A poor start isn’t the end of the world

Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Ryley Delaney
7 months ago
Just because the Oilers have had a slow start to their season doesn’t mean they’re out of the playoff picture.
As of the morning of November 30, 2023, the Oilers have an 8-12-1 record with 60 goals for and 78 goals against, giving them a total of 16 points after 21 games played. The Nashville Predators are currently occupying the final Wild Card spot, sitting on 22 points, with the Arizona Coyotes having the same amount, but with fewer regulation wins. The Calgary Flames and Seattle Kraken each have 21, and the Anaheim Ducks have 18.
There’s a widely circulated stat that 76.7% of teams in a playoff position at American Thanksgiving since the 2005-06 season have gone on to make the playoffs. There are 56 teams that didn’t make the playoffs, but 31 of those teams were held on to a wild card spot by a point.
The Oilers sat 10 points out of the Wild Card spot on America’s turkey day, but have won three games since and just five points out. Let’s go back and look at some recent examples in which teams turned things around after a poor start. 

May 2, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CANADA; Florida Panthers forward Sam Bennett (9) skates toward teammates to celebrate his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second period in game one of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

How the 2022-23 Florida Panthers turned around their season:

I have a friend who cheers for the Habs. For most of the season, he was ecstatic that the 2021-22 President Trophy winners were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Why? Well, the Panthers traded an unprotected 2023 first-round pick for Ben Chiarot of all players.
On American Thanksgiving, they had 22 points and were just a point out of a Wild Card Spot. Fast forward to January 5, 2022, and they were the 13th-placed team in the Eastern Conference with 38 points and were eight points out of a playoff spot.
To end the season, the Panthers went on a 25-14-4 run to barely squeak into a playoff spot. Now, there were some incredible performances to end the season, such as a six-game win streak that started on March 29, 2023 which saw them go from three points out of a playoff spot to a game ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Pittsburgh and Buffalo both losing on April 13, 2023, Florida made the playoffs by a single point.
The Panthers were down 3-1 in the series against a historic Boston Bruins team and the score was 3-3 with about seven seconds left in the third period. The faceoff is won in Boston’s end by the Bruins and the puck lands on Brad Marchand’s stick who pokes it past a pinching Florida defenceman. With literal seconds on the clock, Sergei Bobrovsky stones Marchand, sending the game to overtime.
Florida won that game, and then the series, and then beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in dominant fashion, and then the Carolina Hurricanes, before ultimately losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final.
While they fell short of the ultimate goal, the 2022-23 Florida Panthers came back from a sizable point difference with teams to jump before making a huge comeback from a historic regular season team, and becoming the second-best team of the year. It’s probably about the second craziest year for a team that comes to mind. Want to know which is first?

There are no words to describe the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues’ season:

On January 5, 2023, Florida was 24th in the league with 38 points. But 1,099 days prior, the St. Louis Blues sat at the literal bottom of the league with 34 points as they had a 15-18-4 record. Honestly, it’s hard to compare these two seasons as there were seven teams in “tank for Connor Bedard” mode in 2022-23, but the bottom of the league is no joke.
In late 2018, the Blues called up Jordan Binnington as their goaltending absolutely stunk. He played in two games in relief in December, but made his first start on January 7, 2019. In the 30 games that Binnington started for the Blues, they went 24-5-1, as he finished with a .927 save percentage and a 1.89 goals-against average.
In their remaining 45 games, the Blues went 30-10-4 to finish third in the Central Division with 99 points.  There was no nail-biter finish like the Florida Panthers had in 2023, as they were clear of a playoff spot by 13 points. It was the first time since the 1996-97 season that a team in last place in the New Year went on to make the playoffs. There was no amazing comeback in the first round, as they soundly beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 in the series. Their second round was closer, winning in seven games against the Dallas Stars with a goal in the second overtime thanks to former Oiler Patrick Maroon.
In one of the weirdest matchups in a Conference Final, they took on the San Jose Sharks, who were on their last limbs of being a team to be reckoned with. St. Louis soundly beat them by a score of 5-1 to finish them off in Game 6. 
The Stanley Cup Final was a back-and-forth battle against the Boston Bruins, but just like Game Six of the Conference Final, Game Seven of the Final was relatively uncompetitive as they beat the Bruins 4-1 to lift their first Stanley Cup. This was the first and only time a team since the 1967 expansion went on to make the Stanley Cup Finals (much less win it) after being in last place after 20 games.

Mar 20, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal scored by defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Comparing this year’s Oilers to last year’s Oilers:

Edmonton has proven in years past they’re a notoriously slow-starting team. At times, they’ll jump out to a hot start, before their play declines in November and December. 
On January 10, 2023, the Oilers found themselves with 45 points and a 21-18-3 record. It was good enough for a playoff spot, but just barely as the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche were all within a win of surpassing the Oilers.
Edmonton was embarrassed the night before, as they lost 6-3 to the Los Angeles Kings. However, they found a spark in that loss as Jesse Puljujärvi, Zach Hyman, and Klim Kostin all fought in this game. I often complain about how the Oilers don’t literally fight back when they’re losing, but on this rare occasion, they did.
And it paid off, as they went 29-5-6 over their remaining 40 games to finish 50-23-9 with 109 points, two shy of getting home ice throughout the entirety of the Western Conference playoffs.
To reopen old wounds, they played a competitive series against the Los Angeles Kings and knocked them out in six games, which included a 3-0 comeback. Had the Kings won this game, Edmonton would have been down 3-1 in the series. It was also the second straight year that the Oilers sent Los Angeles packing, but unlike the year prior, they were stopped in the second round.
In The Vegas series, they didn’t show that fight or the chippiness after whistles as they did against the Kings on that January 9th game. After the Knights adjusted to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they won the remaining two games with ease and the Oilers just sat there and took it.
Re-opened wounds and a tangent about why Edmonton needs to fight back (even to this day) aside, if Edmonton produces another 29-5-6 run, they’ll easily make up the five points needed to make the playoffs. And you better believe that they have the talent to do so.
It isn’t over until it’s over and games in 2024 matter more than games in 2023. The Oilers need to get themselves to within striking distance by the time the trade deadline rolls around and then they can position themselves for a late-season run. 

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