Edmonton Oilers navigate new challenge: success

Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse (25) and Connor McDavid (97) celebrate Nurse's goal against the Winnipeg Jets during second period NHL Heritage Classic action in Winnipeg on Sunday, October 23, 2016.
Edmonton Oilers' Darnell Nurse (25) and Connor McDavid (97) celebrate Nurse's goal against the Winnipeg Jets during second period NHL Heritage Classic action in Winnipeg on Sunday, October 23, 2016. John Woods, The Canadian Press

The NHL season is still young, but the Edmonton Oilers find themselves navigating a new and somewhat disorienting challenge — success.

The Oilers have won five of their first six games. With 10 points, they sit second overall in the NHL, behind Montreal, and tops in the Western Conference heading into NHL action Tuesday.

It’s new territory for a tire fire franchise that has missed the playoffs for 10 seasons in a row in a water-torture drip of lose-lose-win, lose-lose-win, lose-lose.

“Learning how to keep your foot on the gas pedal — that’s one of the hardest things to learn,” said Oilers winger Milan Lucic after practice Tuesday at Rogers Place.

“Coming to the rink wanting to win and expecting to win. It all starts with the mindset. That’s how you build that culture.”

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Lucic, a bruising Mack Truck-style forward, won a Stanley Cup with Boston and has been one of the key improvements this year.

But the Oilers have the arrows pointing up across the board.

The addition of Adam Larsson along with Kris Russell and a healthy Oscar Klefbom has solidified the defence.

Goaltender Cam Talbot leads the NHL with five wins and captured the league’s first star award this week.

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Connor McDavid is tied for the NHL points lead, with four goals and five assists. His linemate, Jordan Eberle, has three goals and three assists.

The Oilers are tied for second in the NHL in goals scored, with 23. Chicago has 25.

They’re plus-seven in goal differential, second only to Montreal.

They’re scoring on the penalty kill and getting scoring contributions from bottom-six forwards like Tyler Pitlick.

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“The first few games were a little bit of a track meet and we were hanging Cam (Talbot) out to dry but we were finding the offence. In the last few games here we’ve been able to come back and play well defensively.”

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There are caveats. The Oilers have managed to avoid key injuries to the top players. They have also been beating up on some lesser lights: Calgary twice, Carolina and Winnipeg. But then they also made a statement last week by shutting down a strong St. Louis team 3-1.

Head coach Todd McLellan pointed out the Oilers won the first two games of the year against Calgary, then fell apart and got shelled 6-2 at home by the injury-depleted Buffalo Sabres.

“We’ve had an opportunity to deal with success once already this season and we didn’t pass that test,” said McLellan.

“Our club has a lot of work to do. We’re not by any means getting ahead of ourselves.”

Watch below: Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan didn’t hold back his thoughts about the team’s performance and effort in a 6-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres Sunday, Oct. 16. 

Click to play video: 'Todd McLellan sounds off about Oilers effort in Sabres loss'
Todd McLellan sounds off about Oilers effort in Sabres loss

The Oilers next big test comes Wednesday at home against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, the team that amassed the most points in the NHL’s regular season in 2015-16.

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November could well be the litmus test on whether the Oilers compete into the spring or, as in years past, are effectively out of it by Christmas.

There are upcoming road games against Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Detroit, the Rangers, Islanders and Dallas, not to mention a home date with the Chicago Blackhawks.

“We’ve had a fortunate schedule at the start of the season, a lot of home games,” said Eberle.

“We talked early on that we want to start well and get some confidence building and hopefully that can roll into November.”

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