Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft has steadfastly focused on one day at a time since he took over as Oilers head coach. He did mention the team’s larger goal of reaching 100 points a few times, but he’s repeatedly told his team to focus on what they can do today. It has worked incredibly well. The Oilers are 24-9-3 since Woodcroft and Dave Manson were promoted from Bakersfield.
And now that they’ve reached 100 points I don’t expect his focus or plan to change in the final two games.
— Tonight’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks and tomorrow’s game v. Vancouver have very little impact on the Oilers’ playoff situation. The Oilers have secured second place in the Pacific Division and home-ice advantage in round one against the Los Angeles Kings. The only impact the results from tonight and tomorrow could have is if the Oilers meet Pittsburgh or Washington in the Stanley Cup finals — then home ice advantage would come into play. Pittsburgh has 101 points with one game remaining. The Oilers have 100 with two remaining and Washington has 99 with two remaining.
— While the result won’t impact the standings or home ice advantage in the Western Conference, Woodcroft will want his team to continue playing well. They dominated the Penguins for long stretches last night. There were numerous shifts at 5×5 where the Oilers looked like they were on the power play as they controlled the puck and moved it around easily. Sportlogiq’s numbers reflect the Oilers’ dominance. The Penguins had a combined two scoring chances off the cycle and off the rush.
— I’m sure Woodcroft’s message in the final two games is to keep playing sound hockey. I could see him reduce the minutes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and a few others who play a lot. If a player has a nagging ailment, I could see them getting a night off, but if McDavid and Draisaitl are feeling good I’d keep them in the lineup, but reduce their minutes.
— I can’t remember the exact day, but Woodcroft mentioned the team goal of reaching 100 points. But he also, without prompting, mentioned some players were chasing personal milestones and as a team they’d like to reach those as well as the 100 points in the standings.
— McDavid has 10 points in his last three games and now has a seven-point lead for the Art Ross. Last night he became the 36th player in NHL history to score 120 points in a season, and now he needs three points in his final two games to become the 30th player to score 125 points and join this club.
— I have no doubt that is a milestone he and the team are well aware of. McDavid has always been a stronger finisher, and I’m sure he and Woodcroft will discuss his ice time, and a possible night off, but I don’t see the need for it. He is also four points shy of 700 in his career. He started the season with 574 points and to reach 600 and 700 in the same season would be quite the feat.
—McDavid has 45 multi-point games this season. Only Wayne Gretzky (9x at 62, 61, 57, 56, 56, 54, 52, 48 and 46), Mario Lemieux (3x at 50, 49 and 48), Steve Yzerman (48), Adam Oates, Marcel Dionne and Phil Esposito (46) have had more in a season. He tie Oates, Dionne and Esposito with one more and surpass all three if he scores two points in each of the final two games.
— Some Oilers have already set career highs this season.
McDavid with 44 goals and 122 points.
Draisaitl with 55 goals.
Zach Hyman both with 26 goals and 52 points.
Cody Ceci has increased his career-best to 28 points.
Kailer Yamamoto’s 19 goals and 38 points are both new highs. He’d love to reach 20 and 40.
Rookie Ryan McLeod (8-12-20) and Evan Bouchard (who should be classified as a rookie) with 12-30-42 have of course set new personal bests.
— Warren Foegele needs one goal to match his career-best of 13 goals, while Jesse Puljujarvi also needs one to match his high of 15. Puljujarvi has already set a new high of 35 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins needs three assists to tie his career-mark of 41. So there are some personal milestones the team can use as motivation, on top of continuing to play well.
— Nothing is official, but two different sources told me they think the Oilers/Kings series is looking to play on May 2nd, 4th, 6th, 8th and 10th for the first five games. The NHL would like to release all the dates, but Edmonton is the only team to have secured home ice and know who their opponent is.
St. Louis and Minnesota will meet in the first round, but home ice is still up for grabs. Two other series could be secured tonight. If Tampa Bay wins they will face Toronto in round one. Even if they lose and Boston loses, then they will face Tampa and Boston will play Carolina. The other four series won’t be determined until Friday. Pittsburgh and Washington are battling for third in the Metro. Whoever finishes higher will play the Rangers, while the lower seed will face Florida. And in the West, Nashville and Dallas are battling for the two wildcard spots. Dallas sits one point ahead of the Predators, but Nashville has two games remaining (@COL, @ARI) while Dallas hosts Anaheim tomorrow. The team that finishes higher will travel to Calgary for round one, while the lower seed will take on Colorado.
— Tuesday night Mike Smith tied Grant Fuhr’s franchise record by winning 10 consecutive starts. In Smith’s last 10 starts he has only allowed 17 goals. He has a .949Sv% and 1.68 GAA. I’ve seen some suggest this is just a heater. While the 10-game winning streak numbers won’t last long term, his numbers since Jay Woodcroft took over are also very good. In 20 appearances Smith is 14-5-1 with a .926Sv% and 2.40 GAA. Last season in 32 appearances he was 21-6-2 with a .923Sv% and 2.31 GAA. Outside of the five-game stretch between December 29th to February 9th, when he was coming back from injury, and re-aggravated an injury, he has played very well in his other 55 appearances (he had a .920Sv% in first three starts this season). Suggestions this is just a two-week hot-streak are misguided. The outlier, from the past two seasons, has turned out to be those five games when he was returning from injury.
— Oilers will look to continue their dominant play on home ice. They are 12-0-1 in their last 13 home games. The only non-win came in a shootout to Colorado. They’ve outscored team 63-30, outshot them by an average of 39.7 to 33.8. Their PP is 25% and their PK is 92.1%. They’ve only allowed three PK goals on 38 kills, but have scored three shorthanded goals so they have a net PK of 100%. A win or OT/SO loss and the Oilers will tie the franchise record of 14 consecutive home games with a point. They went 10-0-1-3 in 2004 (W-L-T-OTL) and 11-0-3 (tie) in 1989. The current 12 wins in 13 games is the most in franchise history.
— The San Jose Sharks are playing for pride. They had their playoff game against Vegas earlier this week. Timo Meier tied the game with less than one second remaining and then the Sharks won in OT, and delivered a huge blow to the Golden Knights’ playoff chances. For one night they were the favourite team in the NHL. And they won’t just lie down tonight. The Arizona Coyotes defeated Minnesota 5-3 on Tuesday and came back from a 3-0 deficit in the third period to defeat Dallas 4-3 in overtime last night. So the Oilers, if they want to keep their home point streak going, will need to play well.
— San Jose’s only pending UFAs are Alex Barabanov and Jacob Megna. Kaapo Kahkonen and Mario Ferraro are RFAs, along with a few other young forwards, but none are having huge seasons so an extra goal or point in the final two games won’t alter their negotiations much. The Sharks signed 20-year-old Thomas Bordeleau out of Michigan a few weeks ago and he’s given them an offensive boost with four assists in six games. San Jose is hoping some of their young players can continue to improve in the future, and while the organization hasn’t used the word rebuild, it is in a state of uncertainty. They have seven veterans (Karlsson, Burns, Vlasic, Couture, Hertl, Meier and Labanc) who take up a combined $53.3m of their cap hit next season and a few of them have no chance of playing up to their cap hit. They will need some young, cost-effective players who can contribute for the Sharks to have any hopes of competing for the playoffs next season.
— The Sharks’ biggest off-season move will be hiring a GM to replace Doug Wilson. Deciding how to build the roster will be challenging.
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