Heading into the new year, there are signs that the Edmonton Oilers are starting to hit their stride as they look to catch up with the teams above them and secure a playoff berth.
An 8-1 drubbing to the Vancouver Canucks on their opening night set the tone for what was a dismal start to the season, making the early talk of being Stanley Cup contenders seem utter nonsense.
That dismal start cost head coach Jay Woodcroft his job after just 13 games but the new man in charge, Kris Knoblauch, has already made a positive impression, going 14-6 in 20 games behind the bench to get the Oilers heading on an upward trajectory.
Having been one of the pre-season favorites to win the Stanley Cup, the Oilers now find themselves listed at +1300 to go all the way, with nine teams shorter in the betting.
That is not overly surprising given that they are down in 12th position in the Western Conference, but Knoblauch is at least keeping the dreams a realistic ambition, even if at this stage it looks like a Wild Card will be their most likely avenue into the postseason.
That is still far from certain though, with Edmonton still five points outside the qualifying positions. Still, only one team has played fewer games than the Oilers so far this season, and the momentum is starting to build.
The Oilers have been dealing in streaks since Knoblauch took over, winning his first two games only to lose the next three, before they put together a potentially season-changing eight-game winning run.
A three-game skid then followed but the foot is back on the gas as they have reeled off four wins on the bounce, which includes wins over Eastern powers the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as well as a come-from-behind shootout win over the Los Angeles Kings - significant as the Kings are 10 points clear of them in third place in the Pacific Division.
That still looks a significant gap to close approaching the half-way point of the season, but certainly not impossible with the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl powering the offense, although a Wild Card probably is a more likely and realistic goal.
|17-15-1 (35 points)
|.530 (19th in the NHL)
|5th in the Pacific Division and 12th in the Western Conference
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It is little surprise to see that Connor McDavid remains the key player for the Oilers with his team-leading 47 points good enough to rank seventh in the league, while he is tied-third for assists - his helper against the Kings in his 600th game took him to 34 for the season. His points tally of 581 in 600 games is bettered only by Wayne Gretzky (925), Mario Lemieux (721) and Bobby Orr (591).
It can hardly be a criticism given that he is scoring at 1.52 points per game this season, but he has not been able to replicate his career-best form of the 2022/23 season in which he amassed 64 goals, 89 assists and 153 points - all career highs - at 1.87 points per game.
It would not be so much of a problem if the production was there from others - perhaps notably Leon Draisaitl, who scored 128 points at 1.60 points per game last season. Although the German's stats are still decent - 16 goals, 21 assists and 37 points at 1.12 - they remain a marked drop-off from last season.
Zach Hyman has certainly exceeded expectations so far and is on course for a career-best year on the goalscoring front. He may have gone a little quiet in the last few games but leads the Oilers' goal charts with 20 (tied for seventh in the NHL) and looks set to surpass last season's tally of 36 goals in 79 games.
Evan Bouchard is also having a breakout year, seemingly helped by the acquisition of Mattias Ekholm ahead of last season's trade deadline.
Bouchard is tied third in points for all defencemen with 35, with only Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar ahead of him.
Bouchard is also tied for third among defencemen with nine goals (his career best is 12) and his 35 points from 33 games is only eight shy of his best-ever haul of 43 in 2021/22.
While Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is, like McDavid and Draisaitl, not quite matching last season's numbers, the team's power play - easily the best in the NHL last season - is not as productive either, even if it still ranks among the league's best.
However, an Achilles' heel of this season has been in net - not for the first time - with not one of Stuart Skinner (.892), Calvin Pickard (.898) and Jack Campbell (.873) able to hit a .900 save percentage. Whether steps are taken ahead of the trade deadline to remedy this remains open to question.
|To Reach the Playoffs
|To win Pacific Division
|To win Western Conference
|To win Stanley Cup
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