The Oilers will look to end the 2010s on a positive note tonight when they host the New York Rangers for a New Year’s Eve showdown.
1. For the first time all season, the Oilers aren’t sitting in a playoff spot. Their skid in December has them currently sitting in ninth in the Western Conference with a couple of other teams right on their heels. It isn’t the end of the world, as a quick winning streak could vault them right back up the jam-packed standings, but the Oilers need to turn things around quickly. There’s plenty of time left and this ugly stretch hasn’t buried them, but jumping over multiple teams down the stretch is much, much more difficult than maintaining a playoff spot.
2. The situation the team is in is actually quite similar to last year. The Oilers went on a hot streak when they hired Ken Hitchcock and sat with an 18-12-3 record in the middle of December. It would be a six-game losing streak to end the month that pushed them out of a playoff spot and then a miserable skid in January that ultimately sank the 2018-19 team.
3. The poor December skid has already happened, it’s what happens in the coming weeks that will determine whether or not this team can make the playoffs. Like last year, they sit right on the bubble on New Year’s Eve. Last year’s skid shortly after sank them and they wouldn’t be able to recover. Things aren’t any easier this year. The Oilers will play the Rangers tonight before heading on a five-game trip to face Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary, all of whom have playoff aspirations.
4. As I said earlier, though, just one good stretch can make a massive difference, especially given how much of a dog race the Western Conference is right now. Take a look at the Canucks, who, just a couple weeks ago, seemed to be falling down the standings into oblivion. Now, thanks to a five-game winning streak, they’re in second place in the Pacific Division. Everyone had bad stretches. Nobody will go the entire season without a losing streak or a bad few weeks. But the Oilers could really use a nice winning streak right about now to erase what happened in December.
5. The Oilers are lucky their division isn’t as difficult as the Metropolitan Division, which affords virtually zero room for error. The Rangers are 19-5-4 after 38 games and six in a tie for sixth in their division, ahead of only the lowly New Jersey Devils. Washington leads the way with 59 points, while the Islanders, Penguins, Flyers, and Hurricanes are all having strong seasons with 51, 50, 49, and 48 points respectively. The Golden Knights, who lead the Pacific Division, would be fighting for a wild card spot in the Metro.
6. It’ll be interesting to see what the Rangers do heading into the trade deadline. They’re in a bubble position right now, but have a steep uphill climb to jump over the other teams in their division. Buying at the deadline would be counter-intuitive to their long-term plan, as they aren’t good enough to go on a deep run, but selling from a pretty solid team would also be demoralizing. If they do decide to sell, impending free agent Chris Kreider would be a popular name on the trade market. Another name that could get some major attention in soon-to-be RFA Ryan Strome, who sits second on the team with 35 points in 38 games.
7. The Oilers made a change to their lineup ahead of tonight’s game, splitting up their big three centres into three different lines while also inserting the recently-called-up Kailer Yamamoto alongside Leon Draisaitl. The team badly needs a spark offensively as they’ve scored more than two goals in a game just four times in the month of December.
8. Yamamoto has had a decent season in the AHL, posting eight goals and 16 points in 23 games. He isn’t lighting the world on fire, but he brings more skill to the table than the other options the Oilers have been rolling out to try and complete their top-six. I wonder how long it’ll take for Tyler Benson to get the call to the big leagues. He leads the Condors with 25 points in 29 games and could probably help the team a lot right now.
9. Courtesy of Gregor, here is the Oilers scoring last year compared to this season, as well as the Rangers scoring, through 41 games. The Rangers are 11th in goals/game, but they are 23rd in goals against. Their games average 6.5 goals, which is the 6th most in the NHL. So if you like goals, expect a fair amount tonight.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
|2018/19||82 (179)||17 (56)||14 (70)|
|EDMONTON||80 (193)||25 (58)||11 (68)|
|NEW YORK||66 (153)||30 (79)||28 (104)|
10. Gregor added: The New York blueliners have produced 28-76-104, which is tied for the most goals with Nashville and Carolina, and is the most points in the NHL. The Oilers blueline is 30th in goals with 11 and 25th with 69 points.
11. Tony DeAngelo has eight goals while Jacob Trouba, Brady Skjei and Adam Fox each have five. Brendan Smith has three and Ryan Lindgren and Marc Staal each have one. For the Oilers, Oscar Klefbom and Ethan Bear have four goals, Darnell Nurse has two and Brandon Manning has one. The Oilers blueline has fired 370 shots, while the Rangers have 414. The difference is the Rangers blueliners are often up in the play more and have scored goals off the rush. We don’t see that very often from the Oilers, and as this team grows they will need some more goals from the backend.
12. While it’s difficult to split up the McDrai duo, I’ve always been a fan of rolling all three centres on their own lines. The Oilers lack the depth up front to stack one line with their two best players and splitting the three of them ensures at least one of their best forwards will be on the ice for most of the game. The key now is for Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins to produce at a high level without McDavid. While having poor wingers is a valid complaint, this has been an issue for years and needs to change in order for the team to turn things around this season.
13.The Oilers haven’t won a single New Year’s Eve game all decade. They lost to the Flames to kick things off in 2009 (not technically the decade, but it was an omen), the Islanders in 2011, the Coyotes in 2013, the Flames again in 2014, the Ducks in 2015, the Canucks in 2016, and the Jets in 2017 and 2018. Bucking the trend would be a really nice way to ring in the 2020s. The Oilers didn’t win their first game of the 2010s until February, 2010 so the bar isn’t very high, but I’m hoping we can see a better start to this decade than last.