For the third consecutive year the Edmonton Oilers first divisional opponent will be the Calgary Flames. The major difference, however, is that during the previous two seasons, the provincial foes faced each other on opening night. This year the Oilers had to wait until their 19th game to face a Pacific Division rival.
After 18 games against the other three divisions, the Oilers enter a stretch where seven of their next eight games are against Pacific Division teams, and it presents a wonderful opportunity to be in a favourable position within the division on December 2nd.
Edmonton plays in Calgary on Saturday, at home versus Vegas on Sunday, then take a road trip to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles, before home games against Los Angeles and Vegas. There is a home game versus Dallas in between to disrupt the string of Pacific division teams.
After the December 1st home game against the Golden Knights, the Oilers will find out where they stand within their division, and from where I sit there is no reason they shouldn’t be in a playoff spot then.
Let’s re-acquaint you with the Pacific Division.
San Jose is at the top, and I expect them to stay there. They have the best defence core and the most overall talent. They have had a few hiccups early on, but once Erik Karlsson gets comfortable they will be ever more dangerous. Doug Wilson will add one key player, possibly two, at the deadline. The Sharks should go for it this year.
After that, the division is wide open.
Vancouver has had a great start. Elias Petterson is a treat to watch, but Brock Boeser’s injury is a concern, as is their blueline. They haven’t relied on their PP to win games — in six of their ten victories they haven’t scored a powerplay goal. They have been streaky. They started 4-2, then went 2-4, followed by a three game winning streak, but now only have one victory in their last five games. They will be more competitive than many expected, but I see them dropping.
Calgary, like the Oilers, is getting great production from their backup goalie. David Rittich is 5-1 with a .935sv% and 1.91 GAA. Starter Mike Smith is 5-6-1 with a .877sv% and a 3.51 GAA. Calgary has only allowed four goals in a game in six of their 18 games and Smith has started all six of those games. It will be interesting to how many starts Rittich gets over the next 18 games. Can Bill Peters keep it at a 2:1 ratio for Smith?
Their top two lines are producing with Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk having 19 points each, Elias Lindholm has 18, Mikael Backlund has ten and Michael Frolik has seven goals. Mark Giordano has 16 points. Their top powerplay has scored all their PP goals. The Flames should be in the mix for the second seed in the Pacific.
The injury bug bit the Anaheim Ducks hard. Cam Fowler is the latest victim and he will be out six-eight weeks recovering from facial fractures. The Ducks have only scored more than three goals twice through 20 games. Jakob Silfverberg and Pontus Aberg lead them with five goals, while Rikard Rakell has a team high 13 points.
John Gibson and his .927sv% is the main reason they are close to a playoff spot. The Ducks have been outshot 535-393 (-142) in 20 games. They are getting outshot by an average of seven shots a game. Teams have dominated the Ducks territorially, but Gibson, and backup Ryan Miller (.929sv% in four starts), have kept the Ducks in games. Injuries and a lack of overall skill tells me they won’t be able to stay in the race unless they suddenly improve defensively.
Arizona has been very streaky. They started the season 1-4, scoring only three goals. Then they went 6-1 producing 31 goals, and now they are 1-3-1 in their last five and have allowed 21 goals. They only gave up 24 goals through their first 12 games. It is hard to get a read on who the Coyotes are. They don’t have a top-end point producer — Brad Richardson is tied for the team lead in goals at five with Clayton Keller — and the only way I see them staying in the hunt is if they can remain sound defensively.
I expected Vegas to take a step back. I know, not a risky view, but they weren’t going to be able to match last season’s momentum and career-high totals from 90% of the team. William Karlsson has come back to earth with four goals in 19 games, and Reilly Smith only has seven points.
Nate Schmidt will make his season debut against the Oilers on Sunday after sitting out the final game of his 20-game suspension in Winnipeg tomorrow. He will help their blueline, but he’ll be rusty and need a few games to catch up to the pace of play. Marc-Andre Fleury has a .902sv% and Vegas looks much more like the expansion team we expected last year. They will be competitive, but they will have to scratch and claw their way to a playoff spot this season after dominating much of last season.
Los Angeles is out of it. They are down to their third string goalie after injuries to Jonathon Quick and Jack Campbell. Quick struggled with a nagging injury when he was playing and it showed with an ugly .845sv%. The Kings can still play solid defensively, but after Ilya Kovalchuk the rest of the team is struggling. He leads the team with five goals and 14 points. Anze Kopitar only has six points. GM Rob Blake trade 26-year-old Tanner Pearson for 30-year-old Carl Hagelin earlier this week, in what can only be looked at a salary dump for next season. Hagelin is a UFA in July, while Pearson has two more years on his $3.75 million salary. That trade illustrates he is already looking ahead to next season.
I see San Jose leading the division, the Kings will be in the basement, but the middle five spots are wide open. The Oilers have enough talent to compete with Calgary, Anaheim, Arizona and Vancouver. Right now I’d rank them and the Flames as the favourites to round out the top three spots in the Pacific. What do you see?
There has been a lot of talk of the lack of production from Oilers bottom six. It is valid, however, did you know the Oilers have the best GF-GA ratio at 5×5 in the Pacific division?
They are -2, tied with Calgary. Vancouver and Anaheim are -3, San Jose is -6, Vegas and Arizona are -10 and LA is -13. In fact, only three west teams are better: Nashville (+17), Colorado (+9) and Minnesota (+6). Loading up the top line with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will produce more at 5×5, and if the third and fourth lines could just produce a bit they should be fine, no?
Outside of San Jose I don’t see a dominant team in the Pacific. They all have some flaws, but the Oilers’ flaws aren’t worse than the other Pacific division contenders. Often we get caught up in only looking at the team you cover or cheer for, but when you compare the Oilers to the rest of the division they are very competitive and the next eight games present a fantastic opportunity to put themselves in a good position within their division.
Will they take advantage? We wait.