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FEATURE: Planting roots

The Oilers have collected three straight victories while also building a foundation of success to carry forward

by Ryan Frankson /

NEWARK, NJ - Three games, three wins, six points, five more goals for than against, and first in the conference standings.

The numerical results are obvious when you look at what the Oilers have accomplished through their first three games of the 2019-20 season.

But when you go beyond the numbers and assess the intangible benefits of starting the year with three straight victories, you learn what this hot start has meant for the team.

"There's still so much hockey left, but it gives us roots to grow," veteran forward Zack Kassian said following Tuesday night's 5-2 road win over the New York Islanders.

"It gives us roots that we can work on as a team and fix the things we want to fix. It gives us roots to have confidence in each other, have confidence in our linemates. Everyone is playing valuable minutes, everyone is doing their job. It's good to see results early, because when everyone buys in like that, normally that's when teams are formed and you start winning hockey games."

Video: PRACTICE | Building Momentum 10.09.19

Kassian is one of many Oilers players to start the season strong, scoring in all three games thus far. Fellow veteran winger James Neal has lit the lamp a record-setting six times, Connor McDavid leads the team with eight points, Leon Draisaitl is right behind him with seven points, Oscar Klefbom has four assists and Darnell Nurse has scored once with a pair of helpers.

Tomas Jurco has carried over his excellent exhibition showing to the regular season with a pair of assists thus far, while fellow European additions Joakim Nygard, Gaetan Haas and Joel Persson have been solid as well. Ethan Bear has looked poised and potent on the back end, Riley Sheahan had an exceptional debut against the Islanders, and both Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen have given the team a chance to win between the pipes.

The list goes on and on. Essentially, each individual player is doing precisely what's been asked of him and the results have followed suit.

"The players have been doing a really good job of wanting to play like a team," Head Coach Dave Tippett said following Wednesday's practice in New Jersey ahead of tomorrow's date with the Devils.

"They want to have a team mindset where everyone is contributing, right from the top to the bottom… We've got a group that's willing to work really hard and players that are willing to play to their strengths."

Video: POST-GAME RAW | Zack Kassian 10.08.19

What's even more encouraging for Tippett is the Oilers most recent victory was their most impressive to date as they scored five times against one of the NHL's top defensive teams from last season and held a deep Islanders squad to just two goals.

"The first two there were some inconsistencies in what we were trying to accomplish, but I liked that we were just alright and still won," he said. "And then last night I thought we were really strong. That was by far our best game from everybody in the lineup."

Offensive hot streaks like the ones Neal and Kassian are currently riding will inevitably taper off a little, but what the team can control with more certainty is their proficiency for keeping pucks out of their own net.

Only six teams allowed more goals than the Oilers did last season, which is why Tippett's primary focus since taking over the coaching reins has been to reduce that number drastically in 2019-20. Of the 20 teams that have played three or more games this season, only 11 have allowed less than 10 goals and Edmonton is one of them.

"One of the things we've talked about since the first day of training camp is our goals against has to come down," said Tippett, noting that oftentimes the best team defence is a result of strong team offence and puck possession.

"We have defended pretty well, and some of that defending is we've played well with the puck. We've had to defend less and that's a big part. When you're defending less, that means you have the puck and you're on offence. When we've had to defend, we've been alright. We can still get a lot better, but we've moved the puck pretty well and managed the puck well, which has allowed us to defend less. If you can play in the offensive zone, that's the best defending you can do."

Video: RAW | Dave Tippett 10.09.19

The Oilers are a quarter of the way through their first road trip of the season with the Devils next up on Thursday, a matinee matchup with the New York Rangers slated for Saturday and a Windy City showdown with the Blackhawks in Chicago to wrap it up on Monday.

Can the team continue to collect wins and extend their season-opening streak? Are the Oilers the real deal this year? Who better to answer those questions than The Real Deal himself?

"Obviously it's early, but you like to think it's for real," said Neal, the NHL's leading goal scorer heading into Wednesday night's action. "You've got some of the best players in the world and they want to be playoff contenders… It's been a good feel around the locker room. Just talking to the guys, they feel like it's a different vibe. We've got a winning attitude around here."

That attitude was evident for Neal the moment he stepped into the Oilers locker room following his off-season acquisition from the provincial rival Calgary Flames.

"I think everybody is buying in right from management, coaching staff right down," said the 32-year-old. "We're trying to build that belief, that winning attitude. We've got a good feeling going around the room. We've had a good feeling right from camp. Everyone came in with a fresh start and a lot to prove. I like that about our group. We came in with our heads held high, ready to get to work, and it's paid off."

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