Oilers Starting Strong During Important Pacific Division Stretch

The Edmonton Oilers are three games into a key stretch where they battle 10 Pacific Division rivals over a 14-game stretch. They have now won two in a row after dropping the first in a blown lead to the Vancouver Canucks, but of the three games so far, that was the least important.

In winning the previous two games against the Calgary Flames and the Seattle Kraken, the Oilers jumped two teams in their division that were right in front of them in the standings in four-point games. It finished off the season series against the Flames in which the Oilers came out on top, and set the tone for what will be three games against the Kraken in 18 days.

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The Oilers came into this stretch of important matchups on the tail end of a rough few games where they blew leads and should’ve earned more points. At possibly the most important time of the season, things are looking up.

Who the Oilers Play & What the Games Mean

Of the 14 games, 10 of them are against Pacific Division teams, as I’ve mentioned. But eight of those 10 are against teams in the mix for a playoff spot and mean the most. They play every divisional opponent at least once in this stretch of games as well.

There are now just two teams ahead of the Oilers in their division, but they play the Vegas Golden Knights and Los Angeles Kings just once. The Oilers have a game or two in hand, but the Kings have been one of the hottest teams in the league now that they have gotten goaltending from Pheonix Copley (from: “Column: Poised goaltender Pheonix Copley is the surprise Christmas gift the Kings needed”, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 2022). The Golden Knights aren’t playing great, but have a bit of a lead in terms of points. Both games will be very important as the Oilers can take it into their own hands to gain points back against the top teams.

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

The Oilers are in the thick of a battle with the Flames and Kraken. They don’t play the Flames anymore, but gained the advantage in the standings during their matchups after besting them in the second game of this current stretch. The Oilers have been playing better than the Flames as of late and both are just as inconsistent this season as the Canucks, Kings, and Kraken.

I previously brought up that the Oilers play the Kraken three times in an 18-day period. The Oilers just leapfrogged the Kraken in the standings, but the Kraken still have three games in hand. Fortunately for the Oilers, Seattle has gone 3-7-1 over their last 11 games after a 12-1-1 stretch. Their power play has gone 1-for-28 and they have the 31st-ranked penalty kill. This didn’t bode well against the Oilers’ top power play in the league and a penalty kill that has been trending up. To add to that, the Oilers have the third-most goals per game against the Kraken’s bottom-of-the-league save percentage. There’s a reason why the Oilers managed a 7-2 victory without the league’s second-highest scorer Draisaitl in the game.

The Oilers lost to the Canucks in the first game of this stretch where they collapsed in the third period. But Edmonton has a chance to make up for that on Jan. 21 in the final game of this key stretch, also against the Canucks. Vancouver sits seven points back of the Oilers with two games in hand. The way they have played this season, they could go on a win streak or bad losing streak. Either way, the Oilers would like to beat them for multiple reasons and keep them out of reach.

The Oilers would definitely like redemption against one of the worst teams in the league in the Anaheim Ducks before getting the season series of four games going against the Sharks. These are must-win games but won’t be detrimental for the Oilers if they lose. It will just put into question whether they are Stanley Cup competitors and are also easier points for the other divisional rivals fighting for playoff spots.

I must mention the four teams that are outside of the division. Unfortunately for the Oilers, all four of the Winnipeg Jets, New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, and Tampa Bay Lightning are tough opponents. If the Oilers can at least come out of these games with two wins or four points, it’s acceptable.

Oilers’ Players Really Clicking at the Right Time

The Oilers have the best player in the world by a large margin this season for sure. Connor McDavid leads the league in goals with 32, assists with 40, and therefore in points with 72. He has a six-goal lead, two-assist lead, and 15-point lead on second place in each category. He is on a 17-game point streak, which is the longest active and third-longest in the NHL this season. McDavid has scored a goal in 14 of those 17 games and had at least one assist in 12. He has 16 goals and 37 points during his point streak and has only gotten hotter from here on out in previous seasons.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers Jacob Markstrom Calgary Flames
Jacob Markstrom of the Calgary Flames makes a save against Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers have four players playing at a point per game or better this season — McDavid (72 points), Leon Draisaitl (57), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (45), and Zach Hyman (40) — in 36 or 37 games played. Not only is their top four the best in the NHL, they have started to get healthy and their lineup looks deep.

Klim Kostin has started to break out and prove to be a great addition while he and Mattias Janmark have been the perfect wingers for Nugent-Hopkins on the second or third line. Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto have also started to score a little bit, which is an improvement on the start of the season.

Stuart Skinner has started 13 of the past 16 games and has continued to do well and outperform expectations. At some point Jack Campbell may need a few more starts to not burn Skinner out and to get Campbell’s confidence higher for the second half of the season. But for now, the Oilers must stick to what is working. There will be opportunities when the team plays weaker opponents for Campbell to get some starts.

With such a tight race and the Oilers playing better, their opportunity is now to start stringing together some wins and stay consistent. Jay Woodcroft wanted the team to get five games over .500 and they had multiple opportunities to this point. Now that the Oilers have finally done so, they can build on their two meaningful wins and climb even higher in their division on their way to their fourth consecutive playoff appearance.

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