The Edmonton Oilers find themselves on the verge of a post-season spot – one that would be their first since 2005-06 – as they enter the final day of trading in the NHL. They’re one point back of a St. Louis team that has a game in hand, and while there’s a crowd vying for that spot (or the one inhabited by Detroit – these teams aren’t picky) superficially the Oilers look like one of the stronger candidates in the group.
The problem? The schedule is about to turn nasty again.
The Oilers first 35 games were nearly evenly split between the 10 clubs in a playoff spot in the West (18 contests against those teams) and the six teams outside the post-season (17 games against those clubs). That ends now: of the Oilers final 13 games, just four come against the also-rans while nine come against clubs in a post-season slot.
That doesn’t sound good, but it looks a lot worse once the Oilers’ record against playoff/non-playoff teams is taken into account.
The Oilers vs. the Cellar
The Oilers look awfully good when they aren’t lining up against quality teams. They’ve ripped off a 10-5-2 record (a 56-point pace over a 48-game season) and out-scored their opposition 52-to-44.
The Oilers vs. the Playoffs
… and they look decidedly worse against the power teams in the West. The goal differential falls to minus-13, and that 5-8-5 record works out to a 40-point pace over a 48-game season, a total that needless to say would put them nowhere near the playoffs.
It’s not that simple
No, it really isn’t that simple. The fact that the Oilers have struggled against good teams, and now play a whole bunch of games against good teams does not guarantee that they will struggle the rest of the way. We’re dealing with small numbers here; and we aren’t allowing for injuries, or improvement over the course of the season, or trades or any number of other things.
With that said, this should show exactly how difficult the Oilers’ road to the post-season will be to travel. St. Louis and Detroit both play more non-playoff teams than power teams the rest of the way; and even assuming they only manage to maintain their current point pace rather than improving against weaker clubs, the eight-place Blues are set for a 54-point season and have an edge in regulation/overtime wins on the Oilers (the first tie-breaker). That means the Oilers may need 55 points to make the playoffs, which means a 9-4-0 record the rest of the way.
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