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Riding the hot hand

Mike Smith looked good in his first game as an Edmonton Oiler.

There, I said it. But don’t tell me you weren’t thinking about it.

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He was calm. He was cool. He was collected, and I’m pretty sure he will be giving dozens of people legitimate heart attacks with the way he plays the puck.

He looked like a rejuvenated Mike Smith — certainly one better than most of last year.

He gave the team in front of him energy by moving the puck and showed no fear when faced with some really good scoring chances from the Vancouver Canucks. When Vancouver pressed hard, Smith stood tall. Most importantly, he didn’t leak weak goals en route to a .939 save percentage and a win.

And that’s why I think he should get the nod Saturday night against Los Angeles.

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The Oilers have an interesting situation when it comes to the net this year, we all know that. Two goalies who had subpar seasons come in needing to have very good seasons in order for the team to sniff the playoffs.

For that to happen, in my eyes, the best thing to do is to ride the hot hand and right now, Smith’s hand is hot. The whole team has to be feeling good having come back from a one-goal deficit to score two quick ones and closeout game one. (I’ll admit, I was very nervous when the Canucks scored their second goal off the deflection.)

It’s going to be important for the club to get off to a hot start this year, and I’ll say why shortly. But first, it’s important to look at the Oilers after October for the last couple of years.

2013-14: 7th in the Pacific, 3-9-2, 8 points, 36 GF, 54 GA
2014-15: 6th in the Pacific, 4-6-1, 9 points, 29 GF, 39 GA
2015-16: 5th in the Pacific, 4-8-0, 8 points, 32 GF, 39 GA
2016-17: 1st in the Pacific, 7-2-1, 15 points, 31 GF, 22 GA
2017-18: 7th in the Pacific, 3-7-1, 12 points, 24 GF, 36 GA
2018-19: 3rd in the Pacific, 7-4-1, 15 points, 36 GF, 34 GA

(Stats via shrpsports.com)

In bold is the year the Oilers made the playoffs. They were healthy all year, they had Cam Talbot in net who had a fantastic season playing 73 games, and most importantly, they had a team save percentage of .917.

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There was a clear goal from Dave Tippett and co. to come out of the gates hot this year, especially given the fact the team was going to have a couple of days between games to start the season.

Starting strong is exactly what the Oilers need if they have any hopes of a successful season. The team plays 14 games in October this year and 10 of those are against teams that didn’t play any playoff games last year.

In November, the Oilers play another 14 games and only seven are against non-playoff teams. Even after November in 2016-17, the team still had a winning record of 13-10-2. That’s the goal for them this year.

To me, there is a great opportunity here for the team to take advantage of a weaker schedule to start the year — especially this month. If Edmonton can come out the gate with a strong October and November, they could set themselves up for a nice run towards the playoffs.

On Twitter: @zjlaing