By Steven Sandor, The Canadian Press on February 5, 2024.
EDMONTON – The first rule of being on a winning streak is you don’t talk about being on a winning streak.
At least, that’s the mantra inside the Edmonton Oilers dressing room.
The Oilers can tie the NHL record with their 17th win in a row Tuesday night in Las Vegas. The record is held by the Pittsburgh Penguins, who went on their historic run in the spring of 1993.
The storylines write themselves. The Oilers could tie the record with a victory over the defending Stanley Cup-champion Golden Knights, the same team that ended their playoff run last spring.
The Oilers were downplaying the significance of the streak after Monday’s practice at Rogers Place.
“What’s made us so successful over the last little bit is that we didn’t talk about it,” said Oilers’ all-star forward Leon Draisaitl. “We didn’t make too big of a fuss out of it. We’re just going to continue down that path. It’s going to be a good test for us tomorrow, and hopefully, we can keep it going.”
“We’re not talking about it in there (the dressing room),” said captain Connor McDavid, who currently sits tied for fourth in the scoring race, with 67 points. “I think, for us, it’s just about the day-to-day – staying focused on what’s in front of us. And what’s in front of us is a very good Vegas team, one that’s ahead of us in the standings, and one that we’d like to catch.”
The Oilers’ win streak has pushed them to third in the Pacific Division, after a disastrous 3-9-1 start to the year that led to the firing of head coach Jay Woodcroft. The Oilers are five points behind Vegas, but have five games in hand. The Oilers are 12 points behind the first-place Vancouver Canucks, but have four games in hand.
The Oilers last played Jan. 27, when they beat Nashville 4-1 at Rogers Place. After a break for the All-Star game and a bye week, some fans may feel that the team’s momentum was interrupted. However, coach Kris Knoblauch prioritizes rest over concerns about momentum.
“Usually, when you’re on a winning streak, you don’t want it to break up, but I think it was good for our guys to recharge,” said Knoblauch. “And it looked like we were just kind of limping in, doing enough just to win hockey games. “
Knoblauch is glad that the Oilers are starting their post-break stretch with a three-game road trip to Nevada and California. After a lengthy timeout, he believes it is easier to concentrate on games while playing away from the home crowd.
“You can allow your lines just to roll. You’re not really worried about the matchups so much, it just takes the pressure off of everyone.”
With 45 games played, the Oilers have games in hand on everyone else in the NHL. That means they go into the next three months knowing they have the most congested schedule in the league ahead of them.
“It seems like we’ve had lots of different breaks,” said McDavid. “We’re still four, five, six games behind some teams – behind the whole league it almost seems like.”
Despite having games in hand to reel in Vegas and Vancouver, Knoblauch says he doesn’t want the team to exhaust itself chasing down the leaders.
The key, he said, is to be ready for the playoffs when they begin in April, whether it be as a No. 1 seed or a No. 8 seed.
“We want to win as many games as we can,” said Knoblauch. “But we don’t want to push so hard that we waste up all our energy chasing first place in our division. That’d be great, and if that happens, it happens. But, ultimately, we just want to be getting better every day and putting ourselves in a position to have success in the playoffs.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2024.