The Oilers are back in the playoffs. It finally happened, but how?
Edmonton has had an almost perfect season, and they are playing their best hockey at the most important time.
Will they be able to carry their play into the second round?
Before we look at playoffs, let’s look at the many reasons why the Oilers finished with 103 points, the seventh most in franchise history.
Despite what some believe, the Oilers are more than a one player, or one line team.
It is obvious Connor McDavid is the leader, but he’s had a lot of help. He won his first Art Ross Trophy (NHL’s leading scorer) by recording his first 100 point campaign. And I suspect he will win his first Hart Trophy (league’s most valuable player) at the NHL awards in June. But he was just one of many Oilers who had career years.
Leon Draisaitl had a career year with 29 goals, 48 assists and 77 points. He and McDavid were excellent down the stretch and have become one of the most potent duos in the NHL. McDavid had 25 points in the final 14 games and Draisaitl chipped in with 21. The Oilers were 12-2 in their final 14 games, when they were battling for a playoff spot and home ice advantage.
Patrick Maroon had 27 goals. His previous high was 12. He was consistent for much of the season and complements McDavid and Draisaitl very well. He also had 178 shots on goal, which was 58 more than he had in any other season.
Mark Letestu had career highs in goals, 16, and points, 35. He was an excellent addition to the first PP unit, scoring 11 PP goals.
Oscar Klefbom had his best NHL season. He played all 82 games. He scored 12-26-38, surpassing his 35 total career points prior to this season. He averaged 22:22 TOI/game, surpassing 22 minutes/game for the first time in his career.
And Cam Talbot had an outstanding season in goal. He had career highs in starts (73), wins (42) and shutouts, with eight. He had a solid .919sv% and he has a good chance to be a Vezina Trophy (league’s top goalie) finalist.
The Oilers finished with 47 wins, eighth most in the NHL. They were also eighth in goals scored and eighth in goals allowed. They were eighth in SOG/game at 31.1 and ninth in SA/game at 29.5. Their PP was fifth, 22.9%, and their PK was 17th at 80.7%.
The Oilers were +36 in GF/GA, which was sixth best in the NHL. Washington was first at +84, Pittsburgh +59, Minnesota +57, Columbus +54 and the New York Rangers +37.
This was also the healthiest team we’ve seen in years. McDavid, Draisiatl, Klefbom, Milan Lucic, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played all 82 games. RNH had never played all 82 games prior to this season.
Patrick Maroon rested some bumps and bruises yesterday but played all other 81 games. Andrej Sekera played 80, Zack Kassian and Adam Larsson 79 and Mark Letestu 78. Their eight most important forwards and top three D-men were healthy all season. Kris Russell, another top-four defender who gave them great value at $3 million/season, played 68 games. When your best players are in the lineup regularly your chances of winning increase significantly.
Even the players who had down years ramped up their play when it mattered most. Lucic has been very good in the final 20 games. He scored 11-6-17 as the Oilers earned home ice advantage in the opening round for the first time since 1990. Jordan Eberle reached 20 goals for the 6sixh time in his career. The only season he didn’t was the lockout shortened 2013 season when he had 16 goals in 48 games. Eberle didn’t score as much as he’d like, but improved his defensive play and intensity and in the final 20 games produced 8-7-15. He enters the playoffs looking like his offensive confidence has returned.
Eberle and Lucic producing gives the Oilers two productive lines heading into the playoffs.
The defensive zone play has been the biggest area of improvement. Larsson and Russell dramatically improved the right defence. Klefbom emerged as a consistent top-pair defender and Sekera has faced tough competition all year and been solid. The forwards have become much more helpful in their own zone. The Oilers are also bigger and stronger on the wings and they won way more battles in key areas of the ice.
They had one five-game losing streak, a four-game winless streak (0-1-3) and another three game losing streak. They rarely had extended bad stretches, but they won five consecutive games twice, won four in a row twice and had four other three-game winning streaks.
They are finally back in the dance. All sixteen teams are 0-0. There is no more loser point, no more 3-on-3 OT and no more shootouts.
The Oilers turn all of their attention to the San Jose Sharks, who represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. These teams were at the complete opposite ends of the NHL spectrum last June. The Sharks were second, the Oilers finished 29th in the NHL.
Last year means nothing now. Yes, the Sharks have more NHL experience, but their veterans are a year older, and in the case of Joe Thornton, very injured.
The Oilers are young, hungry and playing their best hockey of the season.
However, the playoffs are a different beast. We’ve seen Hall of Fame players struggle in one or two playoff years. A five game scoring slump in the playoffs can end your season, while a great playoff run can vault a third line player into folk hero status.
The Oilers have been consistent all season, and they enter the playoffs overflowing with confidence. Their best players are playing well, but they still have a lot of inexperience.
McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Klefbom, Talbot, Darnell Nurse, Drake Caggiula, Matt Benning, Iiro Pakarinen and Anton Slepyshev will start their first NHL playoff game this week.
No one knows exactly how they’ll handle it, and that’s what makes the playoff so fun.
Every shift matters.
Every hit, every pass and every shot will be magnified.
The players live for these games.
The Oilers exceeded expectations this season, and we’ll see if they can continue it.
It will be exciting, and I’m happy Oilersnation finally has the opportunity to live it.
Enjoy it, and prepare yourself for whatever ride the Oilers take you on.
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