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Edmonton Oilers vs Florida Panthers

For a decade Oilers fans woke up on January 10th knowing their team was out of the playoff race. It was frustrating. You hated it. This year the Edmonton Oilers are smack dab in the middle of a playoff race, but there is still a lot of frustration in Oilersnation, just a different type.

I get why you are concerned. The Oilers roster is flawed. It is clear they have very little scoring depth after their top-four scorers. With Oscar Klefbom out of the lineup, possibly for only seven more games, the lack of quality puck movers is even more apparent.

The good news for Oilers fans is that every team battling for the final playoff spots is also flawed. The Minnesota Wild, Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks aren’t glaringly better than the Oilers.

1. The Oilers have seven games before the All-Star break and the subsequent “bye week.” Edmonton plays six of those games at home, one in Vancouver, and only face two playoff teams in Calgary and Buffalo. I don’t see a more favourable stretch of games in February, March and April, so if the Oilers want to be in the playoff mix on February 2nd, when they return from their bye week, it is vital they play well over the next two weeks.

2. The Oilers are currently 21st in the NHL, two points out of 17th, and they face Florida (22nd), Arizona (24th), Buffalo (11th), Vancouver (20th) Calgary (second), Carolina (18th) and Detroit (27th). Only Vancouver is on the road, so fatigue should not be a factor. Edmonton is three points back of Anaheim, two behind Minnesota and one back of Vancouver. Here are those team’s schedules up to the end of January.

The Canucks play six games before the All-Star break and they face the exact same teams as Edmonton, except for Calgary. All six of Vancouver’s games are on home ice. They face one playoff team.

Anaheim has Pittsburgh at home, then they’re on the road in Winnipeg, Detroit, Minnesota, New Jersey, NYI and home to St.Louis. They play three playoff teams.

The Wild are home to Winnipeg and Detroit, in Philly, home to LA, Anaheim and Columbus, then on the road in Vegas and Colorado. They face five playoff teams.

3. Usually it takes 94 points to make the playoffs, but right now only five teams in the west are on pace for more than 94 points. Those five teams; Calgary, Winnipeg, Nashville, San Jose and Vegas are all on track for 103+ points, but the sixth place Dallas Stars are tracking towards 93 points, 7th place Colorado for 89 and 8th place Anaheim would slide in at 85. 9th place Minny is on pace for 87 points as they have two games in hand on the Ducks.  In 2016 Minnesota was the 2nd wildcard team with 87 points and we could see a repeat of that this season. Let’s say the cut line is 88 points then the Oilers need to go 21-15-3 to reach get in. Or some other combination that equals 45 points. They will need a better second half of the season, but so too would Minnesota, Anaheim, Vancouver and Colorado has to rediscover their game as well.

4. The Captain Obvious statement is somehow, someway a few Oilers depth forwards need to awaken from their scoring funk. Milan Lucic finally scored a goal in North America, and you wonder if that could spur him to possible score seven goals in the final 39 games. I don’t think being on pace for 14 goals is that much to ask. Tobias Rieder doesn’t have a point in 18 games. He only has points in four of 30 games this season and no goals. To make matters worse, he has one shot in his last four games. He has played 13, 14, 11 and 17 minutes in those games. Having one shot in 55 minutes is horrendous. He has to get involved in the game for goodness sake. Jujhar Khaira, Zack Kassian and Jesse Puljujarvi also must find a way to be productive if they keep getting minutes with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. If two of Lucic, Rieder, Khaira, Kassian and Puljujarvi could get on pace for a pro-rated 30-point season the Oilers’ chances of staying in the playoff race would increase significantly.

5. There might be two playoff spots to battle for very soon. The Colorado Avalanche are 4-10-3 in their last 17 games. They have allowed 68 goals in that span, the most in the NHL and 13 more than the porous Oilers team defence. The Avs and Ducks have fallen back into the playoff race and both wildcard spots look to be in the mix from where I sit. The Ducks have lost nine straight, including last night’s 2-1 loss to the 31st place Ottawa last night, and if they keep struggling will Randy Carlyle take the fall? The Ducks lead the NHL in man-games lost to injury with 248 so I’m not sure how much blame you can place on the coach. Edmonton is five points back of Colorado with a game in hand. Win tonight and they are within three with the Avs floundering worse than them. The opportunity to stay in the race until Klefbom returns is right there for the Oilers, but they must play with some urgency. They have to avoid soiling the sheets and looking lethargic every second game.

6. We are just over the midway point of the season and there are are very few clear cut favourites for the NHL player awards. McDavid, Nikita Kucherov, Johnny Gaudreau, Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and John Gibson are in the mix for the Hart. I’m not a fan of having a goalie win the Hart. They have their own award, plus they only impact one end of the ice, but Gibson is the only reason the Ducks are in a playoff hunt. He’s been outstanding. All five of those forwards have a teammate in the top-14 in scoring. I don’t see any clear cut favourite, which is great because the second half of the season will likely create some separation.

7. I have Morgan Reilly and Mark Giordano as the obvious top-two candidates for the Norris, but Erik Karlsson has found his game and has 25 points in his last 14 games, and paired with Brendon Dillon they have become a very good pairing. Thomas Chabot is having a great year in Ottawa, and look for him to be up for this award in the future. Also, the Oilers could have taken him with the 16th pick in 2015 instead of trading it away for Griffin Reinhart. Chabot went 18th. Sorry, but that trade was so bad I can’t let it go.

8. Sean Monahan, Reilly and Alexsander Barkov would be my top-three today for the Lady Byng. They have three, two and one minor penalties respectively, while producing 54, 45 and 43 points. Reilly plays against the top forwards most nights and defends without taking penalties. It is perplexing to me how often D-men get overlooked for this award. If I had to vote today I’d have him #1.

9. We could see a different Selke winner for the first time since 2011. Patrice Bergeon (4), Anze Kopitar (2) and Jonathon Toews (1) have won the last seven, but Bergeron has already missed 15 games and Kopitar and Toews aren’t in the running. Barkov will garner some votes, but Sidney Crosby has been very good defensively this year. Brayden Point and Monahan would also be near the top.

10. Elias Pettersson will win the Calder unless his injury sidelines him for much longer than expected. He’s been a treat to watch.

11. The PHWA votes on the previous five awards. The Vezina is voted on by GMs and the broadcasters vote on the Jack Adams, but here’s my two cents on who is in contention for those awards.

I see Gibson, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury in the mix now, but if David Rittich gets the bulk of Calgary’s starts in the second half he could push his name into the top three. He has a .936sv% at EV right now, while Mike Smith has a .896sv% at EV. Rittich has become their starter and he’s been very good. He likely won’t win, but if he keeps playing this well he will garner some votes.

12. The Jack Adams often goes to a coach who helps a team have a great improvement from the previous year. So Bill Peters will garner a lot of attention because of that, but Jon Cooper should get strong consideration for what he is doing in Tampa Bay, same as Gerard Gallant in Vegas. He is proving last year was far from good luck. I’ve been wrong on Vegas so many times it is laughable. I’d also look at Todd Rierden in Washington. Making the adjustment from assistant coach to head coach on the same team isn’t easy, and he’s done a solid job.

13. Alex Petrovic is out with a concussion suffered on this hit by Timo Meier. It isn’t suspension worthy, but why does the NHL allow blatant hits from behind? I’ve spoke to GMs about it and others in the NHL office and they say there hasn’t been an appetite for change. Why not? The league wisely wanted to crack down on head shots, and since they started penalizing and suspending players hits to the head are now a rarity. Why not do the same for hits from behind? It makes no sense. Wake up NHL. Hits from behind do not make the game better. They are unnecessary and players will adapt quickly and stop delivering these blows if you penalize them.

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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/10/2019 – 7:00 am MST

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