It is invisible, but you can feel it pulling at you. Slowly.
You try to fight it. You dig your feet in, lean back and try not to get sucked in deeper, but because you can’t see it you don’t know when it will try to lure you back.
Some of you go willingly, not worried about the possible heartache, while others watch tentatively from the sidelines. You want to go all in, but you’ve been burned too many times.
You told yourself you wouldn’t, but here you are fighting against the magnetic field of NHL hockey.
The Edmonton Oilers are on the brink of legitimately being in the playoff picture, and your fandom is once again toying with your emotions. Just when you thought you were out, they sucked you back in.
1. The emotional swings of sports is what makes it so captivating. Euphoria, devastation, elation and frustration often sum up your feelings within a 20-minute period of hockey, never mind an entire season. But here you are, preparing to watching tonight’s Oilers/Devils game thinking the playoffs might be a possibility.
2. The Oilers are within six points of Arizona for the final wildcard spot with a game in hand. Minnesota is five points up on the Oilers, Colorado is three and Chicago is tied with Edmonton. At minimum the Oilers need to go 9-3-1 to have a chance. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. Technically.
3. Here is the remaining schedule for the six teams battling for two playoff spots. Courtesy of Micah McCurdy @ineffectivemath on twitter.
It is interesting to note the Oilers have four games against teams playing the second half of back-to-back games. They play back-to-back twice, but the second time Colorado is also on their second game in two nights, so the only time they enter a game with a potential fatigue disadvantage is against Vegas this Sunday.
4. Arizona is currently on pace for 87 points. I set the line to get in today at 88, thus Edmonton needing to finish, at worst, 9-3-1. If they do, then Minnesota and Arizona can do no better than 6-5-1. Colorado can’t be better than 8-4 while Chicago has to finish at 9-3-1 or worse. Edmonton will need to be excellent and have Minnesota and Arizona be average.
5. Edmonton has had three streaks this season similar to what they will need down the stretch. They went 8-2-1 between October 13th-November 3rd, then they went 9-2-2 between November 20th and December 14th and are currently on a 7-2-1 run. Continuing that will be difficult. Thanks Captain Obvious, but difficult and impossible are very different.
6. Leon Draisaitl’s point streak it up to 14 games. He has 10-13-23 in that span, but it isn’t just his point totals. He is averaging 24:02/game during that span, the most of any forward in the NHL. The laziest and most inaccurate analysis of Draisaitl’s play is the, “but he plays with McDavid,” refrain. It is laughably incorrect. Draisaitl has been unreal for the Oilers during this run, and arguably has played better than McDavid. He and McDavid are dominating whether they play together or apart.
7. I love speaking with people who have a good grasp of who they are. Alex Chiasson was talking about his season and where he thinks he is at.
“I’m not saying I’m a top-six forward, but I think this year I’ve proved I can play in the top-nine, play on the powerplay and I can help out in a top-six role,” said Chiasson. “I can contribute offensively. In the past couple years I’ve had those opportunities at times, and I wasn’t able to capitalize. But this year right from the get go, I’ve grabbed it and did the best I could go with it. It is a boost for my career. For a guy who has been on three one-year deals, two PTOs in a row and getting close to, arguably, the best season in my career, I’m happy with how I’ve played overall.”
8. He was asked earlier in the scrum about the 20-goal mark and how he’d like to get there. I followed it up wondering if he thought he had number 20 Monday evening late in the game on the powerplay?
“I think I should be at 25 right now (laughs) with some of the opportunities I’ve had lately,” he said. “This game sometimes…at the start of the year it felt like everything I touched was going in. Lately my looks have been there, but they aren’t going in. I saw the other day with Phil Kessel, a pretty good player in this league who has scored a lot of goals, went 16 games without a goal. I’m not comparing myself to Phil Kessel at all, I’m just saying it is a tough league to score in. It is a tough league to be there every night. I think I’ve learned in my career you can’t look too far ahead.”
9. Players develop at different times, and I’ve learned it will be very humbling once you start wanting to put a ceiling on a player. Remember at the start of this season many fans and pundits claiming Draisaitl wasn’t that good. He was a byproduct of McDavid. Or how Darnell Nurse couldn’t produce offence. Draisaitl and Nurse are extremely young in their careers, and I always felt it was foolish reading people saying what they couldn’t be. I can understand why some are surprised with Chiasson. I am too. I thought maybe he’d be a 10-12 goal guy like he always has, but he said watching TJ Oshie every day really gave him a different understanding of how to score in tight. Maybe this year is an anomaly for him, but it also might be the start of a few seasons where he is a 15-17 goal scorer instead of a 12-goal man. We will see.
10. I really liked the Chiasson, Colby Cave, Tobias Rieder line. Specifically Cave and Chiasson. They created many really good chances, especially in the middle period when Cave had four shots in only 3:10 of icetime and two of those chances were right in the slot. The next step for him is he needs to bury those chances. The Oilers need that line to chip in some goals here and there, and if they do then 9-3-1 might not seem so unrealistic. Especially with the way their top players are playing.
11. Ken Hitchcock said this about the Cave line.
“They are getting a lot of zone time that changes momentum. We were on our heels in the second period, and they had three shifts in a row where they controlled the game down low. I like the way that Cave plays. He is doing a really good job killing penalties. In the working areas, he builds momentum for us. You just wish for him, he gets a few quality chances a game, that one of those goes in.”
12. The Devils skate into Edmonton tonight decimated by injuries. Taylor Hall has only played 33 games, but his 37 points are still fourth on the Devils and only 11 behind team leader Kyle Palmieri. They are also without Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Pavel Zacha, Brent Seney who are all in their top-nine scorers among forwards. So six of their top-nine forwards as well as Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller on the blueline. They gave up six goals in the third period in Calgary last night, and lost 9-4. They will be a bit fatigued and are banged up. The Devils do work hard, so Edmonton has to show up, but this is a game they have to win to stay in the race. A loss isn’t an option. And frankly this is one of the few games where you can say Edmonton has more skill top to bottom.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 3/13/2019 – 7:00 am MT