After finishing up a seven-game stretch in which they played in seven different cities over the span of 14 days, the Oilers are back in Edmonton for a four-game homestand. It begins tonight with a match against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
1. There are 14 games left in the season and the schedule is favourable for the Oilers down the stretch. They’ll play their next four games at home before heading out on a three-game Eastern Conference road trip. That’ll be their final trip of the season as the Oilers will play six-consecutive games at home before finishing the regular season down the road in Calgary.
2. Vegas lost and Calgary and Vancouver won last night, bringing the Pacific Division even tighter. The Golden Knights still sit in first with 82 points, the Oilers are two points back at 80 with a game in hand. The Flames are now one point behind Edmonton at 79 though they’ve played one more game and the Canucks are four points back of the Oilers at 76 with one game in hand. Further down the list are the Arizona Coyotes, who have 74 points with 69 games played.
3. A win tonight for the Oilers would put them in a tie with the Golden Knights for the top spot in the Pacific Division and it would give them a three-point lead on the Flames. Both Calgary and Vegas are idle tonight and the three teams will have 69 games played once the Oilers have played the Blue Jackets. Capitalizing on this game in hand is important for the Oilers.
4. The Blue Jackets are a desperate team rolling into town fighting for their playoff lives. They currently sit fourth in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points, good for the first wild-card spot. Right behind them are the Islanders with 78 points and two games in hand, the surging Rangers with 77 points and a game in hand, and the struggling Hurricanes with 75 points and three games in hand.
5. Columbus is still in a playoff spot right now despite having just two wins in their last 13 games. You can credit Gary Bettman’s loser point for that. Of those 11 games the Blue Jackets have lost in their last 13 outings, seven of them have been in overtime or the shootout. So despite losing 11 games in that stretch, they earned seven points. All told, the Blue Jackets have picked up a whopping 15 loser points this season, which is essentially like adding seven wins to their totals. Their win against the Canucks last week represented the Blue Jackets’ first win in regulation since Feb. 7 against the lowly Red Wings.
6. I don’t mean to discredit what the Blue Jackets have done this season because they’re actually a pretty remarkable story. Despite losing all of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Ryan Dzingel in free agency, Columbus is still chugging along. Most expected the Blue Jackets to be a lottery team after losing so many key players in free agency, but they’ve found a way to survive. A lot of this comes down to rock-solid team defence and strong goaltending, as the Blue Jackets’ tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins has a save percentage of .915.
7. The Blue Jackets’ semi-implosion (it’s hard to call it a full-on implosion because the loser point has kept them alive) can be directly tied to a couple of unfortunate injuries. On Feb. 10, the Blue Jackets placed both Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson on the Injured Reserve with ankle injuries. This came shortly after the team had been on a stretch in which they had gone 9-1-1. Since losing Jones and Atkinson, Columbus has won just two of 11 games. Beyond those two, Columbus is also currently without Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Merzlikins right now.
8. Long story short, the Blue Jackets are limping right now. The Oilers absolutely can’t afford to let them off the hook. Win this game and you’re tied for top spot in the Pacific Division with Vegas with the same amount of games played.
9. Speaking of injuries, tonight could be the night the Oilers finally get Oscar Klefbom back. It seems like we’ve been hearing “maybe” for a week now, but Jim Matheson reported that Klefbom will play tonight unless (Matheson had an ominous typo of “until” there) he has a setback at the morning skate. In the nine games Klefbom has missed due to his shoulder injury, the Oilers have gone 4-3-2. Getting him back will be a huge boost to the blueline.
10. Courtesy of Gregor, here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 68 games, as well as the Jackets’ scoring.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
13. Gregor added…The Oilers top-five scorers are significantly more productive than the Blue Jackets. Injuries to Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson are a factor, but the Blue Jackets don’t have a game-breaker and without many of their skilled players for long stretches this season it isn’t a surprise their PP is only at 16.7%.
What is interesting about the Blue Jackets is they are have the 4th best GAA in the NHL at 2.62, but they have allowed three or more goals in each of their past 11 games. In their first 57 games they’d allowed three or more 25 times (43.8%). Suddenly they have become very leaky defensively and Edmonton needs to take advantage of that.
In their past 11 games they’ve allowed six PP goals on 16 kills (62.5%). They are the least penalized team in the NHL (165 times shorthanded), but lately they can’t kill a penalty. The Oilers top-ranked PP needs to exploit them tonight.
The boys are in the mix and we’re looking ahead to April. Please, Hockey Gords, make it so. Competitive games in February! Exclusively at NationGear.ca.