Junior hockey works in cycles and after two years out of the playoffs, there was no doubt that the Edmonton Oil Kings were on the upswing of that cycle. The target this year was simply a playoff spot, not a division title. Even for the most optimistic fan, it really wasn’t a realistic goal.
Simply put: they weren’t supposed to be this good quite yet. Yet here we are, less than 48 hours away from the team beginning what they hope will be a very long playoff run.
The Oil Kings season started with a five-game winning streak, something the franchise had never done before, but the first few months of their season was a bit of a roller coaster. After winning five straight, they would lose their next eight straight games. That stretch featured a very tough road trip through the WHL’s BC and US Divisions, but still, there were many who felt like those five wins to start the year were just an anomaly.
After that tough trip, the Oil Kings would actually grab points in nine in a row and once that streak ended, they would lose six of their next seven (although two of those losses came in OT). They were a young team that struggled to find any sort of consistency in their game and a big part of that was because almost all of their offense was coming when Trey Fix-Wolansky was on the ice. If he wasn’t firing, the team really wasn’t scoring.
The first half of their season was tough. It featured some difficult road trips and some stretches where they had to play a lot of hockey. They grinded out that difficult first half out and put themselves in a decent spot heading into the second half where there scheduled featured more days off and more home games.
They took advantage of that schedule and over the past few months, we’ve seen this team come together and start to look like a true threat to go on a deep playoff run.
The team really couldn’t be coming into the playoffs with more momentum after winning their final 11 regular season games. Not only did the Oil Kings win those games, but they also dominated most of them, outscoring their opponents 55-12 over that stretch.
They’ve started to win games in different ways as well. It’s no longer just the “Trey Fix-Wolansky Show”. Yes, there are still nights where Fix-Wolansky along with veteran forwards Vince Loschiavo and Quinn Benjafield will carry the offense, but there have also been long stretches where the likes of Vlad Alistrov, Scott Atkinson, and Jake Neighbours have stepped up and started to produce.
That was apparent during their recent 11 game winning streak. In the first five games of the streak, they scored 34 goals and had 14 different players score. There were games where their depth had to come through, and it did.
In the last five games of the streak, they’ve seen their stars step up. They’ve scored 21 goals and those goals have come from just nine different players. Fix Wolansky (4-2-6), Loshiavo (6-1-7), Benjafield (2-5-7), and defenseman Conner McDonald (2-4-6) have all been playing some fantastic hockey over that stretch.
Their special teams also appear to be peaking at the right time. Over the last five games, their powerplay is 8/22 (36%) while their penalty kill has gone 20/23 (87%). Keeping those two units hot into their first round will be imperative.
Their series against the Medicine Hat Tigers will get going Saturday at 7:30 from Rogers Place and will continue on Sunday night. Here’s how these two teams matchup:
These two teams met six times during the regular season with the Oil Kings winning five times and the Tigers winning just once in a shootout back on January 16th. It’s also worth noting that if you take away empty-net goals, three of the Oil Kings wins have been by one goal. While the Oil Kings have found ways to win, the Tigers can compete with them.
A big reason for that has been Edmonton’s play late in games. In their head-to-head matchups, the Oil Kings have outscored the Tigers 6-2 in the third period.
Edmonton has also dominated the shot clock in their games this year. Edmonton has averaged 37.2 shots for against Medicine Hat while holding the Tigers to an average of 30.5 shots.
While the Oil Kings are currently red-hot, the Tigers are just 4-5-1 in their last ten games and are 8-10-2 in their last 20.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
It’s very tough to give either team the edge in this series.
The Tigers have 6’7 Mads Sogaard, who had a very strong regular season. The 18-year-old ranked seventh in GAA (2.64) and sixth in save percentage (0.921). There’s no denying that he is an exceptionally talented goaltender and will be one of the league’s best stoppers for years to come.
There are two reasons why this goaltending matchup may be tighter than some realize.
First off, Sogaard’s numbers against the Oil Kings aren’t exactly strong. In five games, he has a GAA over 3.00 and a save percentage of 0.907. In one game, he spotted them four goals before the first period was even half done.
Also, Myskiw has had a pretty strong season as well. His 2.53 GAA and 0.914 SV% both rank 11th among WHL starters. That’s pretty much middle of the pack, but he has been elite as of late. In his last eight starts he is 8-0-0 with a 0.955 SV% and has only allowed 10 goals. He is red hot as of late.
This year against Medicine Hat, he started all six games this year against the Tigers and posted a GAA well below 2.00 and had a SV% of 0.939. He’s had their number all season.
Still, you can’t discount Sogaard and he is the type of goalie who can straight up steal not just a game, but an entire series.
The numbers all point towards the Oil Kings being able to handle the Tigers with ease, especially when you consider how these teams closed out their regular seasons, but the playoffs are a totally different beast and Edmonton needs to be careful to not look past their opening round opponent.
Round one begins Saturday night and I must say, it feels good to know there will be playoff hockey played at Rogers Place.