TORONTO — The Edmonton Oilers have two players who are tied for the lead in the Art Ross Trophy race. But if you want to know whether things have changed in Edmonton this season, it’s best to ignore the offensive exploits of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and instead focus on who the team’s next-highest scorer is.

Right now, that dubious distinction belongs to Zack Kassian.

The meat-and-potatoes winger, who has never scored more than 29 points in a season, has 28 points after 41 games. That’s good enough to put him in a tie for 98th in the overall scoring. But it’s also less than half of what McDavid and Draisaitl have each produced.

In other words, here we go again.

The Oilers hired a new general manager and a new head coach over the summer. But philosophically, not much has changed with a top-loaded team that finished with the second-worst record in the Western Conference last season.

A year ago, McDavid and Draisaitl were ranked in the top-4 in scoring and combined for 39% of the Oilers’ offence. This year, the duo is tied for No. 1 and combined for 36% of the team’s goals.

So how are the Oilers, who defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday, hanging onto a wild card spot?

“I think we’re just finding ways to win games,” said McDavid. “Like last night (against the Bruins), it was a huge win for us. Everyone just bought in and played the right way. That’s how you’re going to be successful.”

The other reason why Edmonton is better this year is because McDavid and Draisaitl have been slightly better. A year ago, McDavid finished with 116 points and Draisaitl had 105 points. This year, each is on pace for 125 points.

It’s a small difference. But it’s a biggie.

The fact is that when you have two players who are combining for three points per game, you are going to win a lot of games, even if the rest of the roster is producing at a pedestrian rate. It’s not necessarily the negative that some have made it out to be.

Consider this: McDavid, who has 23 goals, and Draisaitl, 24 goals, have combined for 130 points this year. That’s four less than what the New York Islanders’ top-5 players have combined for.

Essentially, McDavid and Draisaitl are doing the job of five players.

“That’s kind of the way we’re built right now,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “Those two guys are key cogs of the offence, obviously. They’re high-end players, they play on the power play together all the time. They get lots of opportunities to get those points. But they get those opportunities because they’re guys who can make a difference with those opportunities. So that’s where we are.”

It’s not like the rest of the team isn’t scoring. It’s just that they aren’t scoring at the ridiculous clip that McDavid and Drasaitl are.

James Neal, who has cooled slightly since exploding for 11 goals in October, has 19 goals this season. Kassian has 13 goals. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has chipped in for nine.

Combine that with a goaltending duo that has improved its goals-against average from 3.30 to 3.11 and it’s not difficult to see how the Oilers have been keeping their heads above water.

“When we play our best — and it happened at the start of the year — every line plays the same way,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “When we all play with speed, it’s predictable what we’re going to be doing for each other. That goes a long way. We’re starting to get back to that and good things are happening now.

“Obviously, we want to score as much as we can. We haven’t been scoring a whole lot five on five, but we’re starting to do that now. Just have to keep that going.”

What’s helped is that Tippett has been able to separate his two best forwards in hopes of giving Edmonton a more balanced attack. In other words, those combined three points per game could translate to three actual goals per game.

McDavid is now centring a line with Kassian and James Neal, while Draisaitl is playing between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and minor-league call-up Kailer Yamamoto.

It’s early in an experiment that depending on the score doesn’t always last the period, much less the game. But if the Oilers are going to qualify for the playoffs — and get past the first round — everyone knows that it can’t just be McDavid and Draisaitl doing the damage.

“I think you need depth if you want to win,” said Neal. “It’s huge going into the playoffs. I think our line-up has good depth right now. All lines are going well. We’re playing a strong team game and I think you need that.”

“A lot was made at the start of the year when they weren’t scoring,” McDavid said of the secondary offence. “Since probably the end of October, they’ve been great. Every single one of them.”

Ultimately, this team needs McDavid and Draisaitl to stay healthy and continue to produce. No amount of secondary scoring will make up for that.

The Oilers are 2-7-3 when McDavid doesn’t produce a point and have gone 0-6-2 when Draisaitl is held off the scoresheet.

Without them, the Oilers have no chance. With them, they still need a little bit of luck if they are going to avoid bottoming out in the second half again.

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Traikos

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