Merry Christmas Oilersnation! As you wake up today and celebrate the holidays, the Edmonton Oilers hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Despite that fact, there’s still a negative feeling around the team and while I’ve been known to be fairly pessimistic at times, I don’t see the reason for Oilers fans to feel any way but positive about the first three months of the season.
After 36 games, the Oilers are in a wild card spot and if they were to win the games they have on the teams ahead of them, they could sit third in the Pacific Division. If someone would have said that at the beginning of the year, almost every Oilers fan would have been thrilled
No one realistically expected this group as it’s currently assembled to compete for a Presidents Trophy or for a division title. The general consensus was that this would be a team that has to fight right up until the last few weeks of the season, or later if they wanted to secure a playoff spot.
Well, that’s the position this group is in. Do the three consecutive losses heading into the break sting? Sure. But, look at the big picture, this group essentially holds their playoff fate in their own hands heading into the unofficial second half of the season.
The fact that they’ve had their fair share of struggles and gone through a little adversity could be viewed as a bit of a positive. Even though this team got some sub-par goaltending at the beginning of the year, can’t seem to get any consistent secondary scoring, and hasn’t had a fully healthy blueline yet, they’re in a playoff spot. There is a reason to believe that the second half of the season could be even more successful than the first half.
From a secondary scoring perspective, we’re starting to see some positive strides forward from players like Jujhar Khaira and Jesse Puljujarvi. I’ve even liked what I’ve seen from Zack Kassian as of late and his play even got him a look on the top line during the game against Tampa Bay.
Then there are the likes of Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder who combine for a cap hit of $8.0 million and have exactly one goal between the two of them.
Maybe I’m feeling optimistic because it’s the holiday season, but Milan Lucic is slowly starting to get more and more traction in his offensive game. I’m noticing him turning over the puck less and less and going to high-danger spots in the offensive zone on a more regular basis. I know we’ve been waiting for a while, but I think it’s completely reasonable to expect Lucic to punch in more than one goal from now until the end of the regular season.
Same with Rieder, who has yet to score a goal as an Oiler. He’s just coming off an injury, so I want to cut him some slack and before he was hurt I thought he was skating well and generating a few chances off the rush.
Those two guys getting going and continued improvement from the likes of Puljujarvi and Khaira is the solution to the Oilers secondary scoring woes. If that gets going, it will go a long way in determining the Oilers playoff fate.
THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM
The Oilers will play three games before the calendar flips to 2019 and once January comes, things get really crazy.
They’ll play 11 times in the first 22 days of the month. It starts with a four-game road swing through Arizona and California. While the California road trip isn’t as daunting this season as it has been in seasons past, those are still tough points to go get.
After that, they play six games at home with a quick road trip to Vancouver sandwiched in the middle. Of those final seven games, only two of their opponents currently hold playoff spots (Calgary & Buffalo).
Their blueline is depleted right now, so any break in the schedule is much needed. They don’t really get that in January with the volume of games they play, but the quality of their opponents is not very strong. While the Oilers will play a pair of back-to-backs (January 4/5 vs ANA/LA & Jan 19/20 vs CGY/CAR) they also get two games where they will be playing an opponent on the second half of their own back-to-back (Jan 8 vs SJS & Jan 19 vs CGY).
All in all, it’s a hectic part of the schedule, but it could have been much worse and when the string of games ends of Jan 22, they’ll get ten days off.
When the Oilers return to action on Feb 2, in Philadelphia, there’s a really good chance they have all three of Kris Russell, Oscar Klefbom, and Andrej Sekera back in the lineup.
If they can keep their heads above water in the first half of January, they’ll get a solid boost to kick off February.
The Oilers are in a good spot right now. I mean, it’s hard to complain about holding a playoff spot at Christmas time. Will this next month be a tough test for them? It certainly will, but isn’t that what we wanted as fans? For them to have a fighting chance of the playoffs when the calendar flips?
It certainly what I was hoping for. Enjoy the holidays and then get ready to enjoy the ride Oilers fans. We’re going right into the storm that is the Western Conference playoff race.