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Game Notes: Edmonton Oilers @ San Jose Sharks — Game 71

The Edmonton Oilers kicked off their California swing with an easy 6-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. Next up, they’ll head north to face the Sharks in San Jose.

1. The Calgary Flames have gifted the Oilers a prime opportunity to make a jump in the standings. The Flames rolled into Los Angeles on Monday night and beat the Kings by a score of 3-2. The Oilers are now only one point back of the Kings in the standings with two games in hand. One of those games in hand comes on Tuesday night in San Jose and then the Oilers and Kings square off in L.A. on Thursday.

We don’t want to put the wagon ahead of the horse here, but wins over the Sharks and Kings would put the Oilers three points up on the Kings with a game in hand.

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2. Jumping the Kings in the standings and being the host team in the first round would be a big win for the Oilers because of how well they play at home. The last time the Oilers were defeated at Rogers Place was back on March 5 when they lost by a score of 5-2 to the Montreal Canadiens in their first game back after a five-game road trip. Since then, the Oilers have won nine consecutive games at home.

The Oilers are 23-12-0 when playing in Edmonton and they’re 17-13-5 on the road. Seven of Edmonton’s 12 losses at home came during that stretch in December and January in which the team won just two of 13 games. In the Jay Woodcroft era, the Oilers are 11-2-0 when playing in Edmonton.

3. The Oilers can still catch the Flames for the top spot in the Pacific Division but it won’t be an easy task given how well Calgary has been playing. Since Woodcroft took over, the Oilers have gone 17-7-2, which represents the fifth-best points percentage in the league over that period of time. One of the four teams better than the Oilers since February 10 is the Flames, who have gone 17-6-3.

Edmonton is six points back of Calgary in the standings and the Flames have a game in hand. The two teams won’t meet again during the regular season.

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4. It’s been two weeks since the trade deadline passed and Ken Holland’s additions have been very solid thus far. Derick Brassard has chipped in with a pair of goals playing in Edmonton’s bottom-six while Brett Kulak has added an element of stability to the team’s third defensive pairing. Kulak has four points through six games and the Oilers are outscoring opponents 12-to-5 at even-strength when he’s on the ice. Tyson Barrie has also been playing his best hockey of the season since getting paired with Kulak.

While many of us wanted to see Holland make a splash and bring in a big name, these two under-the-radar additions have quietly made the Oilers a much deeper team. Good stuff from Uncle Ken.

5. It’ll be interesting to see if Holland tries to bring Kulak back next season, as he’s eligible to hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. Kulak is coming off of a three-year contract worth $1.85 million annually that he signed as a restricted free agent with the Habs back in 2019. Kulak will certainly command a raise from that dollar figure and the Oilers have Philip Broberg pushing for a spot on the left side of their blueline, along with other young defenders such as Markus Niemelainen and Dmitri Samorukov in the mix.

6. This is definitely the best Oilers team of the Holland era, but does it surpass the 2016-17 squad as the best in the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era?

After 70 games in 2016-17, the Oilers boasted a 37-24-9 record, good for 83 points in the standings. Edmonton is currently 40-25-5 with 85 points, so they’re doing slightly better than they did in 2016-17. The 2016-17 team had a very hot run at the end of the season, going 10-2-0 en route to finishing with a 47-26-9 record, the seventh-best result in terms of points in franchise history.

I’d say Edmonton’s offence is more potent now than it was back then, partially because McDavid and Draisaitl have developed as players, but also because the team features stronger depth up front, as Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Jesse Puljujarvi, and Kailer Yamamoto are better than what the Oilers had for support in 2016-17. The key difference is obviously the goaltending, as neither Mikko Koskinen nor Mike Smith are as good as Cam Talbot was that season.

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7. Let’s talk about the Sharks to finish things off.

San Jose put together an ugly month of March, going 5-8-2 and ultimately falling completely out of the playoff race. Though they aren’t technically eliminated yet, the Sharks sit at 29-31-8 and obviously aren’t going to catch up.

This will be the third year in a row that the Sharks have missed the playoffs, which represents their longest drought in franchise history. They missed the playoffs in their first two seasons as an expansion team, made it in back-to-back years in 1994 and 1995, missed out two more times after that, and then started a streak in which they made the playoffs 19 times in 21 seasons.

It’s difficult to see how the Sharks work their way out of the jam that they’re in. They have about $35 million annually tied into four players who are all over the age of 30 and they just sunk another $8 million annually into Tomas Hertl, who turns 29 years old in November.

8. For years the Sharks boasted a potent offence loaded with different weapons up and down the lineup and on the blueline. Here we are now and San Jose is one of the worst teams in the league offensively. They’ve scored 181 goals this season in all situations, which ranks 28th in the league, ahead of only the Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, and Montreal Canadiens.

Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Logan Couture are San Jose’s only consistent scorers, as they have 31, 26, and 22 goals respectively. Their next-highest scorer is Jonathan Dahlen, who has 12 goals.

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