Far too often in the past 15 seasons, the Edmonton Oilers limped down the stretch, playing meaningless games. It was dreadful for all involved — not fun for the players to play, fans to watch or for reporters to report on. Usually, you heard the overused phrase from the opposing team on how the Oilers “worked hard and you can’t take them lightly.” It is the ultimate backhanded compliment in sports.
Oilersnation knows full well what a bad team looks like. You’ve watched it for 12 of the previous 15 seasons, but luckily you have seen a competitive team in three of the last five years and you will see one moving forward. The quotes, storylines and analysis will change.
Edmonton is going to the playoffs and will be for the foreseeable future with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl leading the charge. In the coming seasons the focus will be on becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Making the playoffs is the first step, but McDavid and Draisaitl have much loftier goals now. They accomplished the first step. They are in the 2021 playoffs. They have home ice advantage in the first opening round.
Tonight their main focus will be on their own play. They want to tighten up defensively, create more chaos on the forecheck and hopefully get some more forwards chipping in offensively. McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for 17 goals and 49 points in the last 11 games. They other forwards have scored 14 goals and 31 points. Jesse Puljujarvi has 6-4-10, which is very good production for the young 22-year-old, but the other nine forward spots have produced only eight goals and 21 points. Not close to good enough.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2-3-5) with only two EV points, Kailer Yamamoto (0-2-2) with one EV point and Dominik Kahun (1-2-3) and two EV points have combined for five EV points. And they have been playing with the two most productive players in the NHL during this run. McDavid is averaging 2.82 points while Draisaitl has 1.64/game. Yet their linemates have been unable to produce even close to Puljujarvi.
James Neal, Josh Archibald, @Alex Chiasson and Devon Shore each have one EV goal in this span. Not great numbers, but more production than guys in the top six. Archibald has five points in his previous 11 games which is excellent production for a bottom-six forward.
For the Oilers to have success in the playoffs they are going to need some more forwards to chip in. McDavid and Draisaitl will produce. There is a good chance one of them, or even both, could win a game offensively on their own, but to win a round or two Edmonton will need complementary forwards chipping in.
Remember in 2017 when RNH and Eberle struggled to score? That can happen, but the bottom six forwards stepped up.
David Desharnais scored 1-1-2 including the OT winner in game five against San Jose. That performance was huge for the Oilers winning that series.
Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev each had three goals. So did Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon. Mark Letestu was on fire on the powerplay picking up eight points. He finished with 11 points in 13 games. He outscored McDavid for goodness sake. Only Draisaitl had more points with 16. And he was sick in the first round and had no points in the first four games. He had 16 in the last nine playoff games that year. He is capable of dominating. McDavid even more so.
But a few of the complementary forwards need to get going. Maybe Neal and Chiasson will be those guys again. They combined for three goals and five points in four games last season. It doesn’t matter who it is, but they need more than just 97, 29 and 13 scoring goals.
Thankfully for Dave Tippett, his blueline has chipped in offensively all season. Darnell Nurse and Tyson Barrie have been excellent offensively all season. In the past 11 games, Ethan Bear has 2-1-3 and his been much more engaged in the offensive zone. Nurse and Barrie will be expected to produce points in the playoffs, and Bear to a lesser extent, but ultimately the Oilers complementary forwards need to get rolling.
They need to use these three games to build some offensive confidence. The Neal-McLeod-Chiasson line created some quality chances on Saturday. That needs to continue. Shore-Khaira-Archibald were playing well, and producing, prior to Khaira getting rocked by a clean hit from Alexander Romanov. Maybe they will rediscover that chemistry, although when Kassian is healthy I could see Shore coming out of the lineup.
The Oilers have nothing to play for in the standings, but these three games present them an opportunity for some players to feel good about their game and gain some confidence. As a bonus they can add some angst inside the Canadiens dressing room with two victories. But mainly their focus needs to be about generating and burying more of their chances.
Kahun – McDavid – Puljujarvi
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Neal – McLeod– Chiasson
Shore – Khaira – Archibald
Nurse – Barrie
Lagesson – Larsson
Jones – Bear
Dmitry Kulikov will be a game time decision. If he can go, William Lagesson will come out.
Mikko Koskinen starts in goal. He will be looking to rebound after his record-tying game against Vancouver last Thursday.