EDMONTON — It's amazing to think where the Edmonton Oilers were before this winning streak began.
After losing for the third straight time, the Oilers enter a game at New Jersey on Dec. 21 at 13-15-1 — two games below NHL .500.
The playoffs, while far from unthinkable, seemed decidedly iffy.
Thanks to 16 straight wins — the latest being a 4-1 decision over the Nashville Predators on Saturday — the perception around the Oilers has completely changed.
“I knew we were a good team,” forward Leon Draisaitl said. “When you lack confidence, that's more than 50 percent (of the thing) right there. Hard to come back from that.
“Sure, we found it.”
The Oilers are on the verge of equaling something done by a team with Mario Lemieux in his prime and Jaromir Jagr in his third NHL season. They are tied for the second-best winning streak in league annals with the 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets.
They will also have a chance to pull with the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, who own the NHL record, when they return from their bye week for a Feb. 6 road game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
“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 most promising is that they have mastered areas unusual for past success. Their penalty kill was the third-last in the NHL when coach Jay Woodcroft and assistant Dave Manson were fired on November 12. They have the best puck in the league during the streak and killed three Nashville power plays on Saturday.
They played in the second-worst team save percentage during the coaching change. They have been at the top spot since December 22.
“I don't know the last time there was a bad goal,” said coach Chris Knoblauch, whose team has a 26-6 record behind the bench.
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That combination of improvements — along with much better defensive detail — has allowed the Oilers to score fewer than three goals in each of the last 14 games.
“We're doing it right,” Draisaitl said.
“It's been really impressive,” goaltender Stuart Skinner said. “It's a lot of fun to be behind all these things.”
Oh, and the list's top-four five-for-five scorers during the streak are as follows: McDavid and Warren Fogel tied with 14 points, followed by Draisaitl with 13 and Ryan McLeod with 12.
That's two superstars and two role players who have wonderful seasons.
“What makes it special is that it's all been there,” McDavid said. “Everyone is pulling the strings. It has not been one or two boys. It's been the whole group.”
Throw in recent signee Corey Perry, a veteran who brings an offensive touch with a boisterous style, and the Oilers look more Stanley Cup caliber by the day.
To make room for Perry, the Oilers had to scratch the highly touted Sam Gagner — a winger who has five goals and 10 points in 22 games in limited minutes. Perry had two shots on three attempts and two hits in 12:44 and lined up with McLeod and Dylan Holloway most of the time. The latter has been loaned to AHL Bakersfield for the bye week.
The Oilers look unbeatable whether they bring their best or not.
“We've been sloppy the last three (games) but there were some individual performances that got us the win,” Draisaitl said. “You need that sometimes, too. It's been a great stretch for us.”
It was their power play, a tried and true aspect of their game and the NHL's most productive unit last season, that keyed the win against Nashville.
With the man advantage of McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins getting two points, the three tallest forwards put their history on the brink.
McDavid then scored his 20th goal of the season and added an assist on Zach Hyman's 30th goal — on an empty netter — to round out a four-point afternoon.
Draisaitl also assisted on Hyman's marker for a three-point play. Such production was par for the course 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 finished off a pass from McDavid in the second period.
Skinner was nearly perfect in the Oilers net, making 29 of 30 saves. Only a bouncing puck off the stick of Colton Seasons beat him late in the game. His best stop on a Predator power play came in the opening frame when he extended his right pad to deflect a Luke Evangelista slot shot out of play. Skinner has a .935 save percentage since Nov. 24 and a .950 mark during the winning streak.
“Guys feel confident when he's playing,” Knoblach said.
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The Oilers vault up the standings to the point where they're comfortable in a third playoff spot in the Pacific Division — and in a position to track those ahead of them, too.
They are now 29-15-1 with 59 points. They are five points behind the Golden Knights for second in the division before Vegas has a game in Detroit on Saturday night.
The Oilers now own a .656 points percentage, leading the Golden Knights for seventh in the NHL before Saturday's action concludes. The Oilers are 45 games behind the Ottawa Senators for the fewest in the NHL. That means the Oilers will have a heavy schedule after the All-Star Game. They play seven times on back-to-back days 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. It feels like we're on top of the world. But there's still a lot we need to dial in on the ice,” Skinner said. “It's good that we won, and everything is going well. But there's still a lot we need to get better at, especially since we're trying to get somewhere.”
Each player has a week to hop on a plane to a warmer climate or enjoy some downtime elsewhere.
Mid-December volatility is in the rearview mirror. A mid-November frenzy is out of the picture.
Now a chance at history awaits the Oilers on Feb. 6.
“We know what's at stake,” Drasitl said. “We're not in a position to take our foot off the gas here yet.”
(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)