Oilers’ Rollercoaster Style Is Great TV But May Not Be Sustainable

One of the newest Edmonton Oilers tied a long-standing record on Sunday night. When Dominik Kahun shot home a Leon Draisaitl pass just eight seconds into the game versus the Ottawa Senators, he matched a feat of The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Draisaitl won the faceoff cleanly, shot a pass straight back to Kahun and the ensuing shot floated over Sens goalie Matt Murray’s shoulder. It was a great start to a game where Edmonton ended up needing a lot of run support and also continued a pattern for this year’s club. The team is great in short segments, whether that be a single game, single shift, or a single play.

On Jan. 24 against the Winnipeg Jets, Leon Draisaitl scored with under a second remaining in the third period, snatching a regulation victory from the clutches of a game that look destined for overtime. Again, it was the result of quick and clever playmaking, as the big German scored off a beautiful backhand pass from captain Connor McDavid. Both of these goals were parts of this noticeable trend with the 2020-21 Oilers, positive aspects naturally but its a trend has gone both ways. There have been an equal number of negative moments – brainfarts – for lack of a better word. These plays have occurred from the first goal against in the very first game of the 2020-21 season, where once-solid defenseman Adam Larsson left the middle of the ice open for the Vancouver Canucks’ Bo Horvat. The Oilers’ good moments are breathtakingly good, but so often they are followed by the other kind, you have to figure Edmontonians tend toward high blood pressure.

Great in Short Spurts

Plays like the one McDavid made against the Toronto Maple Leafs the other night are a common sight for Oiler fans. The people of the city are truly lucky to have had both Gretzky and now McDavid in Oiler silks. The issue, since he was drafted in 2015 is that Oiler management has been unable to put the team around him that a contender requires. Anyone who saw the multiple signings in the summer of 2019 knew that Riley Sheahan and Markus Granlund weren’t the missing puzzle pieces, just as surely as they knew Tobias Rieder couldn’t lift the team to greatness the year before. This past offseason, aided by a salary cap situation that compressed the asking price of virtually every free agent, general manager Ken Holland seemed to do better.

Riley Sheahan Detroit Red Wings
Riley Sheahan spent time with the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins before signing with Edmonton for 2019-20. This season he is a Buffalo Sabre. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the top lines are producing, with McDavid and Draisaitl currently sitting at the front of the scoring race, the shine has come off a couple of newer players. Kyle Turris is looking more like the player the Nashville Predators moved on from, rather than the offensive talent he was in his earlier NHL stops. Tyler Ennis, widely praised by the analytics crowd when Holland acquired him last March, seems not fully recovered from his playoff leg injury. Edmonton’s defence, both young and old, has underwhelmed, much as they did in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs. Take Tyson Barrie, who has 7 points through 11 games, but is also a minus-seven. The team has scored 38 goals, amongst the league’s most proficient, but at the same time have allowed 41. The issue seems obvious. If the supporting cast can’t keep things close to even, the result is entirely dependent on production from the stars.

Seven Teams Are Racing For Four Playoff Berths

The simple math says Edmonton doesn’t need to become unbeatable to make the playoffs. In the Scotiabank North Division, they simply need to be better, on a season-long basis, than three of their divisional rivals. The Ottawa Senators, with a single win and a minus-24 goal differential, are certain to be a lottery team. The Montreal Canadiens have improved markedly since finishing 12th in the East last season, though their playoff victory over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins was perhaps a sign of things to come, and this year they, along with the Toronto Maple Leafs, are the class of the division.

Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens
Tyler Toffoli has brought a scoring touch to the 2020-21 Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

That leaves the defensively challenged Vancouver Canucks, the Winnipeg Jets, and the one Canadian team Edmonton has yet to face this season. The Oilers must find a way to be consistently better than two of those three. Vancouver got the short straw in the North Division, with every single home game they play occurring in a different timezone. This factor could wear on them in terms of fatigue and, as the compressed season goes on, injury. Winnipeg and Edmonton split their recent miniseries and look evenly matched. That leaves the Flames, Edmonton’s longtime rival, just a short trip south.

Related: Oilers’ Yamamoto Off to Strong Start in 2020-21

Calgary seems to be having difficulty scoring this season, and you have to like the Oilers’ chances in a 3-2 or 2-1 game. More often than not, the team’s two superstars will combine for three or more points. The question will be if Edmonton can avoid the negative moments in between the highlight reel ones. The two teams play 10 times between now and the season’s end, with 20 standings point up for grabs. Matthew Tkachuk will do everything in his power to annoy and disrupt the Oilers over that span but the team knows a simple truth. As Calgary’s star player and probable future captain, he’s still a rung below the best Oilers and if they can focus on victory the team’s results should follow that trend. If Edmonton can capture 70% or more of the points from this season series, a playoff spot looks likely.

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