The Road Ahead

The Oilers hold their destiny in their own hands. They don’t have to scoreboard watch or worry about anybody else losing. They’re in a playoff spot right now and simply playing well down the stretch will get them into the big dance come April.

Coming out of their break, the Oilers own a 26-18-5 record and are on pace to put up 95 points in the standings. If they operate at the same pace they have been all season, that’ll certainly be enough to get the team into the playoffs. But the Pacific Division banner is also up for grabs and a hot finish to the season could see the Oilers get home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

There’s a lot left to be decided down the stretch, so let’s analyze the Oilers’ remaining 33 games on the schedule.

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Here’s how I would categorize the matchups for Edmonton’s remaining games…

  • Six crucial four-point games against Pacific Division rivals (3 vs CGY, 2 vs VGK, 1 vs ARZ).
  • Eight games against Central Division teams pushing for wild card positions that could possibly become four-point games (2 vs NSH, 2 vs CHI, 2 vs WPG, 1 vs MIN).
  • Seven games against bottom feeders (3 vs ANA, 2 vs SJS, 1 vs LAK, 1 vs OTT).
  • Five games against elite teams (2 vs TBL, 1 vs WSH, 1 vs BOS, 1 vs STL).
  • Seven other games against playoff-calibre teams without a head-to-head relationship in the standings (1 vs FLA, CAR, CBJ, PHI, NYI, COL, DAL).

Obviously, all of the games are important, but the six games left against Calgary, Vegas, and Arizona are the ones you have circled on your calendar because the five teams battling for spots in the Pacific Division are separated by just five points. If you do well in those games, it’s less likely the eight games against Central Division teams within striking distance of a wild-card spot become four-point games.

The Oilers have five games left against teams who I would consider elite. Those are Tampa Bay, Boston, Washington, and St. Louis. They beat Washington and Boston on the road earlier this season but lost to St. Louis at home. In contrast to those five games, the Oilers will also have seven games against bottom-feeders, the three California teams and the Senators. No games are easy, of course, but a benefit of being in the Pacific is getting this many head-to-heads with those bottom-feeding teams.

Finally, there are seven leftover games against other playoff-calibre teams that I classified separately because they won’t become four-point games. These are games against good-not-great Eastern teams like Florida, Carolina, Columbus, Philadelphia, and the Islanders, and the second- and third-placed teams in the Central, Dallas and Colorado. Many of these teams are like the Oilers, in that they’re in a dog fight to make the playoffs, so they won’t be easy.

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Okay, now that we know who the Oilers are playing, let’s look at how these games are scheduled…

  • 18 home games, 15 road games.
  • 3 road trips: A three-game trip through TBL, FLA, CAR. A six-game trip through LAK, ANA, VGK and NSH, DAL, CHI with one home game in the middle. A three-game trip through PHI, NYI, OTT.
  • 3 homestands: A three-game stand against SJS, NSH, CHI. A four-game stand against CBJ, VGK, WPG, NYI. A six-game stand against TBL, ANA, COL, SJS, ANA, VGK.
  • 4 back-to-backs: Home against STL and then away against CGY. Away against ANA and then away against VGK. Away against NSH and then away against DAL. Away against PHI and then away against WSH.

The Oilers have a fairly favourable travels schedule the rest of the way as they’ve already gone on their most difficult road trips of the season. The most difficult trip the team will make is a six-game swing through California and the Central Division which is actually just a couple of three-game trips bunched together with a home game in the middle. They’ll have a couple of difficult swings through the East, but, thankfully, those are both insulated by a handful of home games.

On the flip side, they’ll have three extended homestands, including a massive six-game stretch in Edmonton before closing out the regular season in Calgary. Probably the most daunting part of the schedule is the four back-to-back games the Oilers have left. Two of them coincide with key games against Pacific rivals, as they’ll play Calgary and Vegas after playing another team the night before. But that’s a reality of the second half of the season. Everyone is going to have back-to-backs like these. The Flames will be on the second leg of a back-to-back when they play the Oilers on Jan. 29 as they play the Blues at home the night before.

All in all, I would say it’s a fairly favourable schedule for Edmonton. There aren’t any overly challenging road trips, there are only a few games against elite teams, and plenty of four-point games against other teams vying for position in the Pacific the Oilers can use to establish themselves as the top team in the division.

As I said earlier, they hold their fate in their own hands. Given the opportunity presented, the Oilers have a real chance to not just make the playoffs, but roll in hot and with home-ice advantage.