The Edmonton Oilers continue their casual ride to the finish of the regular season tonight as they host the Vancouver Canucks for the third of four consecutive meetings.
1. With a win tonight, the Oilers could officially clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Jets have four games left and currently sit seven points back of Edmonton, meaning Winnipeg would have to win the rest of their games and the Oilers would have to lose the rest of their games in order for these two teams to swap places in the standings.
2. We don’t yet know who the Oilers will face in the first round, but it’s pretty clear that the Jets would be the preferred match-up. Edmonton absolutely owned Winnipeg this season, winning seven of the nine games the two teams played against each other. The Jets were also Connor McDavid’s best opponent, as he racked up 22 points in those nine games. The next best opponent was, of course, the Senators, as McDavid scored 21 points in nine games.
3. Speaking of the Sens, they did the Oilers a solid in Edmonton’s pursuit of not facing the pesky Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last night. Ottawa smashed Montreal by a score of 5-1, putting them at a 24-19-9 record, two back of the Jets with four games left each. Edmonton has some control over their own destiny here. They play Montreal two more times (the Habs’ other two games are against Toronto) and the Oilers could bury them in fourth with a pair of wins.
4. Again sticking with the Sens, they’ve actually been on an impressive run as of late. Since Edmonton completed the nine-game season sweep over Ottawa back on April 8, the Sens have gone 8-3-1. I remember when they had a 2-12-1 record after their first 15 games and I figured they were only going to rattle off nine or ten wins the entire season. But the Sens have been respectable since that putrid start, going 19-15-4 since then. Everyone scoffs at Edmonton’s sweep over Ottawa, but I’m not sure the Sens are that bad of a team. They improved quite a bit as the season went on.
5. The Oilers have had a couple of turning points this season. The first came in February when Mike Smith came off the Injured Reserve and allowed the team to stop exclusively riding Mikko Koskinen. Smith was activated on Feb. 7, put up a shutout over the Habs the following day, and then the Oilers went on a run in which they won eight of nine games. And then there was the second turning point. After that run, the Oilers got completely dominated by the Leafs in a three-game sweep. I think that set was a wake-up call for the team. Since then, the Oilers have been very good, going 18-6-2. An ugly sweep like that could have dejected the team and derailed the season but the Oilers were resilient and have played their best hockey since.
6. And then we have the Canucks, who have predictably run into a very difficult time since returning from their month of dealing with a COVID outbreak. Vancouver came out strong and carried some adrenaline to back-to-back upsets over the Leafs in their first two games back. Since then? The Canucks have won just one of eight games. They still have nine games left to play in under two weeks. What a gruesome grind.
7. Given the fact Edmonton’s last five games are ultimately fairly meaningless outside of Connor McDavid getting to 100 points, it would be great to see Evan Bouchard in the lineup the rest of the way. It’s been a puzzling season for Bouchard. He started off playing in Sweden’s second league, did very well, cracked the Oilers out of camp, but has spent most of the season watching from the stands. Bouchard drew in on Tuesday for his first game in over two months. He played 20:13 and scored a goal. It would be ideal to see him play in the remaining five games.
8. I’m also interested to see if Dave Tippett opts to try using Dmitry Kulikov with some other defensive partners before the playoffs. The shutdown pairing of Kulikov and Adam Larsson has been very good thus far. Through six games played with the Oilers, Kulikov has only been on the ice for two goals against at even-strength. Edmonton is doubling its opponents in terms of scoring chances (49-to-25) when Kulikov plays. I wonder if pairing him with Ethan Bear or Evan Bouchard and Larsson with Caleb Jones could be effective.
9. Finally, we have our McCentury update. Connor McDavid has five games left to score seven points. Since getting shut out in Calgary last week, McDavid has exploded for nine points in his last three games. He scored No. 100 in game 82 back in 2017 against the Canucks. Maybe he can reach 100 in game 53 on Saturday, yet again, against the Canucks.