EDMONTON – It's amazing to think where the Edmonton Oilers were before this winning streak began.
With their third straight loss, the Oilers entered the Dec. 21 game at New Jersey at 13-15-1 — two games below NHL .500.
The playoffs, while unthinkable, certainly seemed imminent.
Thanks to 16 straight wins — most recently a 4-1 decision over the Nashville Predators on Saturday — the perception of the Oilers has completely changed.
“I know we're a good team,” Leon said on the tri-site. “When you don't have faith, it's more than 50 percent (of things) there. It's hard to recover from that.
“Apparently, we found it.”
The Oilers are on the verge of matching what a team did with Mario Lemieux in his prime and Jaromir Jagr in his third NHL season. They are tied with the 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets for the second-best winning streak in league years.
Feb. 6 in a road game against the Vegas Golden Knights, they'll have a chance to pull even with the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, who hold the NHL record.
“We owe Vegas a good game in their building,” captain Connor McDavid said, referring to Game 5 of their second-round series last spring when the Oilers blew a lead in the loss.
“It's something to look forward to at the end of the break.”
The Oilers have been an absolute juggernaut for five weeks. What is more promising is that they have excelled in areas different from past success. Their penalty kill was third last in the NHL when coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson were fired on November 12. They had the best PK in the league during the streak and killed all three Nashville power plays on Saturday.
When the coaching change happened, they sported the second-worst team save percentage. They have been at the top since December 22.
“I don't know the last time there was a bad goal,” said coach Chris Knoblauch, who has a 26-6 record behind the team's bench.
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Those improvements — along with a much better defensive profile — have led the Oilers to allow fewer than three goals in each of their last 14 games.
“We're doing it the right way,” Draysaitl said.
“It was very impressive,” goaltender Stuart Skinner said. “It was really fun to be on the back end of all that stuff.”
Oh, and the list of top-four five-for-five scorers during the lineup is as follows: McDavid and Warren Foegele tied with 14 points, followed by Draisaitl with 13 and Ryan McLeod with 12.
Two superstars and two role players with amazing seasons.
“What was special about it was that it was for everybody,” McDavid said. “Everybody pulls together. It wasn't one or two guys. It was the whole team.
Throw in the recent signing of Corey Perry, an offensive touch veteran combined with a pesky style, and the Oilers are showing Stanley Cup potential day in and day out.
To make room for Perry, the Oilers had to scratch the highly touted Sam Gagner — who had five goals and 10 points in 22 games in limited minutes. Perry had two shots on three attempts and two hits in 12:44, most of the time coming in a lineup with McLeod and Dylan Holloway. The latter was loaned to AHL Bakersfield for the bye week.
Whether they bring their best or not, the Oilers look unbeatable.
“We've been sluggish the last three (games), but some individual performances have gotten us wins,” Draisaitl said. “You need it sometimes too. This is a huge stretch for us.
It was their power play, a tried-and-true aspect of their game and the NHL's most prolific unit last season, that was the key to the win over Nashville.
McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins each scored two points as the three longest-tenured power forwards came close to making history.
McDavid then scored his 20th goal of the season and added an assist on Zach Hyman's 30th goal — into the empty net — to round out a four-point afternoon.
Draisaitl assisted on Hyman's marker for a three-point play. That type of production paralleled the trend against predators. He now has 19 goals and 33 points in his last 12 games against Nashville — 25 goals and 42 points in 26 career contests. He recorded his 800th NHL point in his 683rd game when he completed a pass from McDavid in the second period.
Skinner was perfect in net for the Oilers, making 29 of 30 saves. Only a bouncing puck off the stick of Colton Sissons beat him late in the game. His best stop came in the opening frame of the Predators' power play when he stretched his right pad to outplay Luke Evangelista slot. Since November 24, Skinner has a .935 save percentage and a .950 mark in wins.
“Guys feel confident when he plays,” Knoblauch said.
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The Oilers have raised the bar to sit comfortably in a playoff spot in third place in the Pacific Division — and are in a position to keep an eye on those ahead of them.
They are now 29-15-1 with 59 points. They are five points behind the Golden Knights in second place in the division before a Vegas game at Detroit on Saturday night.
The Oilers now own a .656 points percentage, which is tied for seventh in the NHL ahead of the Golden Knights before action ends on Saturday. The Oilers have played 45 games fewer in the NHL than the Ottawa Senators. That means the Oilers will have a heavy schedule after the All-Star Game. They play back-to-back seven times after the break and have 37 games in 72 days.
The Oilers know they're not done yet and the road ahead won't be easy.
“It seems we can never lose again. We seem to be on top of the world. But we still have a lot of things to dial in on the ice,” Skinner said. “It's nice that we're winning and things are going well. But there are still a lot of things that need to be better, especially since we're trying to get somewhere.
Each player has a week to rest when they board a plane for warmer weather or enjoy some downtime elsewhere.
A mid-December malaise is in the rearview mirror. The mid-November rage has long been out of the picture.
Now the Oilers have a chance to make history on February 6th.
“We know what's at stake,” Drysite said. “We're still in a position to take our foot off the gas here.”
(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)