The Oilers have ten games remaining and there is still a lot to play for, most notably home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Edmonton is going to the dance. There is no need to worry about it.
So, let’s focus on the next ten games.
- The Oilers control their destiny. They are in second place in the Pacific division, tied with the Ducks, but they own the tiebreaker, and they are one point ahead of the Flames. They play ANA and COL on the road tomorrow and Thursday, then at home against COL, LA, SJ, ANA, back on road to LA, SJ, VAN and finish the season at home versus VAN on April 9th.The are 25-9-6 versus the West. They are 14-4-3 versus the Pacific. Six of their remaining ten games are against non-playoff teams. The Oilers have a great opportunity to finish in second and open the playoffs at home for the first time since 1990. They have a chance to catch San Jose for the division (they are four points back of the Sharks), but it is a slim chance. Their focus should be on second place and Cam Talbot told me after the game last night that’s exactly what they are looking at. “After the all-star break we felt we had a good chance to get home ice advantage. It has been our goal,” he said.I’d say they have a realistic chance.
- The Ducks play EDM, WPG and NYR at home, then road games in VAN, WPG, EDM, CGY and home to CGY, CHI and LA. Six of their games are against playoff teams.
The Flames are on the road in WSH, NSH, ST.L, home to COL, LA, SJ, ANA then on road to ANA, LA and SJ. They play a playoff team seven times.
The Oilers have the easiest schedule, but they will need to take advantage of it.
- Cam Talbot is not tired. He is not worn down. He’s said it numerous times, but even if you don’t believe him the numbers back up the claim. In eight starts in March he has stopped 232 of 247 shots for a sparkling .939sv%. While he’s started eight games, Devan Dubnyk has started nine, Braden Holtby eight and Sergei Bobrovsky and Carey Price seven. Yes, he has started the most games in the NHL, but why would one more game per month impact him as much as some are suggesting? It hasn’t. He looks just as fresh now as he did in October and November.
- The Oilers PP is scorching hot. In their last 16 games it is 13 of 37 (35.1%), best in the NHL. Their PP is now fourth best in the NHL at 22.5% and they’ve scored the sixth most goals. They are 22nd in PP opportunities and 22nd in actual PP time at 346:24. Both units are producing, but the first unit is really clicking and if they can start drawing a few more penalties in the playoffs their PP should keep them in games.
- The PK has been the worst in the NHL since January 1st. That isn’t good, however, we might have seen a glimmer of hope recently. The Oilers have only allowed a PP goal in one of their last six games. They are 84.6% (11 of 13) in that span. They don’t take many penalties. They’ve been on the PK the seventh fewest times at 196. Being disciplined has helped them not lose games with such a porous PK, but the past six games they are starting to look more in sync. A good PK is nice, but it isn’t a must have in the playoffs. Last year, San Jose was only 79.7% on the PK and they went to the Cup Finals. Their PP was 24%, however. If the PK doesn’t get going, then the PP will need to remain red-hot.
- The Oilers wisely have no intentions of recalling Jesse Puljujarvi, and no fan should expect him to be here. He is 18. He has one NHL goal. It came in his first NHL game, and he didn’t score in his next 27. He is involved in a playoff race in Bakersfield and that is just as good of an experience, and arguably better, because he’s playing a prominent role. The Condors playoffs start one week after the Oilers, so I don’t expect to see him in Edmonton unless the Oilers go further than the Condors in the playoffs, or the Oilers suffer a few key injuries.
- The games are becoming a little more difficult every week, and we’ve seen some of the Oilers rookies struggle a bit. It is normal. The games are more difficult in March than they are in October, especially when you are on a playoff team. Matt Benning hasn’t been as good in March as he was earlier, and that is the normal learning curve for most players. He hasn’t been overwhelmed by any stretch, but veterans are more difficult to play against this time of year. Expect him and Eric Gryba to split duties down the stretch. Gryba has been very solid and he’s more physically capable of handling the added intensity. I have no doubt Benning will be a key part of the team moving forward, but when Adam Larsson was a rookie in New Jersey he only dressed in five of their 24 playoff games, despite playing over 20 minutes/game in the regular season. Size, experience and strength matter in the playoffs and it is why we could see Gryba as often as Benning, if not more, down the stretch and into the playoffs.
- Jonas Gustavsson has a .937sv% in his last six appearances. He finally seems to have found some consistency in his game. If Brossoit struggles in his next start, I wonder if the Oilers will consider recalling Gustavsson? I know the AHL is very different than the NHL, but confidence is a factor. If Brossoit plays well in Colorado on Thursday (I’m assuming he starts), then it is a non-issue.
- A good story for Beaumont product Jaedon Descheneau. He was drafted by St.Louis in 2014 but wasn’t signed. The Oilers signed him to an AHL/ECHL deal this past summer. In one of his first games in the ECHL he took a puck in the face and lost numerous teeth. It required extensive dental work. He battled through it and tallied nine goals and 19 points in 24 games before being recalled to Bakersfield. He didn’t get much playing time early on, but he’s slowly worked his way up the lineup and now he’s scored a goal in four straight games and has seven points in his last seven games after tallying only three assists in his first 21. It is difficult to adjust to a new level, and it took Descheneau some time, but he’s become a solid complementary scorer for them in their push for the playoffs. Descheneau was very productive in the WHL. He scored 108 goals and 257 points when he was 17-19. He was injured in his second game of the season last year and didn’t play again until this past October. His footspeed needs to improve, but he is a very skilled player and he’s chipping in at the most important time of the season for the Condors.
- Leon Draisaitl has nine points in his last four games and he’s suddenly back in contention to reach his “B” bonus of $1.625 million. He needs to finish top-10 in goals, assists, points or points-per-game among NHL forwards. He is currently 12th in points, one back of a 10th place tie between Mikael Granlund and Artemi Panarin. He is tied for 13th in assists, but only one back of a 10th place tie between Panarin, Joe Thornton and Alexander Wennberg. He is eight goals behind 10th place Auston Matthews and he is 18th in points per game. His best bet is points or assists and I guarantee you if he is still this close with a few games remaining his teammates will be aware of it and will want him to reach it.If Draisaitl reaches his bonus he and McDavid, who is already guaranteed his $2 million “B” bonus due to points-per-game, would make a combined total of $5.325 in bonuses (including their “A” bonus which is a max of $850,00 each). The Oilers could max out at just over $5.35 in bonuses if Draisaitl reaches his. If that is the case then the Oilers would have about a $1 million penalty against the cap next year. If the ceiling is $74 million, then their cap would be $73 million. Draisaitl’s “B” bonus is the one which could put the Oilers above the overage threshold. It isn’t a major issue, but it is worth monitoring down the stretch.
Ryan Rishaug and I debated if Patrick Maroon should be more picky in who he fights. Who do you agree with? Watch here.
Our 2nd annual NHL17 tournament is open for registration. You can sign up at jasongregor.com. We only have 27 spots remaining, so I’d get in quickly. First place is a $4000 “Gamers” room from the Brick.
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