Game Notes: Edmonton Oilers @ Florida Panthers — Game 52

Cam Lewis
11 months ago
The Oilers will look to end their two-game losing skid when they take on the Panthers in a matinee game in Sunrise on Saturday afternoon.
1. The Jay Woodcroft era started off with a five-game winning streak but the Oilers have now lost back-to-back games to a pair of contending teams. Despite the losses, there’s quite a bit to be encouraged about with the way Edmonton played against the Lightning and Wild, who entered Friday ranked fourth and seventh respectively in the league in terms of winning percentage.
2. Before getting into the positives, we’ll talk about the elephant in the room. The goaltending in both of these games was atrocious. Against the Wild, Mike Smith allowed four goals on seven shots and the Oilers were in a 4-0 hole in the first period. Against the Lightning, Smith allowed four goals on 22 shots, which isn’t going to cut it when you’re going up against Andrei Vasilevskiy, a perennial Vezina Trophy finalist.
3. The fact Smith didn’t do a conditioning stint in the minors to find his groove is absolutely bewildering. He was injured in the team’s third game of the season, was on the shelf for two-and-a-half months, and then jumped right back into NHL action with nothing more than a few practices to get warmed up. In his first game back on New Year’s Eve, he was shelled for six goals. Smith missed a month of play with another injury and, yet again, jumped straight back into NHL action. Since returning, three of his starts have been good while four have been bad, which is expected for a 39-year-old goaltender shaking off the rust from being on the sidelines.
4. The word is that Smith didn’t want to go down to the AHL to get some reps in and that he just wanted to find his groove while facing big-league competition. Unfortunately, the Oilers are currently a bubble playoff team and they don’t have enough room for error for Smith to use a chunk of the team’s remaining games as a trial board for him to get back up to speed. There are only a handful of instances in professional sports in which a player can have a big say in management and roster decisions like this. Mike Smith is most certainly not LeBron James and giving him this much rope has been absurd.
5. Anyways, back to the positives. Despite falling into a massive hole six minutes into the game, the Oilers showed an impressive amount of resilience in that Minnesota game, heavily outshooting the Wild in the second period before the game got trapped to death in the third. It was the same with the Tampa Bay game. Edmonton was down early but they continued to push back against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. The Oilers were ahead of Minnesota 49-to-36 and Tampa Bay 50-to-30 on shot attempts in those two games.
6. As of Friday morning, the Oilers are tied with the Dallas Stars for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, as the two teams have identical 28-20-3 records. The Oilers are two points behind the Kings and three points behind the Golden Knights and all three teams have played 51 games. The Ducks are two points behind the Oilers but have played two more games. The Ducks and Kings face each other on Friday night and the Golden Knights have an easy game against the Coyotes.
7. The Panthers are also rolling into Saturday’s game on a two-game losing streak. They lost to the Predators by a score of 6-4 on Tuesday and then they lost to the Blue Jackets by a score of 6-3 on Thursday. While Sergei Bobrovsky has been largely very good this season, Florida has been prone to games where they allow a lot of goals. They got shelled by the lowly Sens for eight goals, the Devils scored seven on them, and they’ve allowed six goals against three times and five goals against three times as well.
8. Of course, the Panthers can compensate for leaking goaltending because they boast the league’s best offence. Florida has scored 215 goals this season, tops in the league by a pretty decent margin, as the Avs rank second with 204. The Panthers already have three 20-goal scorers, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, and Anthony Duclair, and they also have four more players on pace to crack 20 goals. Anton Lundell and Mason Marchment both have 11 goals and might get there too. Having nine players score 20 goals would be nuts.
9. The Panthers have done an amazing job turning their franchise around. Back in 2020, the squad that Dale Tallon put together was an underwhelming team riddled with salary cap issues. In under two years, Bill Zito has turned them into a legitimate contender. The key to Zito’s success has been finding under-the-radar talent to fill out the roster at a cheap price. Players like Marchment and Carter Verhaeghe have come out nowhere to be productive forwards and guys like Bennett and Duclair have finally come through on their potential playing in Florida.
10. It’ll be interesting to see if the Panthers can finally win a playoff series. The last time they did was back in 1996 when they edged out the Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the Stanley Cup Final. They’ve been in the playoffs five times since then (six, if you count their appearance in the play-in round in the summer of 2020) and they’ve lost in the first round each time.

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