With the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, the biggest story surrounding the Oilers as we head into the final six weeks of the season will be where they finish in the Pacific Division. Making the playoffs is almost guaranteed at this point, but the real race will be for home ice advantage in the first round.
Can the Oilers secure home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in 27 years?
At the start of the season no one would have believed the Oilers would be sitting in second place, and had swept the season series versus the Calgary Flames and St.Louis Blues, yet here we are.
The Oilers have taken massive strides this season, and with 18 games remaining they have a chance to reward their incredibly loyal fans with home ice advantage on opening night of the 2017 NHL playoffs.
The Oilers are two points ahead of the Ducks and four up on Calgary. First place seems unrealistic with the Sharks holding a five-point lead with two games in hand, so I’m going to focus on second place.
The Ducks have one game in hand, which they will play tomorrow versus Toronto, while Edmonton and Calgary have 18 games remaining.
The Oilers have a very favourable schedule down the stretch, while the Ducks have the most difficult of the three. Calgary’s home schedule is almost identical to Edmonton’s.
They play 13 at home and five on the road.
Eleven of their games are against teams currently out of the playoffs, however, three of them are against the Kings, who are one point out of the second Wildcard spot, and one game against the New York Islanders, who are also one point of the second Wilcard spot.
They have two sets of back-to-back.
They play, in order, Detroit, NYI, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Dallas, Boston, Vancouver, LA, Colorado, LA, San Jose, Anaheim and Vancouver at home.
Road games in Anaheim, Colorado, LA, San Jose and Vancouver.
They play 11 of 13 at home this March and start the month on an eight-game homestand.
They play eleven home games and seven on the road.
Eight of their are against teams currently out of the playoffs, however three of them are against the Kings, and they have one against the New York Islanders.
They have no back-to-back sets. They have one three-day break, next Mon-Wed, but then they play every second day the rest of the season.
They play, in order, Detroit, NYI, Pittsburgh, Montreal, Boston, Dallas, LA, Colorado, LA, San Jose and Anaheim at home. **The play the exact same 11 home opponents as the OIlers. Edmonton just has two extra home games vs. Vancouver.**
Road games in Winnipeg, Washington, Nashville, St.Louis, Anaheim, LA and San Jose.
They play ten of 14 at home this March.
They play 12 at home and seven on the road.
Six of their games are against teams out of the playoffs, and they have one against the Kings.
They have three back-to-back sets including one in Edmonton and Calgary on April 1st and 2nd.
They play, in order, Toronto, Vancouver, Nashville, Washington, St.Louis, Buffalo, Edmonton, Winnipeg, NYR, Calgary, Chicago and LA at home. **They only have two of the same home opponents as the Oilers, and only one similar to the Flames.**
Road games in Chicago, St.Louis, San Jose, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.
They play nine of 14 at home this March.
So who finishes in second place?
In their last 18 games the Ducks are 8-8-2, the Oilers are 10-7-1 and the Flames are 11-6-1. The previous 18 won’t impact the next 18, but it gives us a sense of what we could see moving forward. The Flames made up five points on the Ducks and two on the Oilers.
It would be surprising to see one of the teams run away with second place. It is shaping up as a great race.
Leading up to the deadline the Flames have made the most changes to their roster.
They added D-men Michael Stone and Matt Bartowski and then shipped out Jyrki Jokippakka for Curtis Lazar. Stone has played 19:17/game in his first five games, while Bartowski has logged 13:59/night in six games. Lazar will likely rotate somewhere in their bottom six.
The Ducks added Patrick Eaves, but he’s only played one game because the Ducks have been on their bye week. Eaves skated with Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry in his first game and he’ll get a long look with those two or alongside Ryan Getzlaf.
The Oilers added David Desharnais and he’ll play on the third line, and most likely take Drake Caggiula’s spot on the second unit PP.
Stone will play the most minutes of all the new acquisitions, while the Ducks are hoping Eaves helps their top-two lines. Desharnais was brought in to add some experience and add offence in the bottom six.
I don’t see any of the new players suddenly making one team better. The Flames have improved recently because Johnny Gaudreau has started to produce, along with their top line. In Edmonton, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic are starting to show signs of breaking out offensively.
The Ducks will make a jump if Getzlaf and Perry start to score like they should. Getzlaf only has 46 points, while Perry has a paltry 11 goals and 42 points.
The recently added players could become solid complementary players, but I believe whoever finishes second will land there because of guys who have struggled for much of the season start producing.
The Oilers have the advantage of having Connor McDavid. He leads the NHL in scoring and he has more potential than any player on these three teams to get red-hot over the final 18 games and win a few games himself.
COULD IT HAPPEN?
If I’m being completely honest, the scenario I want to see unfold the most is an Oilers/Flames first round matchup. Edmonton and Calgary haven’t met in the playoffs in 26 years. Both fanbases would love it and home ice advantage wouldn’t mean much.
The Flames won game seven in Edmonton in 1986. The Oilers swept the first two in Calgary on their way to a four game sweep in 1988, and in 1991 Esa Tikkanen scored in OT in Calgary to win game seven.
It would be awesome for the province, especially coming off the economic struggles of the past 18 months and the tough times some Albertans are still dealing with.
We have seen so many unexpected sporting events recently. We’ve seen the Thunder and Warriors blow 3-1 series leads. The Falcons just had the worst collapse in Super Bowl history. The Sharks finally made a Stanley Cup Finals. Leicester City won the Premier League. The Chicago Cubs ended their 108-year Championship drought.
It is time we see the Oilers and Flames meet in the playoffs again, and I think it happens.
The Oilers have the easiest schedule and that will allow them to remain in second place, and the Flames will catch the Ducks.
Dare to Dream Oilernsation, dare to dream.
Who do you see finishing 1st-4th in the Pacific?
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