Edmonton Oilers

Oil Check 13: The Edmonton Oilers are second in the Pacific Division

It’s been six games since our last Oil Check and the Edmonton Oilers are legitimate Stanly Cup contenders. The last six games have confirmed this in so many different ways. They earned 11 of 12 points and beat the #1 and #2 teams in the division in regulation. They also own the best power play with a chance at making history and they lead the league in short handed goals. There where also a few career milestones all long the way and with each win the hype around the team is only getting bigger and crazier.

The Oilers are on a roll

I have been hesitant to use the term but it is official, the Oilers are a wagon and they are rolling! You don’t have to take just my word for it either.

The Oilers have been a flawed team all season, however I do believe injuries played the biggest role in their early season inconsistency. Now that the roster has returned to full health (aside from Ryan McLeod and Ryan Murray), we have been given the opportunity to see this team’s full potential which includes setting a franchise record of 11 wins in one month!

Woodcroft sees success with 11 forwards and seven defencemen

Coach Jay Woodcroft experimented with different starting line ups the last six games including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, and Mattias Janmark on the top line. We also saw Woodcroft use the classic 12 forwards–six defencemen against the Vegas Golden Knights at home. The Oilers ended up losing in overtime but gained confidence knowing they could play with one of the best teams in the conference. The rematch would see the Oilers blowout the Knights in Vegas using the 11F–7D lineup.

The interesting part was Devin Shore being a healthy scratch in favor of the extra defenceman. Coach Woodcroft has an excellent record when using the 11F–7D lineup. Alan Mitchell from the Athletic noted that as of Feb 15, Woodcroft was 14–3–3, with a +23 goal differential and 16–16–2 with a +6 GD when using 12F–6D on the season.

For whatever reason the extra defenceman as well as the flexibility of three and half lines works for the Oilers. Opposing teams have difficulty making adjustments and what was first used to counter injuries is now deployed as strategy.

The new top six is currently:

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins–Connor McDavid–Zach Hyman

Evander Kane–Leon Draisaitl–Kailer Yamamoto

Oilers finding different ways to win

The Oilers started this Oil Check flat by starting slow against the Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks. Both games however saw the Oil comeback to force overtime and eventually win. Then they fought off a late rally in Mullet Arena for a regulation win. They followed that up with a blow out of the Knights. And finally, the first shutout of the season versus a potential playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Kings.

The shutout to me was the most impressive win as those are the types of wins that are needed in the playoffs. Yes, scoring seven goals in one game is fun to watch but being able to shutdown a team and grind it out means you can still win if the offence isn’t there or you run into a hot goalie.

The comebacks against Yotes and Sharks are also worth noting as it shows the Oilers have that no quit tenacity and ability to step it up as the game progresses.

Many players hit major milestones

Leon Draisaitl, Evander Kane, and Connor McDavid each scored their 300th NHL goal.

It is quite serendipitous that all three past the same milestone just a few games apart. This photo has so much going on in it and yet the biggest take away for me is that it’s just a bunch of guys having fun playing a game. Hyman’s expression says it all. McDavid’s 300th was one for the ages: shorthanded, turns the puck over, dances around two defenders, shoulder checks at the blue line, slows down on the breakaway and buries it. That goal was also the insurance marker in a tight game. His 61st of the season, unbelievable!

The specials teams are beyond special

The Oilers have the best power play in the league with a 32.4 PP% and have an opportunity to be the best power play of all time. According to Statmuse, they are currently ahead of the 1977–78 Montreal Canadiens who posted a 31.9 PP%. They were a perfect three for three in the win against the Knights.

Another record an Oiler could beat is most power play goals in a season by a player. Leon Draisaitl needs five more powerplay goals to tie Tim Kerr who had 34 powerplay goals in 1985–86. He currently sits fifth all time with 29, two goals behind Mario Lemieux and Joe Nieuwendyk. The history Draisaitl and McDavid are chasing this year and the names of players they are chasing is truly special.

Evan Bouchard running the point on the powerplay has been a seamless transition from Tyson Barrie. They honestly have not dropped a beat and the #1 unit is fun to watch. The home crowd does not scream “Shooooooooot” anymore but rather holds up and lets the powerplay cook, which is a refreshing change from the decade of darkness. The power play went 44.4% the last six games.

The penalty kill has been better as of late. Overall for the season they are 21st with a 75.9 PK%. However since the deadline, they are 15th in the league with a 79.0 PK%. The Oilers also lead the league with 15 shorthanded goals. While no where near the same caliber of the power play, the PK has been better with the additions of Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad.

What to expect down the stretch

The Oilers leap frogged the Kings and currently sit in the second spot only two points behind the Golden Knights. The Kings and Knights (how royal) have one game in hand over the Oilers. The Kings get a chance for redemption next week and the other big game remaining is against the Colorado Avalanche on April 11th. Both games have playoff series possibilities and it will be interesting to see how the Oilers match up against a near healthy Avalanche.

The Oilers play their fourth game in six days tonight versus the Ducks and it will be easy to forgive a no show, especially after two solid wins against division rivals. After tonight they go on a four-game road trip and finish the season at home against the Sharks.

The Oilers have a chance to win the division and take home ice through to the final depending how things shake out. They would need to finish strong and maybe need all 12 points remaining to do it. Regardless, the Oilers magic number sits at two points or one win and they’re in.

Aside from the post season the only other questions left are historical. Can McDavid reach 160 points? How many goals will he end up with? Can Draisaitl score the most power play goals in a season?

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

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