Home > Uncategorized > 5 out of 6: Now that’s better!

5 out of 6: Now that’s better!

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images Edmonton Oilers forward David Perron, left, congratulates Ryan Smyth on opening the scoring against the New York Rangers during first-period NHL action in New York on Thursday. It was a vintage Smyth goal as the ageless wonder (who is actually turning 38 this month) went to the net and shovelled in a gift-wrapped rebound of Perron's shot. The Oilers went on to win 2-1.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Edmonton Oilers forward David Perron, left, congratulates Ryan Smyth on opening the scoring against the New York Rangers during first-period NHL action in New York on Thursday. It was a vintage Smyth goal as the ageless wonder (who is actually turning 38 this month) went to the net and shovelled in a gift-wrapped rebound of Perron’s shot. The Oilers went on to win 2-1.

I’ll admit, I fully expected the Edmonton Oilers to lose on Thursday night.

I just couldn’t, for the life of me, envision them defeating the red-hot New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. No way, no how.

Yet, here we are again, analyzing a win for the fifth time in the last six games — a first for this season. Someway, somehow.

Ben Scrivens, Nail Yakupov and, yes, Dallas Eakins were the 3 stars in this 2-1 victory. In that order.

Scrivens is playing the part of saviour right now. He’s been rock-solid and sometimes spectacular since coming to Edmonton via trade from Los Angeles on Jan. 15. His teammates clearly have confidence in him and he’s more than held the fort behind a shoddy-albeit-improving defence corps.

Ilya Bryzgalov deserves his due as well and might be in line for Friday’s start against the New Jersey Devils, but after another 35-save, first-star performance on Thursday, it’s difficult not to shine the spotlight on Scrivens. He had next-to-no chance on Derick Brassard’s one-timer goal, but made several clutch stops — none bigger than denying Rangers captain Ryan Callahan on a clear-cut breakaway.

As alluded to, New York had won four straight — averaging 4.5 goals per game — and seven of its last 10, which makes Scrivens’ showing all the more impressive.

Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens wasn't fooled by New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan's deke attempt on a shorthanded breakaway during the second period of Thursday's victory. This save, one of 35 for Scrivens on the night, kept the contest tied at 1-1.

Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press
Edmonton Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens wasn’t fooled by New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan’s deke attempt on a shorthanded breakaway during the second period of Thursday’s victory. This save, one of 35 for Scrivens on the night, kept the contest tied at 1-1.

In his six starts for the Oilers, Scrivens is sporting a .942 save percentage. You’d think that couldn’t be sustainable. Yet, in 25 appearances to date this season, Scrivens is maintaining a league-best .937 save percentage.

That is still a relatively small sample size, but this local boy might just be a keeper. Scrivens, who turns 28 in September, will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, so you have to wonder if he’ll be meeting with Craig MacTavish at some point during the upcoming Olympic break. You know, to talk contract extension with the rookie general manager.

I’m starting to believe Scrivens could be the real deal, more than just a flash in the pan anyway. But is he ready to be a true No. 1 and carry a 50-plus-start workload as early as next season? I’m not yet convinced, not 100 per cent sold to that extent.

That said, if I’m MacT — and if Scrivens wants to stay in Edmonton past this year, which is the great unknown as of today — then I would consider putting a low-risk offer on the table in the coming days. Three years and $6 million, or $2 million per sounds reasonable enough. If Scrivens signs off and stinks it up down the stretch or next season, Edmonton has a fairly expensive backup on the books. If he continues to thrive and prove himself as a starter going forward, and considering Scrivens only cost Edmonton a third-round pick in this year’s draft, then MacT is one key piece closer to constructing a playoff contender — at a bargain rate to boot.

It’s a tough call, but I think I’d be dialing up Scrivens’ agent sooner than later. On one hand, you own his rights for the rest of this season and can wait it out to make sure he’s as good (and as consistent) as he’s been so far. On the other hand, the longer you wait, the higher that future salary escalates assuming Scrivens keeps playing lights-out following the Olympics.

However you want to look at it, the fact remains that the Oilers have been getting good goaltending throughout this stretch — and they’ve needed it; getting outshot in all six games, by a combined 242-155. Make that great goaltending, with that discrepancy now totaling 87, though the 36-31 spread from Thursday was as close as Edmonton has come on the shot-clock in what was also, arguably, its most complete effort of the past six games.

Edmonton Journal Blogs/Oil Spills Scrivens was the story from start to finish on Thursday, but he might not have grabbed headlines again if it wasn't for the late-game heroics of Nail Yakupov (pictured above), who scored the winning goal with 1:38 remaining in the third period.

Edmonton Journal Blogs/Oil Spills
Scrivens was the story from start to finish on Thursday, but he might not have grabbed headlines again if it wasn’t for the late-game heroics of Nail Yakupov (pictured above), who scored the winning goal with 1:38 remaining in the third period.

Which brings us to Yakupov. His struggles this season have been well documented, having spent a few games in the press box as a healthy scratch. He’s come a long way since then, as evidenced by his promotion to the top line alongside fellow first overall picks Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to start Thursday’s game.

Yakupov made good on that opportunity by netting the winner with less than two minutes left in regulation. On that go-ahead goal, he actually took a feed from Sam Gagner — he of the rampant trade rumours — and rocketed a shot past Cameron Talbot to trigger another of Yakupov’s patented-and-passionate celebrations.

Just 98 seconds later, the rest of the Oilers joined Yakupov in celebrating their unprecedented success on the campaign. Should they make it six out of seven on Friday and match their season-high three-game winning streak for the third time — and second time in the last two weeks — then things will certainly be looking up in Oil Country.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins delivers his message to players during a pre-season game against the New York Rangers in Edmonton back on Sept. 24, 2013. It hasn't come easy for Eakins in his first season behind Edmonton's bench, but his message appears to be finally getting through, with the Oilers having won five of their past six games.

JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press
Edmonton Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins delivers his message to players during a pre-season game against the New York Rangers in Edmonton back on Sept. 24, 2013. It hasn’t come easy for Eakins in his first season behind Edmonton’s bench, but his message appears to be finally getting through, with the Oilers having won five of their past six games.

And Eakins is warranting a lot of the credit. As a rookie head coach at the NHL level, Eakins has been raked through the coals countless times in his short tenure, with the firing squad already calling for his head. Their minds made up that Eakins was in over his head.

This, the same guy who had been courted for multiple vacancies around the league last summer before being snatched up by Edmonton. Eakins was widely regarded as one of the brightest young bench bosses in the game, a former journeyman defenceman who will turn 47 later this month.

It took time — too much time, by all accounts — but it seems now that Eakins may finally be pressing the right buttons and getting the desired results. It’s most likely too little, too late, with the Oilers still 17 points back of the final playoff spot, occupied by the floundering Vancouver Canucks. But if Eakins can keep everybody on the same page for the final 23 games — counting Friday — and win, oh let’s say, 15 more times, that can only bode well for the future.

That’s asking a lot, to anticipate only eight more losses from a team that is still 13-plus games below .500. Especially considering all this momentum is coming just in time for MacT to blow it up, by shipping out a handful of veterans prior to the March 5 trade deadline.

That could easily happen and greatly alter those expectations, but in the meantime — and during the Olympic downtime — Oilers fans, optimists and pessimists alike, should try to savour these winning ways while they last. Enjoy them before they are gone again.

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