A Post-Deadline Look at the Blueline
Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
24 days ago
The Oilers’ schedule got really difficult in a hurry and a few weeks ago, as they finished up a stretch of games that featured matchups against a lot of teams that were out of the playoff picture, I made the not-so-bold claim that this stretch against legitimate Stanley Cup contenders would define the Oilers season.
If they sputtered their way through it, they would be pushed back into fighting for their playoff lives. If they thrived and found a way to grab some big points, then they would be eyeing up the top spot in the division and potentially, the number one seed in the Western Conference.
They’re now five games into this crucial stretch and have picked up three wins. That’s pretty good. The wins over Toronto and Winnipeg were very impressive and the most recent defeat against Buffalo showed that they have a goaltender capable of stealing them a game.
I even look at the loss against the Bruins as a bright spot. Sure, the Oilers aren’t exactly at a point where they can be happy with moral victories but they played really damn well against a team that has looked more or less unbeatable for the entire regular season. They had a few golden opportunities that they just missed on and had a few breaks not go their way late in the hockey game but they were right there with the best team in the league for the entire night and that was before they made their deadline adds. They also didn’t have Evander Kane.
That night, perhaps more than any other over this stretch, showed us just what this Oilers team might be capable of and it’s very exciting. It could be another wild spring in Edmonton.
The Oilers are also 3-1-0 since acquiring Mattias Ekholm and I’ve been loving what the big, bearded Swede has brought to the Oilers’ lineup. He defends his own blueline very well off the rush and he’s seemingly helped Evan Bouchard’s game find another level. That pairing could be very, very good for the Oilers down the stretch.
Since the Oilers got Ekholm, he and Bouchard have played 53 minutes together at 5v5. In that time, the Oilers have outshot their opponents 31-28 and outscored them 6-3. Pretty solid. When both of them are off the ice, the Oilers are getting outscored 6-5 over a total of 115 minutes. The shots are also 62-61 for the opposition.
Pretty solid numbers and I think the Oilers have found themselves a really good duo here and their results should only continue to get better as they spend more time together. Zach Laing also wrote a great piece on this yesterday.
MORE DEFENSIVE DEPTH
Mar 1, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander (88) and Edmonton Oilers defensemen Mattias Ekholm (14) battle along the boards for a loose puck during the second period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Heading into the deadline period, I was really hoping for the Oilers to add a defenseman. They did go out and grab Mattias Ekholm and I love that addition but it came at a cost and unfortunately, it wasn’t just picks and prospects.
The addition of Ekholm gives them tremendous depth on the left side. Nurse, Kulak, and Ekholm give them three really solid LHD and Broberg and even Niemalainen give them a really good layer of depth.
Losing Tyson Barrie really hurts their depth on the right side of their blueline though. They’re running Ceci, Bouchard, and Desharnais and while I like that trio, they basically have no depth. That should have been an area where Holland grabbed a depth piece.
Injuries are bound to happen if a team goes on a long playoff run and if the Oilers were to, unfortunately, have one of their RHD go down, then they would be in a tough spot. They would either have to move one of Kulak, Ekholm, or Broberg to their off-side of they’d be in a spot where they have to recall Jason Demers from the Bakersfield Condors. Not ideal.
I would have liked to see Holland go spend a late-round draft pick on someone like Justin Braun from Philadelphia or even go spend a little bit extra to get a player like Trevor Van Riemsdyk from Washington.
This isn’t the biggest issue in the world and this roster is good enough as constructed to go on a very deep playoff run, but, the depth on the right side of the blue line is a little concerning for me. They’re one injury away from being in a bit of a tough spot, especially considering Jay Woodcroft’s love for dressing seven defensemen.
Am I making too much of this? Or are you also worried about the depth on the blue line? Let me know in the comments.
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