The Edmonton Oilers stayed hot by defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-0 at Rogers Place on Saturday in a matinee matchup between two Pacific Division clubs in the thick of the NHL playoff chase.
Goaltender Mike Smith made 39 saves to record his second consecutive shutout for the Oilers, who got goals from Cody Ceci, Warren Foegele, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Kris Russell.
With an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, the Oilers are playing their best hockey of the 2021-22 season as they roll towards a third consecutive playoff berth. Saturday’s victory was just the latest example of an Edmonton team that’s peaking right now and provided a number of reasons for fans to believe the Oilers can make some noise this spring.
Oilers Get Depth Scoring
On March 29, 2021, Josh Archibald, Darnell Nurse, and Kyle Turris each scored once to lead the Oilers to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena. Until Saturday, that had been the last game the Oilers won without getting get a goal from at least one of Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Connor McDavid, and Jesse Puljujarvi.
In between, Edmonton played 95 regular-season games and won 56 of them, but never without one of the previously mentioned four forwards finding the scoresheet. That speaks to how much Edmonton has relied on its big guns, who have only been able to carry them to a certain point, and that point has not been past the first round of the playoffs in five years.
Saturday’s result was encouraging. Not only did the Oilers win, but they did so convincingly in a game that neither of their 100-point men, Draisaitl and McDavid, got a point.
Moreover, Edmonton’s four goal scorers against Vegas represented quite a cross-section of its lineup, with two defensemen and two forwards, ranging from Russell, who got his first goal since 2019, to Foegele, who has scored three times in the last five games.
Oilers Penalty Kill is Doing its Job
Edmonton’s penalty kill (PK) was 3/3 on Saturday, making it five straight games and eight of the last nine the Oilers have not allowed the opposition to score on the power play.
The Oilers’ PK has been wildly inconsistent this season. In the first 22 games, it was 88.4%. In the next 42 games, it was 69.2%. And now it’s 94.1% over the last 12 games.
Incredibly, over the latter stretch, Edmonton has scored twice as many goals (four) as it has allowed (two) while shorthanded. That includes shorthanded goals in each of the last two games, scored by Nurse against the Nashville Predators and Nugent-Hopkins against Vegas.
Smith is Playing Like an All-Star
It’s starting to look like Mike Smith is owed a big apology from everyone (and it was pretty much everyone) who had written the veteran goalie off. He struggled mightily earlier in the season, going 5-8-1 with a 3.57 goals against average (GAA) and .891 save percentage (SV%) through March 5.
In nine starts since then, Smith is 8-0-1 and has won seven straight. His only loss over the last six weeks came in relief against the Calgary Flames on March 26, and he has a spectacular 1.98 GAA and .940 SV% over that span.
Smith stopped all 30 shots in Edmonton’s 4-0 road win in Nashville on Thursday, and he was perfect again Saturday, extending his shutout streak to 133 minutes. He’s another perfect 60 within the franchise record for the longest shutout sequence in a season, 192:53 by Tommy Salo in 2000-01.
About the only person who believed in Smith, besides maybe Oilers general manager Ken Holland (who didn’t have a lot of choices), was Smith himself. Now the former All-Star, who is unbeaten as a starter since turning 40 on March 22, is winning back the confidence that seemed forever lost in Oil Country, where fans will gladly eat their words and Smith will never have to pay for another meal if he can provide a steady diet of playoff wins.
Oilers Using Home Ice to Their Advantage
The aforementioned loss to Montreal on March 5 left the Oilers with a record of 5-11-0 over their past 16 games at home. They’ve been near-perfect at Rogers Place since, going 10-0-1, with the only blemish being an overtime loss on April 6 to the NHL overall standings-leading Colorado Avalanche.
It’s worth noting that this home hot streak comes since the beginning of March when pandemic restrictions that had limited attendance were lifted, allowing much larger crowds to cheer on the home team. A feel-good stat is that the Oilers are 6-0-0 when Ben Stelter is in the house. The five-year-old Stelter, who is battling cancer, has won the hearts of the team and its fans.
Why does it matter that the Oilers are taking advantage of home ice? Because they are likely to have home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs as the second seed in the Pacific Division. Edmonton’s lead is four points over the third-place Los Angeles Kings, and the Oilers have six games remaining on their schedule while LA has just five games left to play.
The Oilers will look to further solidify their postseason positioning on Wednesday, when they return to action with a game against the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.