Edmonton, most years, wouldn’t be anywhere near the playoff race given its record. The Pacific is a disaster this year, and so they’ve been given a unique opportunity. With the postseason in sight, and five straight games after the Christmas break coming against division rivals, this was the club’s best chance to pull its way into the playoff picture.
Or, for that matter, to push itself out of it.
Edmonton is now three games and three losses into this five-game run of four-point games:
- Dec. 26: Vancouver 2, Edmonton 1 (OT)
- Dec. 27: Calgary 5, Edmonton 3
- Dec. 29: Los Angeles 5, Edmonton 2
- Dec. 31: hosting the Ducks tonight
- Jan. 2: hosting the Coyotes on Saturday
Edmonton is also one game into a six-game home stand and playing its second contest of those games at Rexall tonight, but after Arizona the four-point games, the games where the Oilers can not only collect points but also sabotage their rivals, come to a stop. Beating Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida will help, but not the way wins against Vancouver and Calgary would.
Losses to Anaheim and Arizona would probably end Edmonton’s season. Although the Oilers are technically just four points out, that’s misleading as it does not include games in hand. Assuming all teams keep up their current paces over those games, this is what the Pacific would look like if every team had played the 38 games that the Oilers have:
- Los Angeles: 51 points
- San Jose: 40 points
- Arizona: 39 points (playoff cut line)
- Calgary: 38 points
- Vancouver: 37 points
- Anaheim: 37 points
- Edmonton: 33 points
Six points is a pretty tough gap to make up over a half-season, and a loss to Anaheim followed by a loss to Arizona would likely make that gap eight points. Two wins, on the other hand, would keep the Oilers competitive; the team needs to find a way to turn things around against the Ducks tonight.
Line combinations courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com, the best source for all your daily fantasy hockey news.
Edmonton’s forward combinations are unchanged, save for the insertion of Jujhar Khaira. Khaira has been promoted to the fourth line after the unit’s previous right wing, Iiro Pakarinen, was killed in action against the Los Angeles Kings on a valiant zone entry.
Khaira hasn’t played in two weeks. Like Anton Slepyshev before him, he’s been soaking up the NHL experience without the benefit of actually playing ice hockey. It’s an odd quirk of the Peter Chiarelli/Todd McLellan tandem that they’re fine with sticking a young player in this situation rather than using someone like Andrew Miller or Ryan Hamilton to warm the press box. It’s a little funny to see, given the amount of grief that the previous management took for that Klefbom/Nurse/Marincin logjam at the start of last season.
On defence, Eric Gryba is banged up and will sit out, meaning that Brad Hunt lives to fight another day. He’ll be paired with his old AHL collaborator, Brandon Davidson, who has been dearly missed during his time on injured reserve. Davidson instantly upgrades Edmonton’s defence, but I expect we’ll see him used strictly in a third pair role in his first game back.
Anaheim’s top line has 22 goals on the year; that compares to Edmonton where Taylor Hall has 15 goals all by himself. Anaheim’s second line has 10 goals, which is worth remembering the next time that someone tells you Benoit Pouliot (eight goals, missed nine games with injury and played hurt for a while, too) is on a bad contract.
Anaheim’s third line has 11 markers, of which Oilers all-time hero Shawn Horcoff has scored six. This isn’t a team that has scored much this year, though Edmonton has been a slumpbuster for more than one NHL club in the past.
On defence, Sami Vatanen is worth watching; he’s just four points back of the team scoring lead and is one of the most enjoyable offensive defencemen in hockey. Also worth watching is Shea Theodore, a highly touted 20-year-old playing in just his second NHL game. Theodore topped the point-per-game mark his last two seasons in the WHL.
What They’re Saying
After reeling off six straight wins to begin the month of December, Edmonton has come back to earth with a 1-5-1 mark in their last seven games. Perhaps not coincidentally for the young team, of the winning streak five of the six games were at home, while five of the past seven have been on the road. Once again the issue for the Oilers has been defense, as the team has allowed the fourth-worst average goals against in the league. Neither Anders Nilsson or Cam Talbot have proved to be transcendent players between the pipes. That has not been helped by a bottom third offense that has surely been missing first overall selection Connor McDavid, who remains out with injury.
Game day prediction: Anaheim is on a bit of a roll, having won both of its games since the Christmas break and boasting a 3-1-1 record over its last five. Edmonton has lost six of its last seven and three straight games. Call it 3-1 Ducks.
Obvious game day prediction: Somebody’s going to fight. Anaheim’s 20 fighting majors rank second in the NHL. Edmonton, incidentally, is at eight, three back of the league median of 11.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Anton Lander scores a goal! Anton Lander scores a goal! On the power play, his first of the season., No. 51 Anton Lander, assisted by No. 24 Brad Hunt and No. 29 Leon Draisaitl.
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