The Oilers clinched a playoff spot on Monday night and they’re pretty much locked into second place in the Canadian Division.
The Maple Leafs lead the way with 72 points and have four games remaining while the Oilers are in second with 66 points and five games left on their schedule. Barring some kind of late-season collapse from Toronto, it doesn’t appear realistic that the Oilers can leapfrog them and finish first in the division.
It looked as though the final few weeks of the season would feature a race between the Oilers and Jets for second place and home-ice advantage in a head-to-head in the first round. But, thanks to a seven-game losing streak, the Jets are now tied with the Canadiens with five games left each. Who the Oilers will host in the first round is now totally up in the air.
That brings us to this week’s What Would You Do Wednesday ACTUALLY ON A WEDNESDAY edition question. Who would you rather have the Oilers face in the first round, the Jets or the Canadiens? Which do you figure is a more favourable match-up?
The Oilers have had a difficult time with the Habs this season. In seven games, Montreal has skated away with five wins while Edmonton only has two. That said, these teams will face each other two more times this season, so the Oilers could tighten the season series.
Montreal has also done a very good job at shutting down Connor McDavid. In their first five meetings, the Habs held McDavid to just two assists. McDavid finally broke through a couple of weeks ago when he exploded for back-to-back three-point games.
The Habs are an interesting team. They don’t boast much star power on their roster but they defend well and their forward group features a tremendous amount of quality depth. Montreal has some of the best underlying numbers in the league when it comes to suppressing offence but their goaltending tandem has been mediocre (.905 save percentage combined) and their forwards outside of Tyler Toffoli (28 goals) can’t finish.
My biggest worry with Montreal is Price. He hasn’t been good at all this season (.901 save percentage) but he willed the Habs to an upset over the Penguins in the play-in round last summer, stopping 126 of the 133 shots he faced. They also have Jake Allen who stopped 129 of the 138 shots he faced while playing with the Blues in the playoffs last summer.
The Jets are a completely different animal from the Habs. They’re much more of a top-heavy lineup with stars such as Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Kyle Connor who carry the way offensively. Beyond that, though, Winnipeg lacks quality depth up front and they have a paper-thin blueline.
The one similarity between Montreal and Winnipeg is the potential game-changer in net. Connor Hellebuyck was last year’s Vezina Trophy winner and he finished sixth in Hart Trophy voting as his .922 save percentage over 58 games played was huge in compensating for Winnipeg’s lacklustre defence. This year, Hellebuyck owns a .912 save percentage, which is good but not spectacular like last season was.
The Oilers completely owned the head-to-head against Winnipeg this season, winning seven of the nine meetings between the teams. The Jets haven’t won a game against the Oilers since mid-February and that game featured a 40-save effort from Hellebuyck.
The Jets also haven’t been able to shut Connor McDavid down at all. While so many love to talk about how McDavid racked up easy points against Ottawa this season, his best opponent was actually Winnipeg. In nine games against the Jets, McDavid piled up seven goals and 22 points. He had 21 against the Sens.
What does it all mean?
Both the Jets and Habs have 57 points and five games remaining so anything could happen between them in the standings.
Winnipeg faces Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver twice, and Toronto to close out their season, while Montreal faces Ottawa once, Toronto twice, and Edmonton twice. Though the Jets are imploding right now, they certainly have the easier schedule. Edmonton also has some ability to control their own destiny here. Beating Montreal in both of those meetings would help bury them in fourth.
In my mind, it’s pretty clear that Winnipeg is the team the Oilers would rather face in the first round. They’ve absolutely owned the head-to-head against the Jets as they have absolutely no solution to dealing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Montreal’s roster may seem underwhelming, but they’re a deep, gritty team that plays well defensively, which isn’t what you want to go up against in the playoffs.
What say you, Nation? Would you rather see the Oilers face the Jets or the Habs in the first round?