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Oilers 'culture change' big reason for historic start

Have set NHL record with five straight come-from-behind victories to begin season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- The Edmonton Oilers are winning games they almost certainly would have lost the past two seasons. 

"There's a culture change within the room where all everyone cares about is winning," defenseman Darnell Nurse said, "and that's all that really matters."

The Oilers set an NHL record with their fifth straight come-from-behind win to start a season Saturday, a 4-1 victory against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, and are 5-0-0 for the first time since 1985-86. 

It's a stark contrast from the past two seasons when they were a combined 26-54-7 in games where the opponent scored first.  

Their success is a testament to the confidence and discipline they're playing with, the belief in the system and structure being stressed by first-year coach Dave Tippett, and the feeling that their offense is good enough to strike when a goal is needed.

"I know in years past we've been down a goal and we've tried to just stretch the game out and open it up," Oilers center Connor McDavid said. "When you do that, that's when you find yourself down two or three and the game is over. You've got to keep it within one and take your chance when you've got it. I think we've done a good job."

Video: EDM@NYR: McDavid scores power-play goal on deflection

A perfect example was the Oilers' 4-3 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on Thursday. McDavid specifically said he didn't like how the Oilers played that night, stressing that they were too spread out in all three zones, which allowed the Devils to apply pressure.

"We usually find a way to lose that game by two or three," McDavid said.

The Oilers instead rallied from being down 1-0 in the first period, 2-1 in the second and 3-2 in the third. McDavid's 6-on-4 power-play goal tied the game with 1:06 remaining in the third and Leon Draisaitl scored the only goal in the shootout.

On Saturday, the Oilers fell behind 1-0 in the first period, tied the game in the second and put it away with three goals in third period. Through five games, they have scored 10 third-period goals, including three game-tying goals and two game-winning goals. 

The run started in their season opener, when they trailed the Vancouver Canucks 2-1 in the third period but won 3-2 in regulation. They rallied from one goal down four times against the Los Angeles Kings in a 6-5 win Oct. 5 and came back after giving up the first goal against the New York Islanders for a 5-2 victory Oct. 8.

"You've got to find ways to win in this league and that's what our players were talking about after the second period [against New Jersey]," Tippett said. "We may not feel like we've got our 'A' game but that's not an excuse for not winning, so let's find a way to win."

When the Oilers said that in previous seasons, all eyes turned to McDavid and Draisaitl to get the job done.

They are elite forwards who combined for 221 points (91 goals, 130 assists) last season and already have 23 (eight goals, 15 assists) this season, including four multi-point games each, but even the best players need help.

Video: EDM@NYR: Draisaitl powers backhand through Lundqvist

They have it now.

James Neal, acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames for forward Milan Lucic on July 19, set an Oilers record for most goals through the first four games of the season with seven, including five on the power play. He's scored two game-winning goals and three game-tying goals. He scored seven goals in 63 games for the Flames last season.

Zack Kassian, the right wing on the top line with McDavid and Draisaitl, has five points (three goals, two assists), including a game-tying goal against the Canucks and one of the four against the Kings.

Oscar Klefbom and Nurse, both defensemen, have been major contributors. Klefbom has seven points (one goal, six assists), including a goal and an assist against the Rangers. Nurse (one goal, four assists) has one point in each game.

The Oilers haven't even gotten a goal from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, their second-line center who scored 28 last season and plays on the top power-play unit with McDavid, Draisaitl, Neal and Klefbom.

"Now we have a couple extra guys that can score, and we have to be able to trust that someone else can score," McDavid said. "That's part of it. Just believing in each other, believing someone is going to score, it doesn't matter who it is."

It's also about believing in the system that Tippett has put into place, a system that involves discipline, structure and defense. 

The Oilers have stayed disciplined for the most part (14 minor penalties in five games, 6:47 in penalty minutes per game). They haven't abandoned their structure. Their defense has been solid, giving up 2.60 goals per game. They are 16-for-17 (94.1 percent) on the penalty kill.

It helps too that their power play is 7-for-17 (41.2 percent), second in the NHL behind the Buffalo Sabres (42.1 percent). 

It's a positive start for a team that has made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past 13 seasons

"Things are going good right now, lots of stuff is positive, but we've got to keep building that," McDavid said. "It's just [five] games. It's really nothing. We've got to keep building here and keep working because we really haven't done anything."

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