This year is an interesting one for the National Hockey League. A 56-game schedule condenses things a significant amount when it comes to the regular season.
We’ve already seen with the release of the schedule Wednesday how compact things will be this year. Edmonton has among the most back-to-back games and it’s going to up the ante on the season.
It will require Mike Smith to be good. Those points from the eleven back-to-backs are going to be crucial to the Oilers at the end of the season. Edmonton also has a year facing a bunch of teams that they’ve had some issues within recent memory.
here's how the oilers have fared in their last 10 regular season meetings against their new divisional opponents. pic.twitter.com/YnNFAMApAF
— zach laing (@zjlaing) December 23, 2020
Edmonton will have to drop some of this recency bias and step up their game. This pandemic shortened season will be a fresh start in many ways, and while the Oilers roster has improved year-over-year on paper, it will be up to them to step up.
Speaking of stepping up, the clubs’ depth will need to do that. So many back-to-back games could bring in opportunity for young players who may otherwise be in the press box to step into the lineup and contribute. Players will be banged up. Some might get COVID-19 and not be able to play.
Ken Holland’s ability to add depth is going to be a huge part of this season. We all know the high-end firepower the Oilers posses. But Holland fared well this past offseason bringing back Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi while bringing in new faces through free agency in Dominik Kahun, Kyle Turris and Tyson Barrie. That will pay strides for the Oilers this season.
But I implore Holland to not hesitate this season. If there’s a deal out there to make, pull the trigger. The Oilers are still a team that has a lot of work to do from an organizational standpoint in terms of being consistent contenders in the NHL.
This is a season where the Oilers can take advantage of a soft division to make some serious noise.
Rest advantage / disadvantage for 2020-2021.
Vancouver has the most favourable rest schedule, Montreal and Edmonton the least favourable. pic.twitter.com/SvIDNMvWEV
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) December 23, 2020
The Oilers, too, will see some rivalry’s continue to fire back up. Edmonton squares up against the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks 10 times each this season.
Last year more than a fair share of fireworks were lit against the Calgary Flames with not only the Zack Kassian – Matthew Tkachuk saga creating front-page news, but also the fact these teams are similar and highly competitive.
In a time where enforcers have gone the way of the dodo bird, these bad blood games may see a resurgence of the tough guys. There’s undoubtedly going to be some fiesty games. A guy like Kassian, specifically, seems to strive when he’s playing hockey on the edge. See 2017 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks for reference.
Juljhar Khaira was the Oilers top penalty killer last season — one of the best in the entire league, in fact — but is also known for his ability to drop the mitts. That toughness will be welcomed this year, too, and we all know Darnell Nurse’s ability to scrap as well.
I could see these roles becoming more relevant with the interesting dynamics set in place. Kassian, meanwhile, will need to do his best to teeter the edge of questionable play. He is a valuable point scorer. In his last 138 games, he’s scored 30 goals and as many assists.
Edmonton has a chance to make some real noise this year. They could easily contend for the division title with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Canucks being arguably their toughest competition in the division. But back out east, there’s another team in the Montreal Canadiens who could make some noise too.
While they’re not the most gifted teams, they still have the likes of some of the most notable NHL’ers over the last decade in veterans Shea Weber and Carey Price. Can their young guys continue to take a step forward?
Nonetheless, what’s most important is the Oilers taking care of what they can in worrying about the games they’re playing. Every point counts.
On Twitter: @zjlaing