When the Edmonton Oilers began the 2023-24 season with a 2-9-1 record, it was their worst start in franchise history through 12 games. When they were 5-12-1, only three times had they recorded fewer points in their first 18 contests of a campaign.
With not even a quarter of the season completed, there were plenty of people (including this writer) who thought the team was done; that there was no way the Oilers were going to make the playoffs. On many levels it was foolhardy to write them off so soon, no matter how bad they'd been -- and they really had been horrific -- when considering this was a team just one season removed from 50 wins and leading the NHL in scoring.
However, one thing we can agree on, is that no one predicted the Oilers would rebound to the extent they have done, with a run which includes the longest ever winning streak by a Canadian team in NHL history. As of Thursday morning they have won 14 consecutive games and are within three victories of the all-time record, currently held by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
A sight to behold
The Oilers may or may not tie and conceivable set a new record, but its still been a glorious run. This includes seeing their defensive game do a complete 180, highlighted by Stuart Skinner setting a new franchise record with wins in 11 straight starts and the team as a whole not allowing more than two goals in any of their past 12 games.
The Oilers have been particularly impressive late on in games, outscoring the opposition 29-6 in the third period and overtime during their 14-game winning run. As long as things go to plan versus the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, they will tie the franchise record of 15 straight games without a loss (12-0-3 in 1984-85).
Kris Knoblauch has proved to be the calming and cerebral presence the Oilers needed behind the bench, with a 24-6-0 record to begin his time in Edmonton, including 22-3-0 in the last past 25 games. And yet, there are those who want to minimise what the team has been achieving recently.
Downplaying the win sequence
More specifically, that the 14-game winning streak is not as impressive as it sounds, that it is tainted in some way. The main argument to back this up, is to point at the quality of the opponents, or lack thereof, the Oilers have faced during their run of victories.
Of the 14 teams the Oilers have played during their win streak, it is noted only five hold a playoff position at the time of posting. Those teams are the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, even this isn't enough for the detractors, who suggest some of the teams in playoff positions are not that good. For example the Rangers and Kings, who are just 3-5-2 and 2-5-3 respectively in their past 10 games.
Hard to take the criticism seriously
Pure and simple though, this take is just ridiculous. For a start, all teams have their ups and downs - at 82 games, it's a long season and the Rangers and Kings have been good enough to maintain their playoff positions despite their recent run of poor results. The negative take is just a case of people trying to find any excuse to downplay the Oilers' winning run.
If it's that 'easy' what the Oilers have achieved, why haven't more teams done it? The closest anyone has got to them this season are the Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken, who both won nine straight. (The Oilers are then tied with the Winnipeg Jets, with eight consecutive victories.)
No matter the level of the competition, we are still talking about 32 NHL teams who all have quality and pride, albeit to varying degrees. To keep winning game after game is just not that easy, even for a team which contains the best player in hockey and another who is in the top 10; at the end of the day Hockey is a team game, which requires so much to go right to just win one game, never mind 14 in a row.
We acknowledge that some of the other nine teams the Oilers have beaten are among the poorer in the NHL, specifically the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks and Blackhawks. However, they are also those who are right in the thick of the chase for a playoff spot, including the Kraken, New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames.
Ultimately, we appreciate the winning streak will be irrelevant if the Oilers don't go on to qualify for the playoffs and win the Stanley Cup. However, to claim their 14-game winning run is not impressive, is just asinine and in all honesty, disingenuous.