Striking oil: Breaking down the Oilers' 6-game winning streak

The Oilers are the hottest team in the NHL right now, but what can they learn from this streak?

The Edmonton Oilers are riding a league-high six-game win streak, but is their newfound success sustainable? (Getty Images)
The Edmonton Oilers are riding a league-high six-game win streak, but is their newfound success sustainable? (Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers are cooking with fire right now. During a blistering six-game winning streak, the Oilers look like a well-oiled machine, outscoring opponents by a whopping 31-13 margin.

The bad news is that the Oilers aren’t as dominant as their six-game winning streak would indicate. The good news is that you can get away with serious flaws when you feature Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl — especially in a vulnerable Western Conference.

Let’s sort through what’s real about this hot streak, what fans should take with a grain of salt, and how this could all lead into a fascinating 2023 NHL Trade Deadline for the Oilers.

A soft schedule could keep Edmonton on a roll

Through thick and thin, you can usually rely on the obvious with the Edmonton Oilers: plenty of scoring from McDavid, Draisaitl, and a few other top players. In this case, Zach Hyman is especially hot, slightly outscoring McDavid and Draisaitl during the Oilers’ six-game winning streak (12 points for Hyman, 11 for McDavid and Draisaitl) while earning an NHL Player of the Week nod.

Another constant is that locomotive of a power play, which has maintained lofty levels with a 31.3 percent success rate during this streak.

Want more, salivating Oilers fans? On paper, the immediate schedule gives Edmonton a great chance to climb from the West’s wild-card ranks to a possible battle for Pacific Division seeding.

Date

Home or away (@)

Opponent + record

Wed, Jan 25

home vs.

Columbus 14-30-2

Sat, Jan 28

home vs.

Chicago 14-27-4

Tue, Feb 7

@

Detroit 19-18-8

Thu, Feb 9

@

Philadelphia 20-21-7

Sat, Feb 11

@

Ottawa 20-23-3

Sun, Feb 12

@

Montreal 20-24-3

Wed, Feb 15

home vs.

Detroit 19-18-8

Fri, Feb 17

home vs.

NY Rangers 25-14-7

Sun, Feb 19

@

Colorado 25-17-3

Tue, Feb 21

home vs.

Philadelphia 20-21-7

Thu, Feb 23

@

Pittsburgh 23-15-8

Sat, Feb 25

@

Columbus 14-30-2

Overall, that looks like a very Oilers-friendly month. They also are set up for a cushy finish, as they still have three games left against the Sharks, and two games apiece versus the lowly Ducks and Coyotes.

Oilers need to learn the right lessons from this hot streak

Historically, lucky scoring runs and hot winning streaks can bring hidden drawbacks if teams assume that they’ll keep getting those lucky bounces. It’s crucial that the Oilers weigh the exhilaration of this stretch with memories of recent struggles.

Take, for instance, goaltending.

On one hand, it’s promising that Jack Campbell managed a 6-1-0 record and .916 save percentage in eight January games after putting up stats that would’ve been shaky in the ‘80s. On the other hand, it’s dangerous to assume that his work is done, and that he’s certain to be Edmonton’s best option.

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Management likely prefers leaning on their $5-million goalie instead of surprise All-Star Stuart Skinner, but it’s important for Edmonton to let the hottest goalie play. Between injuries and cold streaks, there’s a solid chance the Oilers will call upon both goalies during a potential playoff push.

Also, it’s promising that the Oilers are getting more production from both expected supporting cast members (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ nine points in six games) and relatively new faces (four points each from Klim Kostin and Dylan Holloway). Even so, the Oilers have a tendency to view a nice short-term solution as something more permanent.

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For all we know, those supporting cast members might be the real deal. There’s really little sense expecting Edmonton’s penalty kill to stay this hot, though.

Before the Oilers’ winning streak began, Edmonton’s penalty kill success rate was at 72.7 percent, the sixth-worst mark in the NHL. The Seattle Kraken (69.5 percent, second-worst) and Los Angeles Kings (73.4 percent, eighth-worst) were the only other playoff hopefuls in the bottom 10. During this streak, the Oilers have killed a ridiculous 94.1 percent of their penalties (somehow just tied for fourth). To give you an idea of how unsustainable that stretch is, consider that no team has killed 90 percent of its penalties over a full season in the salary cap era, and Edmonton’s best mark was 84.7 percent in 2007-08.

Clearly, gravity will pull down that PK eventually. But what if the Oilers can nudge what was once a problematic penalty kill closer to average?

There’s a path for the Oilers to gather the momentum from this streak and improve in some areas, even if the results won’t always be so dramatic:

  • From a sheer skillset standpoint, it makes sense to lower the PK duties of Draisaitl, Tyson Barrie, and Evan Bouchard.

  • It’s not just about the strengths and weaknesses of Draisaitl, either. Ideally, you’d have depth players soaking up those difficult minutes, and blocking shots. Injuries happen, but why not limit some of your risks? If Edmonton solidifies its playoff position down the stretch, the Oilers can take measures to keep Draisaitl, McDavid, and other key players as fresh and healthy as possible.

  • Whether Jack Campbell really is back on track or not, it makes a ton of sense to keep both goalies as sharp as possible.

A real opportunity in an uncertain Western Conference

Look at the top nine teams in the West standings, and also note that Edmonton isn’t far behind the top three in the Pacific.

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It’s not that hard to picture the Oilers nabbing the Pacific second seed, and there’s even room to win the division. Picture a variety of likely first-round matchups; while most potential series can go either way, is there really a nightmare opponent in the Pacific?

At times, Ken Holland’s been cautious regarding the Oilers’ trade deadline plans. Considering the excessive price he paid for Andreas Athanasiou last season, and how frequently trade deadline rentals disappoint across the NHL, it’s understandable if some flinch at the idea of an aggressive approach.

Yet, it would be negligent if the Oilers didn’t at least turn over every stone ahead of the deadline. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have multiple years remaining on their contracts, but sitting out a golden opportunity like this could really leave a lasting impression.

No, the Oilers aren’t as strong as their six-game winning streak indicates. However, a flawed-but-improved Oilers team could really make some noise in an unconvincing West if they play their cards right.

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