EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers have played their way into a favorable spot in the Pacific Division on the strength of some outstanding individual contributions.
The second-place Oilers (35-22-8) have gotten a stellar season from captain Connor McDavid, the NHL's leading scorer with 74 points (22 goals, 52 assists) in 65 games. They have benefitted from forward Leon Draisaitl's versatility and 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists).
Left wing Patrick Maroon has had a hot stick at times and has an NHL career-high 21 goals. Goalie Cam Talbot has been busy (he leads the League with 58 starts and 3,438:40 of total ice time) and consistent (33-18-7, 2.39 goals-against average. .919 save percentage).
And just in time for a stretch run toward what would be their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006, the Oilers appear to be finding an important element they've been missing: an effective second line. Coach Todd McLellan has settled on the combination of center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between left wing Milan Lucic and right wing Jordan Eberle, and good things have been happening.
Eberle scored his 14th goal of the season in a 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday and has seven points (three goals, four assists) in his past eight games.
Video: DET@EDM: Eberle beats Mrazek with a backhander
Eberle's offensive production is down; he's scored at least 24 goals in each of the past four full NHL seasons. But his outlook has never been better.
"It's funny when you talk about offensive production," Eberle said. "[People] say it hasn't gone well for me. We're in a playoff spot, so it feels like the best year we've had. Mentally, I'm not down or anything like that. Obviously there was a time there when I wasn't scoring, but as much as that wasn't good and you want to contribute to wins, we were still winning games.
"It feels like they haven't needed it. I look back on the season and I've had a ton of chances and they just haven't gone in. I haven't scored. Maybe that's on me or maybe it's the gods. In years past, I feel like I've had the same amount of chances and I just haven't scored this year."
He is correct on that account.
Through 2015-16, Eberle had a NHL career shooting percentage of 14.1. This season, he's at 8.8 percent (14 goals on 160 shots). In past seasons, he's been as high as 18.9 percent (2011-12) and finished at 14.5 percent last season.
He feels his puck luck may be turning.
"I think now the puck's going and you start getting confident and you start doing a little bit more than you're not used to and I think at the end of the day, you want to be winning games and contributing to those wins and playing well to help the wins," he said.
Video: EDM@NSH: Eberle redirects Sekera's dish, ties game
It has not been a smooth season for the No. 22 pick of the 2008 NHL Draft. He has had point droughts of eight and six games, and two others of five games each. He was called out by McLellan for ineffective play and demoted to the third line for a game in mid-November. The same demotion also happened in early January.
"For a while there I was playing with Connor and [Maroon], and it felt like we were just waiting to put me back down with the other guys," Eberle said. "It was a kind of mental game there. Now that I'm consistently playing with [Lucic and Nugent-Hopkins], I think we're starting to get some chemistry together and creating some chances and getting that second-line production that we've maybe lacked earlier in the year.
"I don't think there's one player in this league that can do everything by himself. You need some chemistry within the lines and you need to know what each other is doing to create chances and we've been doing that."
McLellan, who at times has not gone easy on the Oilers' experienced players, saluted the progress after the win Saturday and said it has not been all about scoring numbers.
"That line as a whole has been pretty good," McLellan said. "It started on the [six-game] road trip, but they had an average game in Tampa [on Feb. 21] and we went after them a little bit and ever since then, they've responded really well.
"We can talk about Jordan's production and his goal, which is great. But the board work he did in our zone and the board work he did in the neutral zone, and the ability to get a puck in behind to [Lucic], those are all things we've been stressing to him and you put three of those things together and he was rewarded and the team was rewarded with the goal. So it's nice to see."
It will be an imperative when the playoffs begin.