by a Canadian team.

Leon Draisaitl, who had a power-play goal and three assists in Thursday’s 4-2 win over Seattle, said the last time he’s ever played on a team that’s been this hot was back in Germany. And, because he was a kid at the time, he’s not sure if it counts.

“In Germany, we’d lose four games all year,” Draisaitl said with a smile. “But that’s not really comparable to the NHL. There’s nothing quite like this one. It’s special, it’s a great feeling, but tomorrow we’ve got to get up and there’s a new challenge ahead of us. It’s a big one. Teams are coming for us now. We know that. We’re aware of that, so we’ve got to bring our game every night.”

Through the first two months of the season, it would be hard to imagine that the Oilers could have managed such a streak. On Nov. 12, with the team at 3-9-1, head coach Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson, who coached the defensive corps, were fired. They were replaced by rookie head coach Kris Knoblauch, while Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey took over from Manson.

Since Knoblauch took over, the Oilers are 22-6-0. They had an eight-game winning streak before the current 12-gamer. Knoblauch was coaching the New York Rangers’ AHL affiliate at the start of the season. Now, he may be in contention for NHL coach of the year.

After the win over the Kraken, Knoblauch was asked what he would say at the beginning of November if someone had told him this is how the next few months of his life would unfold.

“(I’d say) they were crazy that I’d be getting the opportunity mid-season as it is,” said Knoblauch. “Everything after that would be absolute nonsense. But just that first part, of me being a head coach, mid-season, in this situation, and being able to come to an organization like this, is just unfathomable.”

Under Knoblauch, the Oilers are showing they don’t need to score five goals a game in order to be successful. Connor McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t running away with the scoring race, as was the case last season. The power-play isn’t tops in the league. But in each of their last 10 wins, they’ve surrendered two goals or fewer.

At no time in the McDavid Era, has this team played better hockey – even though the captain is not dominating the race for the Art Ross Trophy.

And they’ve been winning with resiliency. The Oilers have surrendered the first goal in each of their last five games. In Tuesday’s win over Toronto and Thursday’s victory over Seattle, they went down 2-0.

At some point, this team will look back at this streak and savour it. Just not now.

“I think it’s something we’ll appreciate at the end,” said Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse. “When you’re in it, you’ve just got to worry about the next game or the next moment. The reason we’re in the position we’re in and we’ve put together these wins is that we’re not looking at the past, we’re looking at the future and taking care of the moments.”

“Right now, you just try to continue to get better and continue the way we’ve been playing,” added Draisaitl. “And, maybe, we’ll think back after the year or whenever. That’s when you have time to reflect. Right now, we’re in the moment.”

After facing Calgary, the Oilers are home to Columbus (Tuesday), Chicago (Thursday) and Nashville (next Saturday). If they win those, the record-tying 17th game would be against the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 6. Game 18 would be Feb. 9 in Anaheim.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

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