It wasn’t always pretty, but the Edmonton Oilers came home with five out of a possible eight points from their four game road trip out east. A week ago, the Oilers sat seven points back of a playoff spot out west and looked to be reeling. While they’ve lost two in a row, the Oilers played quite well over the weekend and are now four points back with a few games against the west ahead on the schedule.
Edmonton didn’t play great in Brooklyn last Tuesday and started off very poorly in Newark on Thursday, but Cam Talbot played arguably his best two games of the year and Edmonton’s dynamic overtime duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl pulled through for a pair of victories to start the difficult road.
Edmonton played a very strong game on Saturday in New York, but the club’s penalty kill unit collapsed and cost the team the game as New York scored three times in the second period en route to a 4-2 victory. In a ‘scheduled loss’ last night, the Oilers played their best game of the trip, outplaying the Washington Capitals for 65 minutes before falling in a shootout 1-0 for a 2-1 loss in America’s capital.
A case can be made that Edmonton earned six points on that trip, they deserved both yesterday, but bottom line is they are coming home with five. That’s more than I expected, because at best I thought Edmonton would be arriving back in town with four points in the bank. 2-1-1 isn’t a home run by any means, but it is a successful road trip and it keeps the Oilers alive for now.
The club opens a two game home-stand tomorrow night, one that is going to be awfully important. First off it is the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday, then the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night. It’ll be Edmonton’s first game against either team this season, and will present the Oilers the chance to make up some ground out west. As it sits now, the Oilers could be within two points by Thursday with a win tomorrow and some serious help the next two nights.
Positives From The Road:
There were some serious positives for the Oilers on this road trip. First is the team’s goaltending. I thought Cam Talbot played his best hockey in the first two games of the trip, and I also thought he was good on Saturday in New York. Yes, he gave up three goals but if you go back and watch, those goals were almost impossible to stop.
Laurent Brossoit, in a rare start, played really well on Sunday night and deserved a better result. Edmonton simply couldn’t have asked for more out of its goaltending duo. The key, now, is for Talbot to perform as well at home these next two games. He simply hasn’t been very good at Rogers Place this season.
Another huge positive was Jesse Puljujarvi, who came up and made his season debut on Saturday. JP looks like a natural fit on the club’s second line with Milan Lucic and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and was firing the puck on net at will. Puljujarvi scored a goal Saturday, looked like he belongs, and added some much needed speed and skill to Edmonton’s forward group. With Puljujarvi’s performance, it looks like Edmonton’s top-six is settled at the moment.
Edmonton’s penalty kill, outside of the game against the Rangers, looked better as well. They’ve been good on the road all year, but like their starting goaltender they need to find a way to get those results on home ice. Tomorrow should be a real good test against a lethal Vegas powerplay.
Negatives From The Road:
Edmonton’s powerplay has to figure it out. Connor McDavid scored on the man advantage Saturday, but that group looked pretty bad overall on the road trip. If the Oilers are going to make a push for the playoffs, this group simply has to be better. I’d argue it, like the PK, has been costing the team games all year.
Jujhar Khaira scored a big goal last night, but he was a major liability on the tying goal and highlights what was another bad road trip for the bottom-six. People don’t want to hear this, but Edmonton’s bottom-six forward group is the worst in the NHL right now and simply doesn’t have enough NHL players in it.
I like some of the things that Jussi Jokinen, Iiro Pakarinen and Khaira bring, but it has become readily apparent they are not full-time NHL’ers. Mark Letestu, who was very poor on this trip, and Zack Kassian are simply not playing good enough hockey right now either, and that’s a huge issue. Those two need to get their game going, especially Letestu on the powerplay.
The Road Ahead:
Edmonton has another lengthy road trip on the horizon, but before that there is business to be handled on home ice. The Oilers, as mentioned above, will host Vegas tomorrow night and then the Blues on Thursday. The Golden Knights have cooled down considerably as of late, while I think the Oilers actually matchup quite well with the Blues.
Regardless, Edmonton HAS to win at least one of these two games before hitting the road again, while ideally they win both. I’d say tomorrow night’s game is the one they need more, considering it is a divisional game and all.
Edmonton has struggled against the east this season, but the club is 3-2-0 against the west and has won it’s last two against the conference. The narrative around the Oilers is that they are built to win games in the west. Soon, we will start to see if that is actually true.
At best, Edmonton will be just four points out of a playoff spot tomorrow night, but in all likelihood they will be six points off the cutline. Edmonton began, ever so slowly, to dig out of their hole on this last road trip. Keeping the momentum going with a pair of home wins would be massive. We’ve hit a key portion of the season, friends. The Oilers passed their first test, now can they take that momentum and pass number two? A big two weeks await us.