It’s official: for the first time in two seasons, the Edmonton Oil Kings will return to the WHL playoffs.
While we’ve been able to safely assume it for the last month or so, there’s still something special about a team putting a clamp down on a playoff spot. The team did that with a 7-1 dismantling of the Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday night, which also happened to be Fan Appreciation Night at Rogers Place.
The Oil Kings have been playing some of their best hockey of the season as of late. Not only are they winning games, but they are doing it in dominant fashion on most nights. They aren’t just beating up on the weak teams in their division either, although they did exactly that when they stomped the Swift Current Broncos 11-1, they’ve been going up against teams that are right in the thick of the playoff race and making them look rather disinterested.
The win over Brandon was their sixth in a row and felt like a real statement game. Heading into it, I expected a really tight, scrappy game. While the fighting and bad blood starting to come out towards the end of the game, the Oil Kings really dominated for all 60 minutes. They didn’t let Brandon gain any sort of momentum out of the gate and once the Oil Kings got one goal, they just continued to pour on the pressure.
I’ve been raving about this for more than a month, but the surge of secondary scoring that we’ve seen from this club has been outstanding and the game against Brandon was a shining example of it. The teams seven goals were all scored by different players
In fact, over the last six games, the team has scored 34 goals with 11 of their 12 forwards finding the back of the net along with three of their six defensemen. In fact, of the 19 skaters, they’ve dressed over the course of this win streak, only defensive defenseman Will Warm and Jalen Luypen (who dressed in one game and was actually a +1) haven’t found the scoresheet in some capacity.
Right now, they sit two points up on the Lethbridge Hurricanes for top spot in the Central Division and if my math is correct, they need some combination of three wins or Medicine Hat Tigers losses during the final five games of the regular season to guarantee they’ll at least have home ice advantage in round one of the playoffs.
The team is rolling as the regular season comes to a close and given the teams position, the conversation about who their ideal first round opponent is has begun. Here are the realistic options:
CALGARY HITMEN: They’ve won five in a row and are definitely the hottest of the four teams I’m going to look at. That worries me, although a lot can change from now until the end of the season. The Oil Kings are 4-0-1 against the Hitmen this season and these two teams still have to play each other three more times before the end of the season. I’m not sure which team that would favour, but I know the Hitmen are red-hot and I would prefer if Edmonton could avoid them in round one. They’re also the only team on this list that has scored more than the Oil Kings this season.
RED DEER REBELS: This matchup might be the favourite for the team considering it would come with the least amount of travel and time spent in a hotel, which is always ideal in the early rounds of the playoffs. Edmonton is 5-1-1 against the Rebels this year with one more game against them next Tuesday. They have a pair of dynamic players in each part of their lineup with Brandon Hagel up front (92 points already this year) and Alexander Alexeyev on the blueline (Washington Capitals first rounder). They aren’t playing as well as Calgary is right now, so they might be the ideal Alberta matchup.
MEDICINE HAT TIGERS: If the playoffs started today, this would be their opponent. The Oil Kings have played them six times and have won five of them with the only loss coming in a shootout. If there was an argument for the Tigers to win a potential series against Edmonton it would start with their goaltender Mads Sogaard. The 6’7 Dane has the potential to win a series for a team and although he’s struggled at times against Edmonton this year, I still saw some flashes of brilliance. His presence alone would worry me, but I would still heavily favour Edmonton in this matchup.
BRANDON WHEAT KINGS: They currently aren’t in a playoff spot and on paper, I think they’re the weakest of the four possible opponents, however, they are the team I’d least like the Oil Kings to play. That bus ride to Brandon is hell and if the team can avoid doing all of that travel in the first round it would be great. The skill gap between Brandon and the other three is not big enough to make the travel worth it. Simple as that.
I don’t want to see them play Calgary because they’re looking like the best team right now. The travel to Brandon would flat out suck for both teams. That leaves either Medicine Hat or Red Deer as the ideal first-round opponent in my mind.
The team probably isn’t too focused on that right now, instead, they’re focused on wrapping up a division title over the next five games.