TULSA, Ok. – The first month of 2019 has been very good to the Tulsa Oilers, considering the somewhat deep hole they had dug in December.
The final month of 2018 was very unkind indeed for the Oilers, as they were in free fall for the balance of it after a decent start to the 2018-19 campaign. Most of that time frame was spent on the road east of the Mississippi River in places like Fort Wayne, Indy and Cincinnati. The slump hit its peak around Christmas, when the team dropped 10 straight games, with only two points coming from two overtime losses.
The usual suspects were the cause of the slump in December: call-ups to San Antonio and injuries. The good news though, was that if you slump in December there is a lot more hockey left in the season than if you slump in January, and that’s exactly where the Oilers are seeing success now.
The Oilers have won 10 out of their last eleven games, including four of five games on their most recent road trip, and are turning in impressive score sheets at the end of each game. Player departures on loans and call-ups are being compensated for nicely, and the team appears to have found a winning rhythm that has carried them from the middle of the pack in the ECHL Mountain Division to first place as of this writing.
There are several individual efforts that have helped the Oilers recovery. One of the bigger stories starts between the pipes with the call up of Evan Fitzpatrick to the St. Louis Blues. Fitzpatrick got the call on December 30 while he was on loan to the San Antonio Rampage and became the Oilers first call up to the National Hockey League since joining the ECHL in 2014. Fitzpatrick has at present a 9-4-2 record in 16 games with Tulsa and posts a 3.01 goals against average.
Fitzpatrick’s counterpart Devin Williams is also doing quite well in the Oilers crease and has spent time in San Antonio on loan. Williams is currently 14-8 on the season with a 2.23 goals against average.
Offensively, the Oilers are sporting a three-pronged attack of a veteran a rookie and a journeyman. Oilers team captain Adam Pleskach is poised to make history in the coming games as his next goal will carry him past Tulsa hockey legend Luc Beausoleil into second place on the Tulsa Oilers all-time scoring ledger, with the first place position being held by Doug Lawrence. Currently, the captain has a 40-point (19G, 21A) season going, leading the club in goals and points. Additionally, he was named to the ECHL Western Conference All-Star team this season, the first such accomplishment in his career.
Ryan Tesink is also on a similar tear, just four points shy of his captain with 36 points (16G, 20A). Tesink was loaned to the Rampage last week and should return to the team soon. Rookie Jared Thomas rounds out the trio at third on the season points and goals list with 26 points (11G, 15A). Thomas has also been the most mobile of the three players, spending time on AHL assignments in San Antonio and San Diego.
Clearly, head coach Rob Murray‘s club has rediscovered their mojo, so to speak, but what will it take for the Oilers to return to the ECHL post-season for the first time since 2015?
One of the biggest Achilles heels for the Oilers since entering the “E” has been plugging the holes left when a player gets a shot in the AHL. During the previous two seasons, the Oilers reeled when a player was sent up and now, with a system that favors players that can quickly onboard with Murray’s system, that problem seems to be evaporating. Also, internal pressure when the team is up on the scoreboard seems to be resolving itself for the most part, so it’s clear that sustaining that through the winter and early spring is key moving forward.
The Oilers will open up a five-game homestand when they host the Allen Americans for the first of three games at the BOK Center, beginning Friday night at 7:05 pm.
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