After a lengthy four day break, the Oilers are finally back on the ice Friday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both teams are on the outside of the playoffs and hoping to use a victory to start a push toward a postseason berth.
Edmonton is in a unique position because the team is actually weirdly competitive in two different races: the playoffs and the all-too-familiar draft lottery.
Anaheim, San Jose, Calgary and Vancouver are all playing at identical 82-point paces. Edmonton is four points off the pace and would need four wins more than the others the rest of the way to catch up (eight points in four games putting them at 45 points in 45 contests). It perhaps isn’t especially likely, but it’s certainly doable. The club has been very good at home and brutal on the road, so wins against the Lightning and Panthers over the final two games of this current home-stand are important.
Or not, if you’re following the other race Edmonton is involved in.
Only Buffalo and Columbus sit below the Oilers in the league-wide standings, and with a four-point gap separating the Blue Jackets from the Oilers last overall isn’t out of reach. Again.
A few games back, I described the Oilers as being at a crossroads. They still are. With the first half of the campaign in the books there are still two direction this season could go. Connor McDavid can’t get back fast enough.
Line combinations courtesy of DailyFaceoff.com, the best source for all your daily fantasy hockey news.
There aren’t any real surprises in the Oilers lines. We’ve seen this top-nine for a long while now; at its best the top two lines provide offensive punch while the third line delivers competent defensive play. At its worst Edmonton has been a one-line team.
The only real turnover in recent games is on the fourth-line, which is made up of mostly replacement-level players.
Rob Klinkhammer has mostly looked like waiver fodder since coming off injured reserve. Edmonton has been out-shot 31-21 in an average hour with him on the ice this year, and while the shot metrics are brutal the goal numbers are even worse, with the Oilers being outscored by a 5:1 margin. Some slack needs to be cut as he finds his legs but at the moment Luke Gazdic looks like a better option on merit. Both players have a single goal and a minus-six rating.
Anton Lander has his uses. He can win faceoffs, he can kill penalties, and for a fourth-line player on a bad team his on-ice shot metrics are actually pretty decent. Having said all that, the man has played 172 NHL games and in all that time has enjoyed exactly one half-season run where he looked even marginally competent offensively. It looks to me like the Oilers lost him when they let Todd Nelson go last summer; that’s the only coach he’s ever produced for in North America.
Iiro Pakarinen is back and of this trio might be the one with the brightest NHL future. He has five points in 30 games, which is two more than his linemates have managed combined; given who he’s playing with we probably should consider that decent production. His possession numbers are pretty similar to Lander’s. When Edmonton gets healthy, he’s a guy who might outlast his linemates.
Tampa Bay has had its problems this season, one of which has been a reluctance to use Jonathan Drouin. Still, this is a better team than the Oilers if it plays to the level it can. The top two lines have comparable skill, but the Lightning have significant advantages in the depth forward department and on the back end.
That’s not to say Tampa Bay will play up to the level it can. Edmonton has had a lot more production out of its top-six than the faltering Bolts have had out of their own.
What They’re Saying
Lightning blog Raw Charge:
Potency is on display with the Oilers output – Taylor Hall is on a point-per-game pace (16 goals, 25 assists), Leon Draisaitl is next on the club with 32 points (9 goals, 32 assists) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 3rd (8 goals, 20 assists). It’s a really potent show compared to what you’re getting from the Lightning. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are tied for the team lead in points with 30. Besides those two, no one has broken the 20 point threshold this season yet, and the third and fourth top scorers on the squad are assist-heavy defensemen Anton Stralman and Victor Hedman who are also tied for points (18).
Game day prediction: Tampa Bay has one non-shootout win in its last half-dozen games, and that came against Columbus. The Flames beat them 3-1 on Tuesday; let’s call a 4-2 Edmonton win.
Obvious game day prediction: We will talk about the possibility of Steven Stamkos landing in Edmonton when he becomes a free agent this summer. Bonus prediction: Several months from now, when Stamkos does sign his new contract, it won’t be with Edmonton.
Not-so-obvious game day prediction: Brad Hunt will pick up the first point of his recall, with a heavy power play shot that eludes Ben Bishop. He’ll jump high in the air in celebration, and for a brief moment lock eyes with penalty killer Victor Hedman without looking up.