Oilers match team mark with 9 consecutive wins, bouncing back from poor start, coaching change

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Edmonton Oilers goaltender Calvin Pickard (30) celebrates with teammates after beating the Detroit Red Wings in overtime during an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT – It looks like the Edmonton Oilers made the right move when they made a coaching change early in the season, hoping it would help the Connor McDavid-led team play closer to Stanley Cup-contending expectations.

The Oilers are 19-6 — including a franchise-record tying nine-game winning streak — since general manager Ken Holland fired Jay Woodcroft with just three wins in 13 games and hired coach Kris Knoblauch and added Hall of Famer Paul Coffey to the staff as an assistant.

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“The first 12 games, we were way off in a lot of areas,” Holland said Thursday night before Edmonton beat Detroit 3-2 in overtime. “Early on, we had very few players playing to the level that we thought they could play. Unfortunately, we had to make a coaching change.

“Between the change and a few tweaks by Kris Knoblauch and Paul Coffey, we’ve just played better hockey. We had 109 points last year, so we felt coming into the year that we had a good team."

As great as Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky-led teams were — winning five Stanley Cups from 1984-90 — they never won nine straight games in a regular season as the current team has since its last loss on Dec. 19.

“It speaks to our group and that resilience," Darnell Nurse said after scoring his fifth career overtime goal, extending his team record for a defenseman. "It hasn’t been easy. There’s been a lot of highs and lows. We’ve been able to keep it pretty even keel.

"To be able to win nine in a row is pretty special. It’s cool to tie a franchise record, but we just need to move onto the next one.”

The Oilers, who also won nine in a row late last season and in 2001, can break the team mark Saturday night in Montreal.

Knoblauch seems to be guiding the talented team in a way that sets them up to win in various ways and Coffey has made an immediate impact.

“He’ll see things that made him so special when he was playing," Nurse said. "He’s been a huge asset and we’re very fortunate to have him as a coach.”

The Oilers were uncharacteristically scoreless through two periods against the Red Wings before McDavid made it 1-1 midway through the third and Zach Hyman scored a go-ahead goal with six minutes left in regulation.

Even though Edmonton allowed the Red Wings to tie the game again late in the third, sending the game to overtime, it found a way to extend the streak when Nurse hit the back of the net from the left circle.

“We’re working toward that place where we’re comfortable playing in any type of game, whether you’re down one or two in the third, or tied 0-0," Nurse said. "The teams that go the furthest and win that ultimate title, they’re able to win different ways.”

The Oilers have shuffled through a lot of coaches, trying to find one that would click with McDavid and Co.

The search might finally be over.

Knoblauch, the team’s third coach in three seasons and fifth since McDavid’s debut in 2015, was coaching the American Hockey League’s Hartford Wolf Pack before the 45-year-old Saskatchewan native was given a chance in the NHL.

“You have to find different ways to win, whether it’s shutting it down and not giving up any chances late in the game with the lead, or come from behind, or a late kill, or a power play coming up huge," Knoblauch said. "Good teams find ways to win, and we’re very fortunate that right now we’re finding ways right now.”


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