Things look like they’re coming together at the right time for the Edmonton Oilers. They’re icing a healthy lineup for the first time since mid-November and with just over one month to go until the end of the regular season, they’re currently in a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. They still have a busy schedule ahead, however as they have to play one more set of back-to-back games on April 28th and 29th. They also have seven games remaining against Pacific Division opponents, which bodes well for them considering they have a winning record within the division.
The team could benefit from this schedule as they have looked tired for stretches of February and March, especially after back-to-back games. You can tell that they’re tired by the increased amount of mistakes they have made. If they were to make the playoffs and only play every second day, that could be a win for a team who has faced more than their fair share of adversity in the 2021-22 season.
Oilers Could Benefit from Mid-Season Adversity
Injuries have been the number one challenge for the Oilers this season, but they can’t use that as an excuse. The most important player to go down to injury this season has been Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The Oilers have missed his contributions on the penalty kill and the power play especially, and they hope that his injury woes are behind him. Key injuries to goalie Mike Smith, defencemen Darnell Nurse, Tyson Barrie, Duncan Keith and forward Jesse Puljujärvi have also hurt the team this season. However, their injuries opened the door for young prospects like Stuart Skinner, Markus Niemeläinen, and Philip Broberg to emerge from the Oilers American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Bakersfield.
The handling of Skinner has been a bit perplexing as he has been the Oilers’ best goaltender this season, and has shown that he’s ready for primetime. If either Smith or Mikko Koskinen falter down the stretch or early in the playoffs you have to hope that Skinner will get the call. He has the potential to be the second coming of Andy Moog or Bill Ranford – a young goalie just waiting for his opportunity to shine.
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With defenceman Brett Kulak coming in at the trade deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, Niemelainen and Broberg could stay down in Bakersfield until the end of the season. Broberg has been hurt down there but could be ready for the Oilers once the playoffs start, and Niemeläinen, who went back down to be with his wife for the birth of their child, will also be standing by.
If the Oilers Play Close to .500 Hockey They Could Be In
TSN 1260’s Jason Gregor posted an interesting stat on Twitter this week. Looking at the Pacific Division and Western Conference playoff race, the Oilers would need a record of 9-8 in their final 17 games to qualify. That’s definitely achievable but as they say down on the farm, you can’t count your chickens before they hatch.
The only thing that could stop the Oilers from getting in at this point would be further injuries or a complete meltdown of their goaltending. I might sound like a broken record regarding the goalie situation in Edmonton this season, but the combo of Smith and Koskinen haven’t won the trust of the fans in Oil Country. Needless to say, Oilers general manager Ken Holland put the team in this position by not addressing his goaltending when he had the chance, and his fate could be tied to their performance. Fans are hoping they can take the team far but there’s that nagging feeling like we’ve seen this movie before with Smith and Koskinen. Win and they’ll be the toast of the town in Edmonton. Lose and well, let’s not go there.
Oilers Salute a Very Special Fan
In the Oilers’ recent win over the San Jose Sharks on March 24, the Oilers organization and its fans paid tribute to five-year-old Ben Stelter and his family. Ben is currently battling stage four brain cancer and he was clearly the first star on this night. The young fan of Connor McDavid stood with his hero on the ice for the national anthems and received a standing ovation from the fans.
Ben was also given the player of the game honors by Zack Kassian in the Oilers’ dressing room, and Zack Hyman had Ben join him for the post game press conference. It was a magical evening for Ben and his family, and also for the team. With so much negativity in the world, and so many day-to-day challenges for everyone, it felt good to cheer for Ben Stelter and his family.
As someone who has followed the Oilers since their days in the WHA in the mid-1970s all of the tributes to Ben were very moving. In fact, it was one of the most memorable nights I can remember as an Oilers fan and that includes all of Wayne Gretzky’s record nights, the Stanley Cups and magical playoff runs. I want to wish Ben and everyone battling cancer the best. You are the true MVPs in life.