5 Signs the Edmonton Oilers Are Heading in the Right Direction

Adam Bowen@truknorrisContributor IIIMarch 3, 2013

5 Signs the Edmonton Oilers Are Heading in the Right Direction

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    The Edmonton Oilers are 20 games into the 2013 season and find themselves in a familiar place of being on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

    They are going into the Sunday night game against the Minnesota Wild with a record of 8-8-4 with 20 points. 

    Things haven't been easy for the young Oilers squad, but there are still some positives to be taken from the season showing that the team is close to rounding the corner and competing for a playoff spot.

    Though the record may not show it, here are five signs that the Edmonton Oilers are heading in the right direction. 

The Power Play Has Been Phenomenal

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    The Oilers currently hold the sixth-best power play in the entire NHL. At 21.7 percent, the Oilers have converted 20 power-play goals so far this season, and it is a major reason the team has been competitive to date.

    While Edmonton has struggled to convert even strength goals at times, the power play has been enough to steal some victories.

    With names like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz on the power play, the percentage should continue to rise, and the team should start to see more victories.

Reliable Penalty Killing

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    While the power play has been great for the Oilers this year, the penalty kill has been just as good, if not better.

    The Oilers are currently fifth in the NHL with an 86.5 penalty-kill percentage, and considering that the team has also taken the fifth-most penalties this season, the penalty killing has more than bailed the team out. 

    A strong penalty kill is important for such a young team, as discipline can often be an issue for up-and-coming stars, and the Oilers have benefited from the reliable presence of Ladislav Smid and the promising defensive zone play of Justin Schultz while shorthanded.

The Kid Line Is Still Great

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    While the numbers may not be quite where some may have expected from the combination of Hall-Eberle-RNH, the "kid line" has been responsible for a bulk of the Oilers' offensive production this season.

    Hall and Eberle rank second and third, respectively, on the team, with Hall currently having 17 points and Eberle having 15.

    Nugent-Hopkins hasn't quite kept pace with his linemates and has only registered a lackluster seven points so far into 2013, but he has the potential to explode in any game.

Scoring Depth

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    While the line of Hall-Eberle-RNH has been good, the Oilers have benefited from scoring depth this season, thanks in large part to the offensive consistency of Sam Gagner, as well as the chemistry he has established with Ales Hemsky and Nail Yakupov.

    Gagner leads the team with 19 points, while Hemsky has 13 and Yakupov has 12, showing that the Oilers have multiple options up front. 

    Justin Schultz has also continued his amazing progression into professional hockey. He has registered 13 points so far in 2013 and has been a major force on the power play. 

    While the second tier of forwards hasn't quite contributed as much as some would expect, the potential for players like Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff (upon his return from injury) to contribute points is still there.

Reliable Goaltending

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    2013 was the season for Devan Dubnyk to prove whether or not he was a true No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, and while the jury may still be out, he has played well enough for the Oilers to remain competitive in each game this season.

    Veteran netminder Nikolai Khabibulin has also enjoyed a return to form this season, before being sidelined with an injury, allowing Dubnyk to rest while continuing to make timely saves for Edmonton.

    Dubnyk will get the bulk, if not all, of in-game action while Khabibulin is sidelined, and this spell may ultimately make or break his audition for the Oilers goalie of the future.