As the Jekyll and Hyde season continues for the Edmonton Oilers, many are wondering who this team really is. On some nights, they’re putting up six goals against the mighty Chicago Blackhawks. Other nights, their supposed potent offense is being shut-down, and their defense looks porous. A victory against the Nashville Predators last night lifted the Oilers into 10th place in the conference, just two points back of the eighth place San Jose Sharks.
Now let’s be realistic here. Does this team actually stand a chance of making the postseason? They’ve won three of their last four, but lost five straight previous to that. Some nights, you want to say they have the goods to challenge for a postseason spot. Other nights, they look destined for another top three draft pick.
But here’s where they stand now. In contention for a playoff spot. They play the aforementioned Sharks on Wednesday night, and if San Jose loses to the Ducks tonight, and the Phoenix Coyotes lose both their games against the Kings this week, a win versus the Sharks could put the Oilers in a tie for that last playoff position. A little complicated, yes. A lot of factors at work, obviously. But the reality is, if the Oilers can get on some kind of hot streak, there’s a chance. But should their fans be getting excited? A lot of things will have to go right for the Oilers. Let’s break it down.
Three Reasons the Oilers will Make the Playoffs:
1. Sam Gagner
Last season, Gagner was the subject of trade rumors. He’s constantly overshadowed by his high-profile teammates, but steady as he goes Gagner currently leads the team in goals (11) and points (27). Surprisingly he’s the only Oiler to have goals in double digits. Gagner is a real leader on this team. He has so much experience, but is still young enough to relate to the rest of the boys. Gagner can make things happen. He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but that’s a good thing. Let the other teams worry about Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov. Because Gagner can make you pay. While the young stars struggle, Gagner is a model of consistency.
2. Special Teams
The Oilers have had a lot of problems scoring five on five. But how much longer can so many of these guys stay snake-bit? At some point, the young guns on this team are going to break out, and what better place than on the powerplay? The Oilers are ranked six in the NHL with the man advantage, a great position for such a lowly team. Defenseman Ryan Whitney has suddenly found his game, and that’s good news for Edmonton. With Justin Schultz manning the point, and all the firepower up front, this powerplay has the potential to be deadly. And flying under the radar is Oilers ninth ranked penalty kill. The Oilers have famously had trouble keeping the puck out of their net. But if they can continue to thrive on the penalty kill, they give themselves a chance to win every night.
3. Secondary Scoring
Magnus Paajarvi has spent most of his pro career going up and down between the NHL and AHL. He came into his draft year with high expectations, but has had trouble getting acclimated to the NHL. He’s spends a lot of his ice time in more of a checking role, but his scoring skills are starting to come to the forefront. Paajarvi now has six goals on the season, and he’s heating up at the right time. While some other Oilers are struggling, the team will need guys like Paajarvi to step up. Ales Hemsky has eight goals and 17 points so far, and his contributions will also be counted upon heavily. Just imagine when this team starts firing on all cylinders, when the big guns get going, and there’s consistent scoring on the second and third lines? They just be unstoppable like so many thought they would be.
Three Reasons the Oilers won’t Make the Playoffs:
1. Underachieving Stars
Yes, the core of the Oilers dominated the AHL during the lock-out. But there’s a reason it’s the AHL. All their success hasn’t quite translated to the NHL so far, as the snipers on this team have struggled to find the back of the net. Taylor Hall has just six goals. Jordan Eberle has seven and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, mired in the dreaded sophomore slump, has just two goals on the year. Nail Yakupov has been stuck six goals for a while. These are the guys Edmonton is counting upon to light the lamp. They simply have to get things going or the Oilers are in real trouble.
2. Shaky Defense
The troubles on the Oilers blueline have been well documented, but an overall lack of team defense at times has been the real problem. There needs to be a commitment from the top to the bottom of this line-up to play strong defensive hockey. It’s not about looking for a break-out or waiting for your chance to get on the forecheck. One big reason the team has had problems scoring at even strength is because they just don’t have the puck enough. The Oilers have a lot of great puck-moving defensemen, but you can’t move the puck if you don’t have it. The top lines on this team must bear down defensively or they’ll continue to be on the outside looking in.
3. Inconsistent Goaltending
Yes, the defense hasn’t been stellar. Yes, at times the goaltending has been lights out. But it just doesn’t happen often enough. Devan Dubnyk is improving. Some nights he looks like a brick wall, but others, not so much. Nikolai Khabibulin has been solid, when he’s not injured, and journeyman Yann Danis is not a long term option. Is Dubnyk the guy who’s going to carry this team? Should they bring in an experienced goalie like Roberto Luongo or Ryan Miller? Not if it means mortgaging the future. But can Devan Dubnyk be a true number one? Some games, it looks possible. But there are still question marks. And if the Oilers even want to sniff the playoffs, it starts from the net out.
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.