The Edmonton Oilers might be disappointed that their final three games before the holiday break were postponed, but there’s a silver lining for the team overall. The unexpected week off gives players such as Mike Smith, Zach Hyman, Dylan Holloway, Markus Niemelainen, Kyle Turris and Kris Russell another week of rehab and recovery time. The list of players in COVID protocol will hopefully dwindle when the Oilers take to the ice against the Calgary Flames on Dec. 27. That list includes Ryan McLeod, Devin Shore, Duncan Keith, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jesse Puljujarvi, William Lagesson and Darnell Nurse. Oilers head coach Dave Tippett should be ready to come out of COVID Protocol at the same time as well.
The Oilers could be putting one of their healthiest lineups of the season on the ice in late December. And that’s important for a team that experienced a six-game losing streak earlier in the month. The team needs to get off to a strong start once hockey resumes, and that means all hands on deck, including more contributions from players not named McDavid and Draisaitl. Some players such as Puljujarvi could still be in COVID protocol on Dec. 27, and that may give Kailer Yamamoto another opportunity to stick in the top-six.
December Has Been A Rollercoaster for the Oilers
The Oilers currently find themselves in fourth place in the Pacific Division and are within striking distance of first. However, the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, and Vancouver Canucks have closed the gap from the bottom and are nipping at the Oilers’ heels. After losing five in a row at home in December and then winning two in a row before the season went on pause, it’ll be interesting to see what team emerges from the holiday break. If they go into another losing streak heading into the 2022 calendar year, general manager Ken Holland may have to pull the trigger on a trade or examine a shakeup in his coaching staff sooner rather than later.
However, if the Oilers build on the positive momentum they gained after wins against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Seattle Kraken and go on a winning streak, that will buy Holland time before the trade deadline. It’s worth noting that during the two-game winning streak against the Blue Jackets and Kraken, the Oilers received some much-needed secondary scoring from Warren Foegele, Brendan Perlini, Derek Ryan and Colton Sceviour.
The Oilers’ Biggest Boost Could Come From a Healthy Mike Smith
Oilers’ starting goalie Mike Smith could hold the key to a strong start to the second half of the Oilers’ season. Many fans were critical of Holland signing the 39-year-old keeper to a two-year contract in the offseason. He’s been injury-prone the last two seasons, and the team has had to rely on backups Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner to hold down the fort. But a healthy Smith could help solidify the Oilers’ position in the Pacific Division. He’s a proven leader, played well last season and is now well rested with 53 games to go in the 2021-22 regular season.
Smith’s injury and rehab time has truly benefited the young Skinner, who has shown flashes that he could be the goaltender of the future for the Oilers. Meanwhile, Koskinen has played well in games, but he’s also faltered in many starts this season. It might be of benefit to the organization to move Koskinen at the trade deadline as part of a deal for what they need most, a third-line centre, veteran help on defence, and a reliable, playoff-ready goalie (if one is available).
Oilers Looking Ahead to a New Year
As the Oilers organization looks ahead to 2022, many fans are hoping they will resolve not to go on another six-game losing streak. If they do, their season will be over, and another year of McDavid and Draisaitl will go to waste. The hope in Oil Country is that the team learned their lessons from the worst losing streak in three years and will battle the Las Vegas Golden Knights, Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames for the Pacific Division title the rest of the way.
Fans are also hoping for more scoring from the bottom-six, a healthy Zach Hyman, Dylan Holloway, Mike Smith, another veteran D-man and some wise decisions from the Oilers front office as the trade deadline approaches. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
Wishing You Well During the Holidays
I just wanted to take this time to wish all of our readers a happy holiday and good health, and happiness in the year ahead. I appreciate your feedback and your passion as a hockey fan and hope that the NHL is able to continue its schedule with minimal disruption, because it’s always good to have hockey to watch during challenging times.
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D. Edward Bochon covers the Edmonton Oilers. His background is in marketing writing where he worked with the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Football Club (now known as the Elks), and the Edmonton Rush of the NLL.