It feels like the season just got started but tonight will be Edmonton’s 10th game. We’re already nearly 20 percent of the way through the schedule. It’s time for the Oilers to start winning some games.
1. I know it’s a frustrating thing to hear in the first month of the season, but, yet again, this is somewhat of a must-win game for the Oilers. The team owns a 3-6 record and sits ahead of only the lowly Ottawa Senators in the Canadian Division based on points percentage. If the Oilers win tonight, they’ll be at 4-6 through their first 10 (far from good but not a complete disaster) with a soft schedule on the horizon.
2. Edmonton plays four of their next five games against the Senators, which is a great opportunity to collect some points in the standings. Last week, the Vancouver Canucks had a couple of miserable showings against the Montreal Canadiens and sat with a 2-5 record. They went into Ottawa and won all three of their games in commanding fashion and now sit at 5-5 and their bad start doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming.
3. Of course, there are only so many games against Ottawa to be played and the Oilers obviously need to beat other opponents in order to make the playoffs. Beating the Leafs tonight would mean they’re 2-2 through four games against Toronto (the team widely expected to finish at the top of the division) and they’ll have an opportunity to get above .500 by playing well against the Sens.
Sit back and imagine a win tonight against Toronto, a four-game sweep of the Sens with a Battle of Alberta victory right in the middle. That would have the Oilers at 8-6 and the bad start in the rearview mirror.
Sounds nice, right? Doable, even?
On the other hand, going into those four-of-five games stretch against Ottawa at 3-7 means the team has virtually zero room for error to simply claw back to .500. And it also needs to be said that sweeping Ottawa isn’t a given. They’re bad, yes, but there’s no such thing as an automatic victory in the NHL.
4. The Oilers played a decent game on Thursday but ended up losing by a score of 4-3. The main positive was that all three of their forward lines were in the green in terms of shot attempt differential at even strength. You expect that from the McDavid and Draisaitl lines but getting a 13-to-8 shot attempt differential from the Turris, Kassian, and Neal trio was a breath of fresh air.
5. A key difference in Thursday’s game was special teams. The Oilers got a whopping seven power-play opportunities (including four in the second period) but only managed to score a couple of goals. On the other side, Toronto scored on two of their four power-play opportunities.
Through nine games, both of Edmonton’s special teams are below league average. The power-play is scoring on 20 percent of chances and the team is killing off 72.4 percent of its penalties. Special teams were a massive part of the Oilers’ success last season and the team will need to get this sorted in order to do well.
6. The penalty kill is especially important against the Leafs, who boast the league’s second-best power-play in the early going. Toronto has scored on 42.9 percent of their power-play opportunities, second only to the Dallas Stars who have scored on 52.6 percent of them. Dallas has only played four games, though, so that rating is skewed by a microscopic sample size.
7. Mikko Koskinen also didn’t have a great game on Thursday. Allowing that softy mid way through the first period sucked the wind out of the Oilers’ sails for a few minutes. There’s no doubt that he’s gassed from playing in all of Edmonton’s games so far this season. When Koskinen has played well in the past, he’s been splitting the net with another goalie. His worst play comes when he’s the primary guy in net. Troy Grosenick is now finished his quarantine and the team will soon be able to give Koskinen some rest without throwing Stuart Skinner to the wolves.
Again, this is why winning tonight’s game is so important. If the Oilers lose and go to 3-7, it’s a bit more difficult to pull the trigger on starting Grosenick in Ottawa on Sunday.
8. Let’s hope the Oilers are awake for today’s 5:00 PM local start. The last time the Oilers plated at 5:00 local on a Saturday night was two weeks ago when the team got spanked 5-1 by the Habs.
9. The Oilers and Leafs will debut their Reverse Retro jerseys tonight. Edmonton rocked the orange pants at yesterday’s practice, giving us a sneak peek at what these things are going to look like…
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) January 29, 2021
Personally, I’m a bit overwhelmed by all of the intense orange that the Oilers have been rolling with over the past few years. I wish that the team had gone with a revamp of the Comet logo from the 2000s, but that was obviously never going to happen.
On the other side, here’s the Leafs with one of the strangest digital media campaigns I’ve seen from a team in quite some time…
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) January 30, 2021
10. Just win, baby. Nobody wants to by 3-7 and nobody wants to see the Leafs put together an undefeated 4-0 record through their Alberta swing. Surely the Leafs can’t win wearing those Canadian Tire practice jerseys, right?