November 9, 2011
Strange, but true for Oilers
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
MONTREAL - In a year when the Toronto Maple Leafs are contending for the Eastern Conference lead — on the backs of Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel, no less — maybe it shouldn’t seem all that strange that the Edmonton Oilers are making a similar charge out west.
On the backs of Ryan Smyth and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Oh, but strange it is.
This is stranger than watching Charlie Brown and Lucy hitting field goals from 50 yards out. Stranger than watching someone from Jersey Shore put together a six-day win streak on Jeopardy.
The lowest scoring team in the league, with the has-been goaltender they couldn’t give away in the off-season, wins seven of its last eight, earns points in 11 of its first 14, and sits just one win away from first place overall?
Makes no sense. None of it does.
Score fewer goals than almost anyone in the league?
No Ales Hemsky or Ryan Whitney most of the year?
Dress 10 different defencemen in the first 12 games?
Play shorthanded for 12 minutes and get outshot 21-5 during a ghastly stretch in Montreal?
Who’s running this team, Charlie Sheen? Does the NHL test for tiger blood?
“Somehow we find a way,” said defenceman Ladislav Smid. “We have lots of character, guys blocking shots, doing whatever it takes to win a game. It’s really nice to see that.
“It’s not going to be easy in Boston, they’re a strong, fast team and they did win the Stanley Cup last year. It’s going to be tough to beat them there, but if we work on our turnovers I think we have a good chance.”
Wha? The Oilers? Talking about rolling into Boston and beating the suddenly surging champions? What’s happening here?
“It’s just a bunch of guys who know we’re going to win hockey games, that we’re going to find a way,” said winger Ryan Jones. “Whether it’s going to be the young guys one night, the older guys the next, Khabibulin playing great or Eager, Petrell and Lander getting a big goal for us, we’re going to get it done.
“We’re not looking for just one guy to do it and that’s going to win us a lot of hockey games.”
Instead of slumping their shoulders on the bench like last year’s team and wondering ‘How are we going to screw this one up, because we always screw it up,’ Jones says they’re thinking, ‘How are we going to pull out the win, because we always pull out the win.’
“Good or bad, how you think becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “And this locker-room is night and day compared with last year. Not that last year was bad, guys were positive, but you could just sense that little bit of feeling sorry for yourself.
“We didn’t get a lot of breaks last year because we cut a few too many corners. This year we battle hard for 60 minutes and you’re going to get those bounces.”
Now, it’s like they’re operating under Murphy’s Law in Bizarro World — Everything that can go right is going right.
“It’s a lot different than in the past,” said defenceman Tom Gilbert. “It’s a lot more fun around here and that just goes with winning. When you’re winning you’re having more fun as a team. Especially playing against the teams we have, knowing we can contend with them is definitely a positive step.”
Last year the Oilers needed a perfect game or they’d end up with nothing but a tighter grip on last place. This year they’re winning on off-nights. That’s a sign of something they haven’t been since the summer of 2006 — good.
“The thing about our team is that we find ways to do things and get points,” said head coach Tom Renney. “And that is a testimony to a team growing up.”