Ahead of the current season, the Edmonton Oilers were widely considered Stanley Cup favourites. But as the year started, they immediately slipped.
After just 12 games, the Oilers went 2-9-1 and found themselves swimming with the San Jose Sharks at the bottom of the league. On November 9th, the Oilers lost 3-2 against the Sharks and took last place in the standings.
At that point, it was time for a change.
On November 13th, the Edmonton Oilers fired Head Coach Jay Woodcroft and Assistant Coach Dave Manson. In their place, Kris Knoblauch was brought in as the team’s bench boss, along with Oilers legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey as the assistant.
The change up worked. By December 12, they had won eight games in a row, bringing their record to 13-12-1. This streak brought the team above .500 for the first time in the season.
What changed? Everything. The Oilers have changed their game completely. Rather than relying on their power play, they introduced a defensively sound game where they can prevent giving up high-danger chances. With that, the team solidified their penalty kill as one of the best in the league.
“They’ve got confidence now,” Edmonton Sports Talk host Tom Gazzola said to the Nugget about the team’s new-found winning ways. “They’re playing the right way. The systems are all starting to work. There’s cohesion with the forwards and defence, which has allowed the goaltenders to see shots, and that’s led to success.”
Confidence comes from the player but has to be instilled by the coach. Knoblauch has helped his team find that in their game.
“He hasn’t tried to change too much,” said Gazzola. “I think he just wants these players to play to their strengths because he understands this is a good team that should contend for a Stanley Cup, and he’s made subtle adjustments where he has seen fit, and they’ve worked.”
With the Oilers’ recent success, fans are asking what the team needs to help in their journey for the cup. Gazzola believes the reinforcements could come on the backend for the orange and more.
“Guys get nicked up. They stayed healthy this year … but they’re going to need another defenseman, a veteran guy that’s maybe been through the rigours of the postseason a bunch of times on a pretty team-friendly contract. I think that would go a long way.”
With Knoblauch at the helm, the Oilers broke the record for the most consecutive wins by a Canadian team with 16 in a row. At the same time, goaltender Stuart Skinner has played outstanding between the pipes. During this historic stretch for the Oilers, Skinner broke Grant Fuhr’s’ 1986-87 record for the most wins by an Oilers goaltender in a row with 11 wins.
The Edmonton Oilers can tie the NHL record for the most consecutive wins against the Vegas Golden Knights in their next game on February 6th. For now, they’ll enjoy the NHL All-Star Weekend and look forward to their matchup against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.