The Edmonton Oilers will take the ice tonight at Rogers Place with a record of 3-6-0. When they do hit the ice, they’ll be sitting in fifth place in the North Division, four points back of the Vancouver Canucks for a playoff spot. Yes, it is early, but the Oilers will begin a stretch tonight that will absolutely define their season. If they sink here, it’s all over.
The Oilers will play a good Maple Leafs team at home tonight, then play four of their next five games against a Senators team that very well could be picking first overall this summer. They’ll play the Senators twice at home, head to Calgary for a game next Saturday night, then visit the Senators twice in the Nation’s capital.
It’s vital that, starting tonight, the Oilers find a way to go 4-2-0 in their next six games. That would get them to 7-8-0, still not good enough but back above water and contending for a playoff spot.
Anything less than that and you can likely turn the lights out on the 2020-21 season. There just won’t be enough time in a 56-game season to make up ground when someone in the division every night is getting two points. It’s just too hard, especially this season.
If the Oilers can go 3-1-0 against the Senators, not an unthinkable result, and 1-1-0 against the Maple Leafs and Flames, they should be okay. Hell, it’s possible they sweep all four games with the Senators. Ottawa has been, to my eye, the worst team in the NHL this season and Edmonton is due for some good bounces. The matchup, on paper at least, is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Currently, the Oilers have six points. The Vancouver Canucks, who occupy the last playoff spot, have ten points (5-5-0). The good news for Edmonton? The Oilers have a game in-hand on the Canucks, and Vancouver has some issues of their own. The Canucks are just 2-5-0 against non-Senators opponents this season, and goaltending looks like it could be a problem all year long.
The Calgary Flames, however, could be an issue. The Flames have just five points on the season (2-3-1), but they have played three less games than Edmonton and four less games than the Canucks. To my eye, they sit in the best position to jump ahead into that fourth and final playoff seed.
Of course, the Winnipeg Jets are in the mix too. The Jets are currently 5-2-0 on the season, but three of their wins have come against the Senators. They are 2-2-0 in non-Senators games, including a game against Edmonton on Tuesday where the Oilers flat-out choked away a 3-1 lead.
Edmonton’s top two lines offensively are doing good things with the puck, and are experiencing some bad luck. The pairing of Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear is doing a lot of good too. On the whole, the Caleb Jones and Adam Larsson pairing is also moving things in the right direction, but Larsson has been suspect at best in coverage. If that gets fixed, Edmonton will have two real pairings to work with.
There are also good arrows for the line of Kyle Turris centering James Neal and Zack Kassian. They have had good possession numbers through two games together, and could provide Dave Tippett with a heavy, veteran-laden depth line. If they come together, the Oilers will have three lines capable of moving the puck in right direction. That should be enough to compete for the postseason in this division. Oh, and Gaetan Haas will be back in the lineup soon too.
The Oilers will finish ahead of the Senators, that much I believe. After that? It’s anyone’s guess. The Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs are separating themselves from the field. The Oilers, Canucks, Jets and Flames are all right in the mix. All four teams have high-end talent and real flaws.
None of the four teams, Edmonton included, can afford to fall behind early. There just isn’t enough time and not enough opportunity to make up ground. The Oilers, at 3-6-0, are in danger of getting left behind. If they can’t take care of business against the Senators like the Jets and Canucks did, you might as well start looking at the 2021 Draft Rankings.
These next six games, with four against Ottawa, will present the direction of this season.
So, what’s it gonna be? Another lost winter in Alberta? Or, can the Oilers finally change the script, right the ship and get this thing rolling?
We’ll know in about ten days.