Last Monday the Oilers were shut out 3-0 in Toronto. After the game Todd McLellan challenged some of his players, and without naming names it was obvious he was referring to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
“When I look at this trip as a whole, we had some key, key people really under perform on the trip,” McLellan told . “Significant minus
numbers, not hitting the score sheet. It can’t always be [the top line]
that provides that.”
Three wins later the Oilers are out of the NHL basement, albeit by only two points, and more importantly they are very much in the playoff race sitting only three points behind Anaheim and Arizona.
The Pacific is currently the weakest division in the NHL. Only one team, the LA Kings, has more than 28 points. The other three divisions have five teams with 30+ points. We are only 1/3 of the way through the season so there is a lot of time for one or two teams to separate from the pack, but right now the race for the second and third playoff positions is very tight.
With three consecutive wins the Oilers are suddenly three points back of a playoff spot. It is way too early to celebrate, but at least they are in the discussion.
On December 7th, 2013 the Oilers had 23 points in 31 games and were 14 points out of a playoff spot.
On December 7th, 2014 the Oilers had 19 points in 27 games and were 14 points out of a playoff spot.
The Oilers have 24 points in 28 games this year, a slight improvement over last season, although the Oilers never gained their 24th point until December 31st, so by the end of the month they should be well ahead of last year’s ghastly pace.
After McLellan calmly challenged his players, they responded. Eberle has scored in two consecutive games after tallying the deciding goal in the shoot out on Wednesday.
The team has won three straight, and while Anders Nilsson stole them two points versus Dallas, I felt the Oilers played well against Boston and Buffalo. The goalie is part of your team and if he has a great game, the win shouldn’t come with a, “But the goalie played well.”
No one complains in Montreal when Carey Price faces 52, 38, 37, 38 and 36 shots and the Habs win. The Oilers are getting great goaltending right now, and that should be looked at more positively than saying the team is bad.
The Oilers just ended a stretch of eight games in 14 days and they won the last three. Today is a well-earned day off, then they practice tomorrow and face the Sharks on Wednesday, a huge game for McLellan, even though he will down play it, and then it is Glen Sather night versus the Rangers on Friday.
The Oilers then have two days off again before playing in Boston on Monday and New York next Tuesday. They will be rested for the Sharks and should enter the game with a lot of confidence.
This is the most meaningful divisional game the Oilers have played since April 4th, 2013, when they faced the Vancouver Canucks. The Oilers were tied for the final playoff spot entering the final 12 games of the season, and the Canucks were the first of five straight divisional games. They lost all five (outscored 17-4) and their playoff hopes came crashing down.
The Oilers are a better team than the ones we saw over the past five seasons, and if they can stay in the playoff race until their injured forwards return they should actually be in a playoff race in February and March.
They can’t sit back. The games are getting harder as the season goes along, and they have to avoid falling apart like they did in 2013 and again in 2011/2012. The Oilers had 29 points in their first 28 games in Nugent-Hopkins’ rookie season, and they were two points out of a playoff spot on December 7th, 2011. They picked up six points in their next 13 games and were 13 points out on January 7th, 2012.
They should be excited they are in the playoff picture today, but the games will become more difficult and this team needs to prove they are indeed more seasoned and better prepared to compete as the games become more intense.
- Anders Nilsson should be in the Calder trophy conversation. His .922SV% is 11th among goalies who have started 15+ games. If he keeps playing like he has in his last eight starts, he will be in the Calder Mix. Artemi Panarin is the only skater who is top-11 in points, he sits 8th with 27, while Max Domi is 27th with 23 points and Dylan Larkin has 21 (41st in NHL).
We can debate the merits of Nilsson and Panarin being rookies after playing in the KHL, considering the NHL rule states “A player can not have played more than 25 games in a preceding season in any major professional league”, but both of them are listed as rookies at NHL.com and eligible for the Calder. They should just change the wording to “25 or more games In the NHL”, otherwise players who play in SEL and KHL at 17, 18 and 19 would be ineligible. If Nilsson won he’d become the first goalie since Steve Mason in 2009, and 15th overall, to win the Calder. Oilers fans have wanted a Calder winner for years, and you might get one in the most unexpected fashion.
- After his post game press conference last night, Todd McLellan pulled me aside. “I heard you discussing your Month of Giving and I’d like to help out.” After a quick discussion we came up with a great package. It is listed below. I love it when people step up and offer to help out for charity. A few players have as well, mainly Taylor Hall, and those packages will be up for auction later this month on my show. Thank you Todd for your generous offer.
- I asked McLellan for an injury update and he said Nail Yakupov is likely not back until after Christmas. McDavid is still sometime in the New Year and Pouliot is a few weeks away as well. If their top two lines can remain consistent and the bottom-six chip in like they have the past five games, the Oilers should remain competitive.
- Patrick Kane has 36 points in his 22-game point streak which is more than Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn (35 each) have all season. Kane has points in 25 of the Blackhawks 27 games this year. Ridiculous.
- The Flames are in last place in the Pacific but only five points out of a playoff spot. The other three cellar dwellers; Colorada (Central) and Columbus (Atlantic) are eight points out, while Toronto (Metro) is seven back. No team believes they are completely out of it just yet, and that is exactly what the NHL wants. Parity keeps the fan base more invested.
DAY 5: Month of Giving
Thanks to Cory and his generous bid of $3,500 and to Pro Am Sports for the McDavid package on Friday.
- Oilers head coach Todd McLellan will come to your son or daughter’s minor hockey practice.
- He will help the coaches with their practice plans.
- He will bring an Oilers jersey signed by all the players.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau
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