Oilers Rounding Into Form As Playoffs Near

There are a few ways to describe the Edmonton Oilers’ inspired play in the second half of the 2022-23 season. They’re firing on all cylinders. They’re in beast mode. They’re looking like legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Insert your favourite cliche here. You can’t deny the fact that the Oilers are the fourth-best team in the NHL since the Christmas break, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down as the final month of the NHL regular season quickly approaches.

Optimism Should Be High In Oil Country

What can you say about the greatness of Connor McDavid this season? The guy is absolutely on another level, leading the league in goals, assists, and points while putting up numbers not seen in the NHL in decades. But McDavid’s not the only story in Edmonton. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Zach Hyman are having career years and are currently in the top 20 in NHL scoring. And, Leon Draisaitl is poised for his fourth 100-point season and third 50-goal campaign of his career.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s also important to note the contributions of third and fourth-line forwards such as Derek Ryan, Warren Foegele, Ryan McLeod, and Klim Kostin who have all scored 10 or more goals this season. Serious injuries to Evander Kane have impacted his contributions; however, if he can return to full health by playoff time, the Oilers will have a fresh offensive weapon with grit to throw out against the opposition.

Addition of Mattias Ekholm Already Paying Dividends

No one really knew the impact defenceman Mattias Ekholm would have on the Oilers’ defensive core when he was traded to Edmonton on Feb. 28. Many were questioning the price the Oilers gave up to the Nashville Predators which included power-play specialist Tyson Barrie, 2022 first-round pick Reid Schaefer, and the Oilers’ first- and fourth-round picks in the 2023 Draft.

Mattias Ekholm Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It seems like the Oilers got two players for the price of one, as Evan Bouchard has picked up his play considerably since the trade. Being partnered with Ekholm definitely helps Bouchard, and with Ekholm eating up considerable minutes, it keeps other defencemen such as Brett Kulak and Vincent Desharnais fresh and playing against the opposition’s third and fourth lines. Needless to say, since Ekholm’s arrival Darnell Nurse appears to also be reinvigorated and is playing some of his best hockey of the season.

Stuart Skinner Following in the Footsteps of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog

You can’t win a Stanley Cup without solid goaltending, and that’s exactly what Stuart Skinner has given the Oilers this season. For some older Oilers fans, he is bringing back memories of the great duo of Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog, who like Skinner were drafted by the team, and turned into the second coming of Hall of Fame Montreal Canadiens netminder Ken Dryden once playoff time came around.

Related: Oilers’ Skinner Having a Calder-Type Season

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Skinner has clearly distanced himself from Jack Campbell, who came into the season as the projected starter. And, it looks like there’s no turning back for Skinner and the Oilers. Clearly that’s good news for Oilers fans as he has put up a .913 save percentage (SV%) in close to 40 games this season and seems to be getting better with every passing week.

Oilers Schedule Looking Favorable In Mid-March and April

The Oilers have stayed within striking distance of the Pacific Division leaders Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and Seattle Kraken in the second half of the season. After playing through a tough stretch of games in late February and early March against playoff-bound teams such as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Oilers’ schedule is looking a bit more favourable in their final 15 games of the season. They play the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks a total of seven games down the stretch. Even though these teams are low down in the standings, it’s never a good idea to count your chickens before they hatch. However, with the Oilers looking like they’re already in playoff mode, there’s a good chance they won’t be taking their foot off the gas for the remainder of the season.

Oilers Need Goaltender Campbell to Regain His Confidence

A lot of things need to go right for a team to win the Stanley Cup. In terms of the Oilers, they need both goaltenders playing at the top of their game. In a recent interview on TSN 1260 in Edmonton, In Goal Magazine’s Kevin Woodley shared some great insight on Campbell’s game and what he needs to improve his performance. It seems Campbell’s biggest challenge right now is his confidence, and if he can’t deliver in the final month of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oilers consider bringing Calvin Pickard up from their American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. Pickard, who has 116 NHL games under his belt, currently has a .908 SV% with the Condors and can be called up to be the Oilers’ third goalie once the playoffs roll around.

This Might Be the Oilers Year

All the arrows are pointing up for the Oilers as they gear up for the final five weeks of the NHL regular season. A lot of personal best records will be set by McDavid as he continues his quest as one of the greatest players to ever play the game. But in countless interviews, you can tell his focus isn’t on individual achievements but rather on winning it all. The way the Oilers are trending this might be the best chance they’ve had to advance to the Stanley Cup Final since their magical run in 2006. Hang on to your hats Oilers fans. It’s going to be an interesting ride.

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