I went through the schedule over the last five seasons and I couldn’t find a three-game stretch where the Oilers lost three games they easily could have won. Bad luck — three own-goals in one period — hurt them versus the Lighting, and big errors cost them versus the Panthers and Coyotes.
The Oilers controlled much of the play during the past three games, but only managed one point. We’ve all witnessed them play bad hockey, or simply get outplayed by better teams the past five seasons, but I’m not sure this team has had three more consecutive frustrating results when they play well.
Some will say: who cares? They still lost. Others will see progress in that they aren’t getting dominated.
Regardless of which side you are on, it is clear the Oilers’ playoff hopes are akin to the man on a boat in a storm who was tossed overboard and is now hanging on to the outside of the boat by his fingernails hoping another wave doesn’t come crashing down.
The Oilers can’t keep losing to Pacific division teams and expect to stay afloat. Since returning from the Christmas break the Oilers have managed one win in six games versus divisional foes. It is hard to make up ground in the division when you are constantly losing the important games.
The Pacific division is slowly improving.
On December 23rd only three teams would have made the playoffs. The Nashville Predators sat in fifth place in the central, and would have crossed over to the Pacific having been six points ahead of the fourth place Calgary Flames. The third seed Arizona Coyotes were on pace for 84 points.
Today, the Predators are only one point ahead of fouth place Vancouver and on the brink of losing the second wild card slot, meanwhile the San Jose Sharks are in third place in the Pacific division and on pace to finish with 88 points.
As the season moves along it looks more likely you will need 90+ points to make the playoffs in the Pacific, like most years, and the Oilers are falling further and further behind. Injuries have played a major role, no doubt, but their sudden slide within the division is hurting them in the standings.
The Oilers are 5-7-2 in the division, but they are -10 in points won/lost in those games. They only have one regulation win versus a division opponent, Calgary, and it is hard to stay in the hunt when you are only gaining one point instead of two.
To avoid plunging to the depths of the NHL standings the Oilers need to string together some wins versus Pacific foes, and the Sharks are a realistic winning option.
The Sharks have yet to win consecutive games on home ice. They are 6-12 at home with no games reaching OT. They are 2-2 vs. the Pacific. They have been outscored 45-52, which was boosted by their 7-0 thrashing of Toronto in their last home game.
They have out shot their opponents in 14 of the 18 games, but often they have been playing from behind.
A good start will help the Oilers, but they need to start finishing games. They have surrendered two goal leads in three of their last five losses. They need to develop a closer mentality.
We won’t know the exact lineup until later today, but those were the forward lines yesterday. The Oilers will likely activate Nail Yakupov after 3 p.m. today, and then either place someone on the IR or send one of Mark Fayne, Brad Hunt or Iiro Pakarinen to the minors (Draisailt and Nurse are eligible, but that isn’t happening).
Pakarinen is one of their four PK forwards, with Hendricks suspended, and he wasn’t on the ice for any of the four Coyotes PP goals on Tuesday. So I’d be a bit surprised if he goes down. Could do paper shuffle and reassign Hunt, but then recall him tomorrow after Klinkhammer clears waivers.
- Despite their gaudy home record, the Sharks are in a playoff spot because they have won the second most road games in the NHL. They are 15-6-2 away from San Jose.
- This is the year of hat-tricks for rookies. Last night versus the Panthers, Sam Bennett became the fifth rookie to score a hat trick (he scored four goals), joining the Coyotes’ Anthony Duclair (Ducks), Max Domi (Oilers), Frank
Vatrano of the Bruins (Penguins) and Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart (Jets). Connor McDavid was a ridiculous save away from having one against the Flames while Artemi Panarin has had three two-goal games (hit post late in one of them) and Jack Eichel has had two different two-goal games.
- In 2010/2011 six rookies had a hat-trick, and I’m waiting on a reply from Elias to see what the NHL record is. It is amazing how many young players are making an impact in the NHL.
- Kassian and Yakupov won’t be in ideal game shape, so limiting their minutes for the first few games will make sense, but I won’t be surprised if one of them gets a look alongside Hall/Nuge or Eberle/Draisaitl for a few shifts.
- Rob Klinkhammer was placed on waivers today after Zack Kassian was recalled. Klinkhammer is a really nice guy, but he doesn’t have a role. He doesn’t kill penalties, he isn’t physical and he doesn’t score. Unless the Oilers suffer multiple injuries, I’d be surprised if he played another game in Edmonton.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
For the first time since a sort-of-kind-of-mutually agreed upon break-up during the 2015 offseason, Todd McLellan will return to San Jose. The Oilers have been, quelle surprise, not so good this year, particularly with phenom Connor McDavid out with an injury for most of the season.
The Sharks have a chance to pick up their fourth-straight victory and in the process further the cause of the Oilers — booking a spot in the NHL draft lottery. It’s a win-win.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers struggles versus the Pacific division continue with a 4-3 loss.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Sharks win consecutive home games for the first time all season. Sadly, the Oilers have become the ultimate slump buster during the previous seven seasons.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After scoring four PP goals in his first eleven career games, Justin Schultz only scored one in his next 221 games. He scored on the PP in Arizona on Tuesday, a great shot by the way, and he tallies another PP goal tonight.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- GDB 44.0: Stay in the Hunt
- Power Outage
- First half highlights in NHL
- A Conversation with Zack Kassian
- McDavid and Yakupov involved in battle drills
- Looking ahead and a sincere Thank You