It comes as the North Division schedule is upended by postponements because of COVID-19 concerns. First, the Montreal Canadiens had to shut things down for several days in the latter part of March. Now, as announced by the NHL on Thursday, the Vancouver Canucks are going to be out of action through at least April 6.
Both situations have impacted the Edmonton Oilers, who were scheduled for a three-game series in Montreal just before the Habs were forced to postpone. The Oilers were also set to host Vancouver Saturday night at Rogers Place.
No Ideal Scenario
Call it a double whammy for the Oilers, who have to deal with both extended downtime and a jam-packed itinerary when games are rescheduled.
For example, the canceled Montreal series left Edmonton with an entire week between games (March 20-27). But once the Habs were cleared to return to action on Monday (March 29), the NHL hastily booked a make-up game with the Oilers in Montreal the following night. This meant an unexpectedly quick turnaround for the Oilers, who after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime on Monday evening dashed off to Montreal where they were blasted by the waiting Habs 4-0 on Tuesday.
Edmonton still has two more games to make up with the Canadiens, which are set for May 10 and 11. A make-up date with the Canucks is yet to be determined.
Looking Up at the Leafs
How the Oilers’ performance is affected by all this schedule upheaval is anyone’s guess until the puck drops. The impact is more immediately clear in the standings.
When they beat the Winnipeg Jets 4-2 on March 20, the Oilers were surging (seven wins in their previous nine games) and had moved into a tie for the division lead with Toronto. Since then, Edmonton has played only three games, with three points to show for them, and dropped to third, four points behind the Leafs. Edmonton is also now just four points in front of the fourth-place Habs who have four games in hand on the Oilers.
Of course, all games will be made up by season’s end, and whether spaced throughout March or squeezed into April, they all count the same. But it certainly doesn’t hurt team psyche to be atop the standings, as opposed to being further down the table, needing a bunch of points to catch up.
Key Contest Against Calgary
This brings us to the Good Friday match-up for Edmonton (22-14-1) with the Flames (16-8-3) at Rogers Place (7 p.m. Mountain Time).
While not to the same degree as its provincial rivals, Calgary has also seen its schedule impacted by recent developments. The Flames were supposed to take on the Canucks in Vancouver on Wednesday, but that contest was postponed and Calgary has not played since losing 5-1 to the Jets on Monday.
Calgary is six points back of the Canadiens for the last post-season berth in the North. But with Montreal having four games in hand on them, the Flames might be looking at Edmonton, which they trail by 10 points but have played the same number of games, as the more realistic target for their barely flickering playoff hopes, which would effectively be snuffed out with a loss in Edmonton on Friday.
Winning the Battle
If you’re someone that likes to make the occasional wager, I don’t need to tell you that during this upside-down season, overconfidence in a team invariably proves the kiss of death. That said, the Oilers could be favored heading into their latest match-up with the Flames. This season, Edmonton has a 4-2 edge in the Battle of Alberta, with wins in four of the last five meetings, while outscoring Calgary 26-17, including two games with seven goals.
Captain Connor McDavid has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in the six games, and goalie Mike Smith, who figures to get the start between the pipes Friday, is 3-1 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .915 save percentage against Calgary in 2021.
After Round 7 of the BoA, the Oilers are off until Monday (April 5), when they’ll again visit Montreal, this time for a regularly scheduled game. At the very least, Edmonton should be rested and ready for what has been all too rare recently: the opportunity to improve its standing.
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.