It will be a tough battle for the four playoff spots in the Scotia North Division. With about a quarter of the games played, all teams except the Ottawa Senators still have a good chance of advancing to the playoffs. But several reasons suggest that the Edmonton Oilers will be one of the teams that end up among the top four. Here are three reasons why the Oilers will be one of the four teams in the division to advance to the playoffs.
The Oilers Have the Two Best Point Producers in the World
There are many great players in the Scotia North Divison. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner (Toronto Maple Leafs), Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets), and Tyler Toffoli (Montreal Canadiens) are just a few of them. But none of these players can compete with the Oilers’ two superstars.
Edmonton has the two best point scorers in the NHL and perhaps the two best players in the world in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Together, they have totalled 52 points in 15 games, and if the star players continue in the same way, they may manage to score 100 points each in only 56 games during the regular season.
The two forwards have scored several game-winning goals so far. In the game against the Jets on Jan. 24, Draisaitl scored on a pass from No. 97 with less than one second remaining to give the Oilers a 4-3 win. In the game against the Maple Leafs on Jan. 30, McDavid scored the game-winner in overtime on a pass from his German teammate. In the 8-5 win against the Senators on Jan.31, the two players accounted for a total of 11 points.
These are just three examples of the impact on the games the two Oilers’ players have had so far. Ice hockey is a team sport, and it is necessary that other players also step forward. But having two players who can constantly score game-winning goals will be a significant advantage in the battle for a playoff spot.
Two Healthy Goalies Give the Oilers Better Opportunities To Win
Mike Smith’s return from his injury is good news for all Oilers’ fans. The decision to sign a new one-year contract with the 38-year-old in the fall of 2020 was met with a lot of criticism, especially after his weak performance in the first game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the play-in round of the 2020 playoffs. But when the Oilers goalie made his first game of the season on Monday against the Senators, it was a long-awaited comeback.
Mikko Koskinen has had a tough start to the season and has played 13 of the first 15 games due to Smith’s injury, a workload that has been heavy for the Finn. He has played ok but made some costly mistakes, for example, the game against the Calgary Flames last Saturday.
Therefore, it was a relief to see that Smith was in good shape after the injury in the 3-1 win against the Senators on Monday. The 38-year-old showed that he is still a goaltender who can make important saves and move the puck. On the whole, he made a very stable effort and made some great saves, which helped the Oilers get two points from the game.
With the veteran goalie back in the line-up, the Oilers have a greater chance of winning games. Something Oilers’ coach Dave Tippett emphasized before Smith’s season debut against the Senators.
“Both of our goaltenders played better last year when they were (splitting starts). I’d like to get back to a little rhythm of both of them,” Tippett said.
With Smith back on the team, the Oilers can hopefully find the stability needed to secure a playoff spot.
The Oilers’ New Players Have Started To Make a Difference
After a slow start, Tyson Barrie now seems to be getting used to the Oilers’ way of playing. He has 11 points in 15 games, and he has begun to live up to the Oilers fans’ high expectations. In the game against the Senators on Jan. 31, he scored his first goal for Edmonton, and in Tuesday’s game against the same team, the second goal came. The defenseman has also started to contribute to the Oilers’ power play with five points on the man advantage so far this season.
Another player who has performed better and better is the Finnish forward Jesse Puljujarvi, who seems to be more comfortable playing in the NHL now than during the three seasons between 2016 and 2019 when he last played in the league. Two goals against the Senators on Feb. 2 gave the young winger and coach Tippett a chance to smile.
“It’s great to see him get on the board. He’s one of our top guys, not just getting chances himself but helping create chances for other people. You’d like to see him get rewarded for that work, and tonight he got rewarded,” Tippett said after the game.
The two goals were followed up with another goal in the loss against Calgary on Feb 6, so it looks like the young Finn will be involved and contribute to the Oilers in the battle for a playoff spot.
Another new player who has also started to contribute more and more to the Oilers’ offense is Dominik Kahun. After a weak start with only one point in the first nine games, the German player now seems to have found his game in the line together with countryman Draisaitl. In the last six games, he has scored four points. When he scored his first goal of the season against the Leafs, it was a great relief for the German forward who felt that he wanted to contribute more to the offense at the beginning of the season. If Barrie, Puljujarvi, and Kahun continue to score, it will contribute to the Oilers’ hunt for a playoff spot.
But there is a lot left for the Oilers to fix if they are to secure a playoff spot. The defensive game needs to work better, the team needs to score more goals on the power play, and more players need to step forward and score points to relieve McDavid and Draisaitl. But with the two best point-scorers in the NHL, two healthy goaltenders, and new players who have started to find their place in the team, much suggests that the Oilers will succeed in taking one of the playoff spots in the division.