It’s that time of the season where your imagination drifts to dream-like scenarios, such as your hockey team clinching a playoff spot. You imagine relief flooding over every inch of your being. You imagine the joy you’ll feel when Connor McDavid steps onto the ice for the Edmonton Oilers’ first playoff game since 2016-17.
But then the combination of fear, stress, and jitters pulls you back to reality, where 22 games remain in the 2019-20 campaign, and the Oilers only have three more points than the ninth-place seed. And they’re missing McDavid, Oscar Klefbom, Zack Kassian, James Neal, Kris Russell, and Joakim Nygard.
Just thinking about these things propels utter nervousness. But on the plus side, the Oilers are just one point behind the Pacific Division leaders, the Vegas Golden Knights. And for the first time in what feels like forever, Edmonton is in the thick of the playoff race.
Every game counts from here on out, which amounts to exciting hockey. The best part? Their newfound depth has helped them to survive several injuries and suspensions — Kassian, please don’t kick someone in the chest with your skate ever again.
But there’s one notable aspect that has helped the Oilers to keep their playoff dreams alive: their special teams.
Oilers’ Special Teams Thrived Against the Boston Bruins
The idea for this article popped up when the Boston Bruins went 0-for-7 on the power play against the Oilers. But it gets more spectacular than that.
The Bruins’ power play is ranked second in the NHL, but they couldn’t convert against the second-best penalty kill in the NHL. The Oilers’ penalty killers prevented the Bruins from running away with the game.
Meanwhile, on the power play, Sam Gagner managed to tip in a shot from Ethan Bear (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins also had an assist—I want to make a point of mentioning No. 93 whenever I can because he deserves it). The Oilers went one for six on the power play, which may not be the greatest stat, but it’s important to note that the Bruins have the third-best penalty kill in the NHL, so the fact that they collected at least one power play goal against Boston has me tickled pink.
Please remember that the Oilers were missing McDavid, a key member of the power play, and Klefbom, a key member of both special teams.
Oilers’ Special Teams Can Survive Despite Injuries To Key Players
Thanks to the Oilers’ depth on both defence and offence, they can easily adjust their special teams to fill injury-created voids. For example, the now-injured Klefbom tends to be the team’s go-to defenseman when shorthanded, but the franchise’s other blueliners can easily step up. It showed against Boston:
Call-up William Lagesson played 4:41 on the penalty kill, while Darnell Nurse logged 6:00, Bear put in 5:00, and Adam Larsson played 5:21. It’s nice to know that the Oilers, for once, have options and depth.
What about the Oilers power play? The team is now missing two key pieces: Klefbom, the quarterback, and McDavid, the phenomenal neutral-zone-puck-carrier.
Against Boston, Edmonton looked to Nurse to quarterback the power play, and he ended up logging 8:56. And since McDavid’s injury, the Oilers have scored on 4 out of 15 power plays, amounting to 26.6% accuracy. Currently, they have the best power play with an average of 29.1%, while Boston sits in second place with 25%.
When you consider these stats, it’s easy to see that the Oilers have actually done fairly well on the power play without their captain (and Neal—who has 12 power play goals). However, no one can skate into the attacking zone as smoothly as McDavid, which was evident when they struggled to convert against the Tampa Bay Lightning (and coughed up a shorthanded goal).
However, recent reports show that No. 97 is now skating with the team, so we can expect him to help the Oilers already successful power play become even more successful upon his return. Not only does the McDavid-less record of 3-1-1 prove that the team has more depth than critics likely thought, but the franchise’s special teams have and will continue to help them win hockey games with or without key players.
Oilers’ Special Teams Will Help Them Make the Playoffs
When you look at the NHL rankings for special teams, only the Pittsburgh Penguins, Lightning, Bruins, and Oilers hold a top-10 spot for both their penalty kill and power play. (It’s cool seeing the Oilers listed next to these teams!)
While the Oilers have some depth, they definitely don’t have as much as the Lightning, Penguins, Bruins, and other playoff contenders. For example, Tampa Bay has six players with 40-plus points, while Edmonton has only three players. But it’s not the goals-against or goals-for statistics that unveil their depth — it’s their special teams.
Right now, the Oilers have the best power play in the NHL and the second-best penalty kill. If anything can help them secure a playoff position, especially during this injury-riddled time, it’s their dominant special teams. Of course, Leon Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Kailer Yamamoto, Nurse, Bear, Mike Smith, and Mikko Koskinen will obviously play a major role in determining whether the Oilers will make the playoffs or not, but it’s impossible to ignore how their special teams have helped this franchise to excel.
Related: Are the Oilers a Playoff Team?
These times may be beyond stressful, frightening, and exciting for fans and the organization alike, but I think we can all safely imagine how we will feel when the team finally make the playoffs in 2019-20. Try not to imagine the Oilers winning the cup, though. It’s best to stick to a more realistic goal.