The Edmonton Oilers, barring a major collapse, will be a playoff team in 2021. As a result, the final stretch of regular season games will be used for two things. First and foremost, the Oilers will fight for the North Division crown and home-ice in at least the First Round. Secondly, they’ll be looking to tweak some things as they prepare for playoff games.
This Edmonton Oilers roster hasn’t played many postseason tilts. The core group of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Darnell Nurse and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has only technically made the playoffs once, 2017. Players like Kailer Yamamoto, Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones have never played in a true playoff game.
Head Coach Dave Tippett, however, has coached in countless postseason games during his tenures with the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes. He talked about what he wants his team to improve on during the stretch drive.
“You can go anywhere from individual players to get them up and running to structure, to special teams. There are a lot of things that you’re trying to tweak,” Tippett said after Tuesday’s practice in Ottawa. “You’re kind of evaluating, trying some different things here and there subtly to see how they work. It gives you something to put in the bank if a situation comes up and you have to go to a different look or try a different player in a different situation. Basically, you’re just trying to evaluate how your team is doing in all the different parts of the game. When you get into a certain game, you can use that to your advantage or make sure it’s not a weakness.”
The Oilers have tried a number of different things with their lineup in recent weeks. We’ve seen Dominik Kahun skate inside the club’s top-six. We’ve seen McDavid and Draisaitl on the same line. We even saw, for a brief period on Monday night, Devin Shore inside the top-six.
In terms of getting players up and running, both Caleb Jones and William Lagesson have been brought along on defense.
Expect to see more of that down the stretch, with the potential for additions as the trade deadline approaches.
“You always feel like you’re trending up because you hope your team is continuing to build,” Tippett added. “Sometimes you’re really taking steps forward in a hurry and then other times you’re just taking short steps and trying to work through it. With the schedule we’ve had here, it’s been a little bit of a mixed bag because it’s hard finding a rhythm to jump into. Talking to our players, that’s what they feel like. It’s a little bit herky-jerky right now and now we got an extra game on this road trip and a back-to-back. We’re working with that stuff but we’re still trying to push our game forward. You take what’s in front of you and hopefully every game there are things you can grab out of it and use as a positive. That’s the trend you’re always on.”
The hope is that the Oilers learned a valuable lesson on Monday night. The club led 2-0 after forty minutes, but quickly gave up a pair of goals and eventually fell 3-2 in overtime in Montreal. They can take the point, and take the hard lesson of keeping their foot on the gas at all times as they get ready to face the Senators.