With the playoffs all but underway and the Edmonton Oilers first round opponent cemented as the Los Angeles Kings, fans across Oil Country are left with little to do outside of holding their breath, if not delving headfirst into superstition. The Oilers themselves are looking in top form, truly among the top contenders league-wide, but still a lot of things must align for a deep playoff run. No team is good enough to be insurmountable.
While it should not be taken for granted that the Oilers stars have a reputation for elevating their play beyond their already otherworldly levels, there must be contributions from elsewhere on the roster, if not everywhere else if the Oilers hope to win it all. As much as the playoffs are a stage for the league’s brightest to shine, the path to the Stanley Cup is gilded with outstanding performances from less heralded contributors.
With that in mind we sent out a Twitter poll to take the temperature of our readership’s playoff focus.
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Is a healthy roster a concern for fans?
Naturally, health is all encompassing and all important, as any player can miss time, or even be limited by injury. By this point in the season many players are hobbled to some extent, an endemic that will only worsen from the looming attrition of the NHL playoffs.
Finishing firmly in second with more than a third of the votes this reality is clearly top of mind for Oilers fans. Perhaps, with a repeat of last year’s first round matchup in the Kings, fans are remembering the questionable scrum behaviour of Kings defenceman Mikey Anderson that left Leon Draisaitl visibly hobbled the remainder of the playoffs.
While Draisaitl was able to contribute at an elite level, his lack of mobility forced the Oilers hand in deploying Draisaitl with Connor McDavid. Greater flexibility, as well as presumably even more from Draisaitl, certainly would have been a great help. Of course, last season the Oilers dealt with other injuries as well, most importantly to top defenceman Darnell Nurse.
The Oilers are starting the playoffs in fantastic health, which might speak to why this option did not run away with the lead in this poll. The Oilers will have the chance to overcome the inevitability of the injuries ahead, but for now things on this front are as good as can be reasonably expected. Down the stretch, Ryan McLeod missed some time with an injury, but is expected to play. He, along with any other Oiler, might well be managing an injury situation unbeknownst to us, but a full complement of players is expected to be available for Game 1.
The bottom six is not an issue
With only 5% of votes, bottom six production is last on this poll by a good margin. While Warren Foegele and company will need to help supplement the offence along the way, the results here show us a few things.
First is that the Oilers overwhelming offence is powered by their stars. The fact that McDavid and Draisaitl have been so strong this season, not to mention the performances of years past, takes the pressure off of the bottom half of the forward group.
The second conclusion we can infer is that stylistically the Oilers have embraced the traditional defensive focus of third and fourth lines. For the most part, the Oilers group here bring a lot of things to the table before offensive production. This group will need to be stout defensively, physical, and feature heavily on the penalty kill much more than they will need to produce offence. Of course, another torrid scoring stretch from Klim Kostin, for example, would not hurt.
Fans are no longer worried about defence
Taking a back seat to their scoring prowess, the Oilers defensive capabilities have grown tremendously since the start of the season. For the first time in the McDavid era the Oilers have become a legitimate top ten team at 5v5, excelling in metrics such as expected goals against. Some of this comes from internal improvement, as McDavid’s defensive impacts progress each year, while new additions Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad being dimension of defensive ability that balances the team as a whole.
Expected goals against the penalty kill has been improving, but the Oilers still lag behind the rest of the league’s playoff teams. More than anything, this might be the closest thing the Oilers have to an Achilles heel.
Like everything else, the defence will be paramount to a successful postseason run for the Oilers, but perhaps the result of this poll shows us that fans feel fairly confident in the Oilers capabilities here. At just under 15%, Oilers fans are clearly not too worried about defence.
Goaltending will be the Oilers’ key to success
Leading the poll is the Oilers situation in net. Of course, goaltending is inherently vital in the sport of hockey. Catastrophic levels of play in net could sink even the best team, and from a positional standpoint, there is nowhere on the ice that affects the game more. As such, this option was sure to receive a lot of votes.
The Oilers specific circumstances might be an influence in receiving almost half the votes of the poll. Jack Campbell’s poor start in Edmonton does not inspire much optimism for the present or the future, and certainly plays a role in the fans’ insecurities here. It should be noted that Campbell has performed to an adequate level in his prior playoff experience, and that a bounce back is possible next season. More than anything, though, Campbell’s struggles have thrust Stuart Skinner into the limelight.
In 2022–23 Skinner continued his near consistent season to season upward trajectory once again. A big body with a long established pedigree, an impressive resume for his age, an All-Star game appearance, and a fantastic year as the Oilers starter (not to mention a low cost three-year contract extension signed earlier this season), are all things that Oilers fans can feel good about. All that being said there is no greater teacher than experience, and Skinner has yet to backstop an NHL team in the playoffs.
Clearly some combination of the position’s inherent importance and Skinner’s lack of experience has fans focused on the performance here.
Photo by Derek Cain/Icon Sportswire