Edmonton Oilers

Oil Check 16: The Edmonton Oilers’ 2022–23 season comes to an end

The Edmonton Oilers have been eliminated from the 2023 NHL playoffs and it is a tough pill to swallow. Last year one could make the argument that the team overachieved by reaching the Western Conference Finals even though they got swept by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche. This year, however, expectations were raised after an excellent trade deadline by Ken Holland and the impressive win streak that followed down the stretch. The Oilers were even the betting favourites to go all the away after Boston, Tampa Bay, and Colorado were eliminated in the first round, which only increased said expectation.

The next step was to beat the Vegas Golden Knights, a team they went 3–1 against in the regular season; however, achieving that next step would be easier said than done. Let’s take a look back at what now could be considered a new rival comparable to the Battle of Alberta.

Game 1: Slow out the gate

The Oilers would start the series great scoring four minutes into the game on a Leon Draisaitl power play goal. The Knights would tie the game 40 seconds later (which would become a common theme in the series) and add two more before Draisaitl would score with ten seconds left, banking a shot in off Laurent Brossoit’s back.

The Oilers would continue to play some of their worst hockey of the season most notably from Darnell Nurse and Vincent Desharnais. They would have a tough time making simple passes and give up way too many turnovers. The Oilers were too casual with the puck and Desharnais was benched for most of the second. Edmonton would end up fighting the puck all night and even Connor McDavid had some questionable turnovers.

They would get some early momentum in the third with another Draisaitl power play goal, however Vegas would respond one minute later with a goal of their own and follow it up with another. Neon Leon would get his fourth goal of the game, one day after Joe Pavelski became the oldest player to score four in one game.

The Knights would score an empty netter, and to add insult to injury, the Las Vegas media did not have Draisaitl as one of the three stars despite scoring four goals. I understand that the Vegas media is in the entertainment industry but that is ridiculously embarrassing especially considering what Joe Thornton would have done if he scored four in one game.

The biggest takeaway from the game would be that despite playing arguably their worst game of the season, the Oilers would only lose by an empty netter and poor shifts after goals would be something that needed to be address going forward. The Oilers would actually win most of the 5v5 stats aside from xGF%.

Game 2: Here come the Oilers

The next game would see an excellent response from the Oilers as they have done all year after a poor performance. It would be the Oilers early and often winning 4–0, out shooting Vegas 19 to four with the power play going three out of six after the first period. McDavid had two ridiculous goals. The first one he would create a turnover shorthanded, go end-to-end and score with one hand on his stick while Shea Theodore was all over him. Unbelievable.

The captain would score another ridiculous goal on the power play after Brossoit bends the knee (Game of Thrones reference there for ya) and McDavid puts in the tiniest gap possible. Let’s have another look.

At first I found it amusing how Vegas fans chant “shame” to the opposing player who takes a penalty but it became less amusing as the series wore on and got more chippy. This is what Vegas tried to do and failed at the end of this game leaving us with the most memorable image of Evander Kane blowing a kiss to a Knights fan who was giving him the double bird.

It was refreshing to see the Oiler being the bully and actually pushing around the opposition for once as compared to the soft as tissue paper HOPE Oilers from the decade of darkness.

A funny side note would be the return of Derek Ryan as he missed Game 1 with an illness. He was the missing ingredient because the Game 2 Oilers were the total opposite of the first one. The Oilers win 5–1 comfortably and this time Vegas media gets it right with following three stars.

1st Star: Leon Draisaitl; 2nd Star: Connor McDavid; 3rd Star: Evan Bouchard

Game 3: Adding to the worst 120 minutes all season

The Oilers would return home and despite scoring an early goal, they would lay an absolute egg getting blown out 5–1 for the first time this post season. They would fight the puck again all night, reminiscent of Game 1. Kane would take a terrible penalty at the end of the first. Bouchard would catch an edge which Jack Eichel takes advantage of and scores. Stuart Skinner would be pulled after going 19/23 shots and .826 SV%. Zach Hyman would be on the receiving of a knee-on-knee collision that led to a charley horse, which despite him playing through would affect his performance going forward.

Laurent Brossoit would end up injuring himself on a rather harmless looking play pushing from one side to the other and Adin Hill would be excellent in relief duty, however the prospect of playing against the Knights back up the rest of the way could be the opportunity the Oilers needed to get past Vegas.

It’s just too bad the Oilers didn’t have their best stuff and you could add this 60 minutes with Game 1 and call those 120 minutes the worst of the entire season. The only bright spot would be the penalty kill which was a perfect 4/4.

Game 4: Let’s go Oilers

The Oilers would yet again respond after another disappointing game, this time going with the classic 12 forwards–six defencemen lineup, and McDavid and Draisaitl on separate lines for the first time in a long time. Putting them together got stale and too easy to defend, and left the Oilers with an odd second line of Nugent-Hopkins and Nick Bjugstad.

The balanced lineup with the two superstars on separate lines allowed the Oilers to attack in waves. The play of the game would be a save by Stuart Skinner on Mark Stone with the Oilers up 2–0. There would be a missed crosscheck on Stone and the Oilers would go down the ice to make it 3–0. It was eerily similar to a missed Knights high stick in Game 3 which Vegas would score right after.

A dominate first period would lead to another comfortable win in which Nuge would finally break the ice and get his first goal of these playoffs. In the third period the fans would start the wave and chant “Hill”. The last ten minutes would see some nasty stuff with multiple players given game misconducts and sent to the room in an attempt to cool things down. The most egregious incident would be from Alex Pietrangelo who attempted to injure Draisaitl with a viscous slash after an empty net attempt—this was with only a minute and thirty seconds left mind you—to which McDavid would immediately confront Pietrangelo and start a scuffle that was quickly broken up.

Again it was a refreshing reminder that the soft Oilers from ten years ago are no longer a thing and these Oilers have each backs. Nurse would finally oblige Nicolas Hague and drop the gloves. However, because Nurse traveled from the blueline to behind Vegas’ net to challenge Hague, he would end up taking the instigator in the final five minutes which comes with an automatic one game suspension that could be rescinded by the league after review.

I don’t like to harp on the officials or the department of player safety but I will say that George Parros’ time as the head of DoPS should come to end. His decisions since heading the department have been inconsistent to say the very least and I cannot believe that both Nurse and Pietrangelo each received a one game suspension. It’s one thing when an Oiler fan disagrees, but it was universally decided by most NHL media that the DoPS dropped the ball on this on. Even long time Oilers hater Kelly Rudy said that Pietrangelo’s suspension should have been more than Nurse’s and that should tell you something.

The positives from this game (aside from the lop sided win) were former Oilers George Laraque was at Rogers as well as American actor Jaleel White who has become a fan of the team. The Oilers were once again perfect on the penalty kill going 4/4.

This was the game you could tell that a new rivalry had begun as this was the second time Vegas had become goons after getting outplayed. Apparently the Golden Knights were one of the least penalized teams going into the playoffs, however it is funny how things change once the post season starts. Over 111 penalty minutes would end up being issued in this game.

It was now a three game series and the Oilers would need back-to-back wins one way or another to move onto the Western Conference Final.

Game 5: 1 minute and 29 seconds decide the game

Some fans were expecting fireworks after last game, I was not as neither team could afford to take bad penalties. As McDavid said after Game 4, “there’s bigger fish to fry than revenge.”

For the fifth time in a row, the Oilers would score first again only to have Vegas respond 56 seconds later. Coach Jay Woodcroft would make a poor goaltending challenge on the goal but the Oilers would kill that penalty. The Oilers would add another power play goal and take a 2–1 lead into the second after going 2/2 on the power play in the first.

It was a close hard fought game when Philip Broberg would be called for a suspect holding call made by the back official. Even Jack Eichel thought it would be coincidental minors for both players but nope, instead Vegas gets a power play. On that power play Mattias Janmark would take a careless high sticking penalty at centre ice to give the Knights an extended five-on-three. The Knights would score two power play goals and add another at even strength in the span of one minute and twenty nine seconds.

There was a glimmer of hope as Keegan Kolesar would take a five minute major for boarding Mattias Ekholm near the end of the second period. The Oilers would pull Skinner at intermission and start the third with four and half minutes of power play time. They would score one goal on that powerplay and had momentum until Warren Foegele took an unlucky four minute high sticking penalty trying to dangle Ben Hutton.

Darenll Nurse’s absence was notable as every other defencemen had to step up with him suspended. Cody Ceci would struggle pretty much all game and have a tough time connecting on simple bank passes, or even clearing the d zone off the boards. The Knights were able to fend off the Oilers and it was now must win time.

Game 6: Over too soon

The script was flipped as Vegas would score first for the first time this series, and on their first shot of the game none the less. It was the Oilers turn for a quick response as McDavid would even it up 30 seconds later, followed up by Foegele shortly there after. The Oilers would have another 2–1 lead in a game going into the second despite fighting the puck again.

The second period would unfortunately see the start of the Oilers downfall. Jonathan Marchessault would score an easy goal four minutes in after an unlucky bounce would put the puck cross ice, right onto his stick and he would bury it into the wide open cage. Three minutes later a shot from the point would go off of Skinner’s shoulder, landing right on the door step for Marchessault again to score yet another easy goal. That puck was inches away from landing on the back of the net. Skinner himself would note that a puck like that 99% of the time ends up on the top of the net or behind it.

The bad luck would continue as Ekholm would take an uncharacteristic bad boarding penalty after checking Zach Whitecloud from behind into the boards. Marchessault would complete the natural hattrick on a four-on-three power play to take a two goal lead into the third. Skinner would be pulled yet again during the intermission.

From there the Knights would put on what McDavid would later call a “clinical third period.” They would hang back, defend like crazy and get the puck deep for a change. Before you knew the there was only nine minutes left and it looked more and more like the Oilers season was coming to an end.

To the Knights credit, they bent but did not break and boxed out like madmen. I could be wrong be I believe the Oilers did not get any second chances in the last twenty minutes. Every rebound was contained and chipped out killing precious seconds every time and getting fresh defenders out there. There was some hope that the Oilers could pull off another comeback like they have done all season, but Vegas was able fend off the Oilers and end it with an empty netter.

Maybe next year

The Oilers are a better team than last year’s roster yet they were unable to return to the Western Conference Final. A golden opportunity to go the final was missed and a historic season wasted as mention by Draisaitl after Game 6. This series saw the 5th and 6th best teams in the NHL go at it for 6 games and if a couple bounces go the other way the Oilers could have been the team moving on.

The pressure for McDavid to win a cup in Edmonton is immense and at this point in his career he wants to leave a legacy that can only be defined by winning it all. It took Alexander Ovechkin 14 years to win the Stanley Cup and he was relentlessly questioned until the Washington Capitals finally broke through in 2018. Which is why this season is particularly tough because it appeared to be wide open after the first round exits of the big three. A Stanley Cup win this year would have taken the pressure of McDavid and finally laid to rest the Canadian Cup drought that now sits at thirty years.

There is more optimism going forward this year than last as a couple holes have been filled. The goaltending for next season should be the same and Ken Holland did not waste the first-round pick on rental and instead bolstered the blue line with the addition of Ekholm.

Skinner and Desharnais took huge strides forward this season and their development will be key to the Oilers success in the future. This was the second year in a row when highly coveted players choose to come to Edmonton for a chance to win the cup. There were countless years when that was not the case. The Oilers are also becoming regular picks by the “experts” to win it all and I would expect no different next year.

Holland has finally uncuffed his hands from the mistakes made by Peter Chiarelli’s run as GM. Holland has found a way to steadily improve the team while working with little to no cap space. The key pieces of the team are locked up for the next couple of years and there’s no reason to believe that McDavid or Draisaitl will not be re-signed when the time comes. For the first time in a long time the salary cap will go up and the heavy lifting has been done with only tweaks to the bottom six needed plus maybe one more legitimate top six player replacing Kailer Yamamoto. I would not mind a trade that would upgrade Cody Ceci on the backend either.

There is also the possibility of more internal development with Dylan Holloway looking ready to make the next step as well as Xavier Bourgault and Ralphie Lavoie knocking on the door.

The running joke used to be the Oilers were two years away from being two years away, well it that is no longer the case and the contending window is officially open despite how this season ended. With that said when the Oilers are good enough to win the cup it won’t matter who they face or how wide open playoffs are because they will be the best team in the league.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

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