Frank “The Tank” Ricard is one of my favourite supporting characters of all time. Will Farrell is cast perfectly as Ricard in the underrated comedy, Old School. Frank has many great scenes, but his “We’re going streaking” speech, and subsequent streaking down the street, was laughably relatable because most groups of buddies have one guy who is vastly different after a few beers than he is sober.
That was Frank. Not to mention he made a poor marriage decision as well.
I’m not sure who is the “Frank” of the Oilers, because until you see their personality change firsthand it is hard to know. But since Christmas the Oilers have changed their collective 5×5 personality and they are poised to go on a winning streak — or at least a stretch of games where they win the majority of them.
Maybe Santa Claus brought them a defensive conscience for Christmas, because since he arrived the Oilers have allowed 16 goals at 5×5 in 10 games. They it is tied for sixth best in the NHL at 1.60 5×5 goals against/game. Dallas is first at 1.22, followed by Minnesota (1.33), NYI (1.44) and New Jersey and Boston (1.55). They’ve played nine games. The Oilers and Seattle Kraken are tied for sixth at 1.60.
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In their first 35 games the Oilers were tied for 25th in 5×5 GA/GP at 2.14. They gifted goals with unforced errors far too frequently and it cost them games. Mistakes will happen, but up until Christmas the Oilers were making too many. They’ve made significant strides in shoring up their 5×5 play, not just by lowering their major gaffes, but also with better positioning and support.
In 38 games last season with head coach Jay Woodcroft, the Oilers were sixth in 5×5 goals against/game. It was a huge part of their success, and a main reason they had the second most points and third best points% over their final 38 games. I felt the Oilers weren’t playing up to their potential prior to Christmas. There will still be off nights here and there, but in the past three weeks the Oilers have rediscovered the level of play they had down the stretch in 2022.
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Combine that with their upcoming schedule and the Oilers are poised to go streaking.

SCHEDULE ADVANTAGES…

It is much easier to exploit scheduling advantages when you are playing well. If the upcoming scheduled occurred in November, when the Oilers were giving up goals easier than the LA Chargers blow leads, then it might not have mattered. But Edmonton’s recent stretch of improved defensive play 5×5 combined with the upcoming schedule should allow them to go on a good run.
They dominated Anaheim (6-2) and San Jose (7-1) to start this streak. Then they won a game that was a scheduling disadvantage, playing in Vegas on the second half of back-to-backs. The Oilers had a great start and led 2-0, then 3-1, then 4-3 going into the third period. They controlled the third frame and outshot Vegas 10-6 at 5×5 and only gave up one scoring chance. It was a mature, protect-the-lead period.
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The next 10 games set up very well for the Oilers.
They host Seattle tomorrow night. The Kraken are rolling. They just set an NHL record by winning all seven games of a seven-game road trip. And they crushed teams in the process. They host Tampa Bay today before coming to Edmonton. The Kraken will be playing their third game in four nights, the second half of back-to-back and third game in a different city, while the Oilers will have two days between games. It is a significant scheduling benefit the Oilers need to take advantage of.
They host Tampa Bay on Thursday. Tampa plays in Vancouver on Wednesday and will be playing its third game in four nights as well.
Then the Oilers are in Vancouver on Saturday. The Canucks will also be playing their third game in four nights and on the second half of back-to-backs. They host Colorado on Friday.
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I can’t recall the last time the Oilers faced three consecutive opponents who were on the second half of back-to-backs and third game in four nights. It is rare, and the Oilers need to capitalize on this scheduling quirk.
Seattle and Tampa are good, but the final eight games of the upcoming 10-game stretch for the Oilers are against clubs currently sitting 26th, 30th, 32nd, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 27th and 23rd in the NHL standings. Detroit and Philadelphia have 43 points, Ottawa 41, Montreal and Vancouver 39, Columbus 28 and Chicago 26.
The Oilers host Columbus next Wednesday, after three days off, and then host Chicago on Saturday with two days between games.
Then the Oilers have their bye week, which leads right into the All-Star weekend.
Edmonton returns to action on Tuesday, February 7th in Detroit followed by games in Philadelphia (9th), Ottawa (11th), Montreal (12th) and home to Detroit on the 15th.
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The next month sets up very well for the Oilers, and their renewed commitment to solid defensive play 5×5 should give them a very good opportunity to win eight of those games.

PACIFIC DIVISION BATTLE…

Since the Wildcard playoff format was introduced in 2013-14, the Pacific Division has never had five playoff teams.
In 2014, 2015, 2016, 2019, and 2022 the Central had both Wildcard spots (five teams in total) while the Pacific Division had their top-three teams.
In 2017 and 2018 each division had four teams.
The 2020 and 2021 seasons had different playoff formats, and divisions, due to COVID.
Today the Pacific division holds down both Wildcard slots.
The top-five teams in the Pacific have 51+ points and it is the only division with five teams with 50+ points. Colorado is six points behind Calgary and Edmonton, but they have three and four games in hand respectively. I’m not counting out the defending champions, but they will have to play better down the stretch. The emergence of Seattle has significantly improved the Pacific division. It has been the weakest division for many years, but not this season.
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Some will argue it is still weak because of Vancouver, Anaheim and San Jose, and that is why the top-five teams have so many points. But I’m not sold that is true.
Vegas is 3-2-1 v. those three teams. Seattle is 2-0-2. Edmonton is 3-2. LA is 3-1 and Calgary is 4-0. The Flames have had the most success, and top teams in other divisions are also usually beating up on the weaker divisional opponents.
In the Central Winnipeg is 5-0 v. Arizona and Chicago. Minnesota is 4-0 and Dallas is 2-0.
In the Metropolitan division Carolina is 4-0-1 v. Philly and Columbus. New Jersey is 2-2, the Rangers are 2-1, Washington is 4-2 and Pittsburgh is 3-0.
In the Atlantic Boston is 1-1-1 v. Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit. Toronto is 3-2 and Tampa is 2-2.
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Boston is 9-1 v. Vancouver, Anaheim, San Jose, Columbus, Philly, Arizona and Chicago. They have played more games against the weaker teams outside of their division.
Here are the records of current playoff teams against the aforementioned weaker non-divisional opponents:
Carolina: 5-1-2.                          Boston: 9-1.
New Jersey: 11-1.                       Tampa Bay: 9-0.
New York Rangers 8-4-3.         Toronto: 6-2-2.
Washington: 6-3-1
Pittsburgh: 4-1-3.
Vegas: 10-2                                Winnipeg: 7-2
Seattle 3-2.                                 Dallas: 9-3.
LA is 6-1-4.                                 Minnesota: 9-2-1.
Calgary: 2-1-2
Edmonton: 4-0.
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Total up their games against the bottom 10 teams (CHI, ANA, CBJ, ARI, SJ, MTL, VAN, OTT, PHI and DET) and it is three from the Pacific and Atlantic and two from the Metro and Central.
Here is the breakdown of records against those 10 bottom teams (BT) and the rest of the league.
Team
v. BT
v. Rest
BOS
10-2-1
23-3-3
SEA
5-2-2
21-10-2
CAR
9-1-3
18-8-5
TOR
9-4-2
17-7-5
WPG
12-2
17-12-1
EDM
7-2
17-16-2
TB
11-2
16-11-1
LA
9-2-4
16-13-2
NJ
13-3
15-9-3
LVK
13-4-1
15-10-1
PIT
7-1-3
15-14-4
CGY
6-1-2
15-13-7
NYR
10-5-3
14-8-4
DAL
12-3
13-10-4
WSH
10-5-1
13-11-5
MIN
13-2-1
11-12-3
Seattle, Edmonton and Calgary have only played nine games v. the BT10 in the NHL. In theory they have the “easier” schedules down the stretch, while the Rangers (18 GP), Vegas (17), Washington and New Jersey, Minnesota (16), Los Angeles, Dallas and Toronto (15) have had “easier” schedules thus far.
I disagree with the notion the Pacific Division is the weakest. In the past it was, no question, but not anymore. The surprising Seattle Kraken have made the division deeper and to this point Seattle, Edmonton and Calgary have played the fewest games against the weaker teams.
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The Atlantic division has the best top-three teams, while the other three divisions are close. Don’t buy into the suggestion the Pacific teams all have 51+ points because they have weak teams in their division. It might at the end of the season when all games are played, but to date Pacific division teams haven’t been facing a much higher number of games v. those weaker teams.