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Edmonton Oilers leave 'Bad and Ugly' at home, show 'Good' side on road trip


There’s a scene in Sergio Leone’s famous Spaghetti Western where Tuco is sitting in a bubble bath when the One-Armed Man walks in.

The One-Armed Man starts yapping about how long he’s been itching to kill Tuco, about how he’s had plenty of time to learn to shoot with his one remaining hand.

Tuco kills him with a gun hidden under the bubbles.

“When you have to shoot, shoot,” he says. “Don’t talk.”

In keeping with that theme, let’s call the Edmonton team that made this latest road trip the ‘Good Oilers.’

Fans in Edmonton have seen plenty of the ‘Bad Oilers’ and the ‘Ugly Oilers.’

Remember them? They lost to Buffalo and Philadelphia not long ago.

Coach’s cussing seemed to wake them up

The ‘Good Oilers’ come home from the road now with four crucial points that could easily have been six. They beat Montreal 6-2 on Saturday, outplayed and lost a 1-0 game to Toronto the next night, then followed Tuesday up with a convincing 7-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It’s safe to say, everyone was wondering how Todd McLellan’s team would react after he cussed them out at practice last week.

Now we know: they reacted by playing three of their best games of the season. None of which changes the reality in the standings. With a record of 13-16-2, the Oilers remain seven points out of a playoff spot, with six teams behind them and their goal.

Strange as it may sound, they’re not out of it yet.

Provided the ‘Good Oilers’ are here to stay.

One reason the ‘Good Oilers’ showed up over the past three games was because, to return to our theme, when it was time to shoot, they shot.

The coach had already done all the talking anyway.

When the Oilers play poorly, when their power play is a hot mess, they’re guilty of over-passing and overthinking. They move the puck around and around the outside of the defensive box, each player searching but seldom finding that absolutely perfect opportunity … to do whatever it takes to not make a mistake.

You can’t win in the NHL simply by avoiding mistakes.

Have the Oilers found their confidence?

Mistakes happen, every game, to good, bad and ugly teams. Ask the Blue Jackets. Or the Canadiens.

Teams that win in this league hit the ice believing in themselves, feeling good about themselves. Too often this year, the Oilers have lacked that kind of confidence.

Nervous players tighten up. Tight legs can’t skate with speed. Tight hands can’t stick-handle or make quick passes.

Players with confidence are willing to shoot, from anywhere, to take that less-than-perfect chance.

This road trip was a perfect example.

Edmonton Oilers’ Anton Slepyshev, right, keeps the puck away from Columbus Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson during the third period in Columbus, Ohio. The Oilers beat the Blue Jackets 7-2. (The Associated Press/Jay LaPrete)

On Saturday in Montreal, the Oilers hit the ice running. They fired pucks at Carey Price, scored twice in the first period, and chased the Canadiens goaltender in the second.

On Sunday in Toronto, the same Oilers did much the same thing. After a sluggish first period, in which they surrendered a weak goal 34 seconds in, the Oilers poured it on. They outshot the Maple Leafs 35-12 in the final two periods, but just couldn’t buy a goal. Four posts didn’t help matters. The loss hurt.

On Tuesday, against the best team in the Metropolitan Division, Zack Kassian’s early goal put the Oilers on the board first, and they never looked back.

The power play goal that made it 2-0 was scored by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a great cross-ice pass from Mike Cammalleri. But the goal was actually created earlier, when defenceman Matt Benning let one rip from the point. His shot was stopped, but goalie Sergei Bobrovsky spit out a rebound. Suddenly all the four defenders in front of him were looking at the puck. So nobody was looking at Nugent-Hopkins. Except Cammalleri.

Nugent-Hopkins was only open for a second. But that’s all it takes for a goal-scorer to do his thing.

The point is, if Benning hadn’t taken that shot, the Blue Jackets wouldn’t have broken down for a second. And “Nuge” wouldn’t have scored his 12th of the season.

That was the turning point.

If Good Oilers show up, they still have a chance

Later in the period, Benning scored on a play started on the rush by Connor McDavid. The Oilers captain made his patented moves coming into the Columbus zone but had the puck checked off his stick. It went straight to Benning who shot right away, because it’s never a bad idea to shoot the puck. Bobrovsky wasn’t ready.

With the Jackets down three, they were forced to take chances. The Oilers got another power play. Columbus got the puck and charged down the ice, three guys focused on trying to score short-handed. Leon Draisaitl scooped a loose puck, fired it up the ice to McDavid, who raced into the zone with winger Milan Lucic. The lone Blue Jacket defender couldn’t break up the two-on-one. Pass, shot, goal by Lucic.

With a second left in the period, and the Blue Jackets falling apart big time, Mark Letestu scored short-handed to make it 5-0.

For those keeping track, that’s two power play goals and a shortie for a team that has struggled with its special teams all season.

The Blue Jackets got two in the third period, before Jesse Puljujarvi and McDavid finished off the scoring.

Given the start they’ve had, the Oilers would normally be out of contention by now. They have eight more games this month, six of them at home. If the Good Oilers show up, they might have a chance to put the Bad and the Ugly behind them and play themselves back into the playoff picture.



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