Oilers on Most Important Road Trip of 2021-22 Season

The Edmonton Oilers are in the midst of their toughest road trip of the 2021-22 season and are in desperate need of wins to keep pace in the Pacific Division. They started it off with a disheartening loss to the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and their starting goalie, Mike Smith, was again the second-best goalie on the ice – the team couldn’t overcome the soft goals he let in.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
Mike Smith of the Edmonton Oilers gets a snow shower from Nico Hischier of the New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Oilers head to Sunrise for an afternoon game with the Atlantic Division-leading Florida Panthers on Saturday, followed by a game against the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. Edmonton will close out the five-game trip on March 1 and 3 with games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks. This road trip will be a litmus test for where the Oilers rank among the league’s best teams. It’ll also be a test for new head coach Jay Woodcroft, who started his tenure with five straight wins.

Road Trip Will Gauge Where Oilers Rank

If the Oilers are unable to win at least three of the five games on this road trip, you have to believe general manager Ken Holland will be busy working the phones before the NHL trade deadline. Fans, pundits and members of the media have been begging Holland to bring in a new starting goalie. If their goaltending tandem of Smith and Mikko Koskinen falters on this trip, something will to give because the team is running out of runway to solidify a playoff berth.

According to the TSN Trade Bait list, the top three goalies available before the deadline are Alexandar Georgiev of the New York Rangers, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Chicago Blackhawks and Braden Holtby of the Dallas Stars.

Alexandar Georgiev New York Rangers
Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Related: Rangers: 4 Trade Destinations for Alexandar Georgiev

If the Oilers are serious about finding a new goalie, the competition just got stiffer as rumours continue to fly that teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs are also looking for another starter. If Holland goes after Fleury, he would need to send salary back to Chicago. This could mean the end for Koskinen and his $4.5 million contract, and possibly veteran defenceman Tyson Barrie and his $4.5 million price tag. Evan Bouchard has emerged as a capable replacement on the power play, and despite some defensive zone mistakes is a better fiscal move for the club at this time, especially if there’s a market for Barrie at the March 21 Trade Deadline.

Oilers Confidence Could Grow on Current Road Trip

The Oilers need a win against Florida or Carolina to boost their confidence and help them stay in the race with the Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings in the Pacific Division standings. Edmonton also needs to stay ahead of the Anaheim Ducks and Vancouver Canucks who are right on their heels. The Flames are currently seven points ahead of the Oilers after riding a team-record 10-game win streak.

We have to believe that the Flames can’t keep up this pace but you never know in today’s NHL. We can also hope Edmonton goes on an extended winning streak of their own to try and solidify a playoff spot heading into the final two months of the regular season.

If Oilers Fall Flat On the Road, Changes Will Be Needed

If the team goes into an extended losing streak on this trip, Holland has to make some moves to right the ship. The most obvious move would involve bringing up goaltender Stuart Skinner from Bakersfield of the American Hockey League.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

However, the organization can’t continue to play yo-yo with Skinner’s career. If he is called up to the big club, they need to play him. The Oilers could also consider calling up Dylan Holloway from Bakersfield to inject some new life and more scoring into the lineup. The team is also waiting for Duncan Keith to return from the injured reserve list. That will likely mean Philip Broberg should be sent down to play more minutes with Bakersfield.

Road Trip Important to Woodcroft‘s Future

On a recent 32 Thoughts: The Podcast the well connected Elliotte Friedman mentioned how the Oilers new head coach is in need of a new contract. He isn’t just auditioning for a head coaching job with the team, but also for other teams in the league.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

If Woodcroft can guide the Oilers to wins on this road trip and on to the playoffs, you have to believe that they would sign him and assistant coach Dave Manson as soon as they can. Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on this trip as well as the final stretch run in the season.

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