After a week-and-a-half break, the Oilers are back in action tonight against the Flyers in Philadelphia. It’ll be the first game for the team in the post-Chiarelli era and it’ll be the starting point on an uphill climb for a playoff berth. Here are your game day notes.
1. Connor McDavid, to be blunt, is going to have to drag this team to the playoffs. He’s been incredible this year, but he’s going to have to find another gear somewhere to help the Oilers be good enough over these next 32 games to jump over teams like Arizona, Vancouver, Anaheim, and Minnesota and into a playoff spot. He’s shouldered a lot already and the week-and-a-half break was badly needed for him to rest up for what’ll be a very difficult task.
2. Last season, we saw McDavid really turn on the jets after the break even though the team was totally out of playoff contention. McDavid scored 56 points in 35 games, good for a 1.6 point-per-game pace, which resulted in him vaulting up the league’s scoring leaderboard to another Art Ross trophy. This year, McDavid is operating at a 1.49 point-per-game pace and is already set to shatter his career high of 108 points. A massive finish like we saw last year could see him end up in the 130-point range. He’s currently on pace for 120 points.
3. The Oilers are only three points out of a playoff spot right now. That doesn’t seem like much, but the difficulty now is jumping over the rest of the teams who are in the mix. Arizona and St. Louis have crawled back into things and Anaheim and Vancouver haven’t faded away yet. Poor play from Dallas and Colorado has made this race even tighter. Only six points separate Edmonton in 13th place in the West from Minnesota in sixth place in the West. There are eight teams within that six-point spread and how it shakes out is really anyone’s guess.
4. It’ll be interesting to see how the Oilers and these other teams in the Western Conference clump navigate the trade deadline. Will a team like Vancouver who didn’t realistically have playoff aspirations be inclined to stray from their plan and buy at the deadline? Could Dallas or Colorado, who have both gone into tailspins as of late, decide to pack up and sell rather than losing to Nashville or Winnipeg in the first round? How these teams decide to handle the deadline will go a long way in determining how difficult jumping over a good chunk of the West will be for the Oilers down the stretch.
5. In 2017, the Blues traded away impending UFA Kevin Shattenkirk and still made the playoffs. Obviously, the Oilers want to make the playoffs, but I wonder if they could look to deal some assets like Alex Chiasson at the deadline to more sure fire contending teams while still managing to compete. I can’t imagine Edmonton being in the market for a one-year rental. Instead, they’ll likely look for an upgrade similar to what Toronto got in Jake Muzzin, who’s under control for another year after this one. Dealing an impending UFA like Chiasson at a high point of value to recoup some picks or prospects would give the Oilers more ammo to acquire a Muzzin-type longer term asset that can help them now and next year.
6. The Kings are the team I’d be looking to pillage if I was the Oilers. They’ve already sold off Tanner Pearson and Muzzin and have a few other players who could help the Oilers. Tyler Toffoli is having a down year, but he’s been a consistent 20-goal guy in the NHL the past few seasons. He’s signed for one more year at $4.6 million. The Kings might be averse to selling within the division, but Toffoli would be a nice fit.
7. We thought Oscar Klefbom would be back for today’s matinee in Philly, but he suffered a bit of a setback and might not be in today. That said, he came on the trip and we could see him suit up against Montreal. Andrej Sekera was practicing with Adam Larsson in what would be Klefbom’s spot at practice. It’ll be interesting to see how that shakes out. I would hope Sekera goes to the AHL for a conditioning stint before returning to action, though.
8. How will the Oilers handle their roster when both Klefbom and Sekera are back? They’ll have Klefbom, Larsson, Russell, Nurse, Sekera, Benning, Manning, Petrovic, and Gravel as available defencemen. The top four is pretty obvious at this point and Sekera will likely start as the anchor of the third pair. I wonder if the team will look to move Petrovic or Benning at the deadline for draft picks given the log jam or if Manning ends up going on waivers like Ryan Spooner did.
9. The Flyers, who had playoff aspirations this year, have had a miserable season thus far. When they came to town back in December, they looked horrendous in a 4-1 loss to the Oilers. That said, the Flyers are currently rolling on their best streak of the season thus far. They’ve won seven of their last eight games. Maybe new general manager Chuck Fletcher coming out and saying virtually the entire roster is available for trade fired the team up.
10. Key to Philly’s recent success has been rookie goalie Carter Hart. The Flyers have gone through seven different goalies this year but it looks like Hart might be their answer. He has made 14 starts and has an 8-5-1 record with a .922 save percentage. The other goalies, Brian Elliott, Calvin Pickard, Anthony Stolarz, Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, and Mike McKenna, have a combined save percentage under .900.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 2/2/2019 – 7:00 am MT