It was a different route to the same destination, for an Edmonton Oilers team that has been giving Google Maps a run for its money of late when it comes to finding a new way to arrive at the ‘W’.
An early 3-0 lead against a team that had every emotional edge, with Bruce Boudreau looking like he was coaching his last game?
Well, the Canucks shaved it down to 3-2, but the Oilers looked like a mature team that is experienced in holding a lead, settling the game down and killing a couple of penalties before Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored the empty-netter that put this 4-2 victory away.
“Listen,” began Zach Hyman, after a four-point night (1-3-4), “they’ve got a ton of skilled players over there. And when it’s 3-0, they tried to open it up, take some risks and chances, and they were able to catch us on a couple.
“If this had happened to us earlier in the year,” he said, choosing not to finish the thought. “This time we were able to nip it in the bud and catch it. So was it was a good way to keep things rolling.”
What are we seeing here, as Edmonton extends a winning streak to six games and passes by the Los Angeles Kings to move into third place in the Pacific? We’re seeing a team that has lowered its panic level. A team that realizes the opponent is going to win some of the minutes in a 60-minute game, and has learned how to weather those minutes.
This is a team that played and won a lot of high-stress games over that stretch from mid-February through Round 3 of the playoffs last season, and is back to the same form. The only difference is, this is the second time they’ve been down this path, and there is some muscle memory that is kicking in.
“A little maturity,” said Connor McDavid, who scored his 40th in Vancouver. “We’ve found ourselves in some tight games and found a way to close them out. It’s a big part of winning.”
McDavid becomes the first player in 23 years — since Pavel Bure — to score 40 goals in 48 games. He leads the league in goals, points (86) and trails only Nikita Kucherov by one assist with 47. All in just 48 games played.
The 40 goals is a definite wrinkle in the McDavid we’ve marvelled at during the first seven years of his career, where his career high was 44 goals. He’ll obliterate that this season, and could well walk away with the Hart, the Art Ross and the Rocket Richard come NHL Awards night.
“That’s not why we play the game,” said McDavid, who is never going to pump his own tires in a media scrum. “We play to win, and we’ve been finding ways to do that, which is good.”
“Everybody knows what he’s capable of,” added Hyman. “He’s a pass-first guy, but he’s shooting more and he’s scoring more. I think it’s a credit to him for working on it.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. He’s working on goal scoring and I think that’s been a development for him.”
Speaking of Hyman, he had his second career four-point night, both of those coming this season. Hyman has his career high in points already, and there are still 34 games to play in the 2022-23 season.
“When you’re playing against him, it’s a tiring night for sure. He’s like a dog on a bone on the puck,” McDavid said.
Edmonton has won six straight games, outscoring opponents 31-13.
How do you get your entire team to buy in, in a tight, hotly contested, 4-2 game?
You give ’em all enough ice time.
Every single Oilers player — except for backup goalie Jack Campbell — played at least ten minutes on Saturday. That’s how you get a team believing in itself.
“Whether it’s on the scoresheet, playing physical, blocking a shot or being solid defensively, I think we’re getting contributions up and down the lineup,” said McDavid.
This content was originally published here.