Oilers’ Success in the Pacific Division Could Save Their Season

The Edmonton Oilers have had a tale of two seasons, the start being very good and recently before they snapped their losing skid with three consecutive wins, they just couldn’t win. Despite the up and down season, they have been very consistent and dominant in games that matter most. These would be the matchups vs their divisional opponents in the Pacific Division.

Edmonton Oilers Celebrate
Jesse Puljujarvi #13 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Vancouver Canucks with teammates Darnell Nurse #25, Connor McDavid #97, Leon Draisaitl #29 and Tyson Barrie #22 (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

In order of games that matter, divisional games hold the most value and are the most important to win in regulation. This is because the top three teams from each division are confirmed a spot in the playoffs. Games against the other division in the same conference are right below that because those teams can also hold wild card positions. The games of least importance are the ones the Oilers play vs the Eastern Conference. Don’t get me wrong, all games matter, but since they can’t win every game, winning a lot more against divisional opponents is the way to go.

The Pacific is Tightest Contested Division

As of late, the Anaheim Ducks and Calgary Flames have struggled like the Oilers, but the Oilers have bolstered their roster. We are still a while out, but the Ducks have yet to make a decision of the direction of their team this season. With recent struggles, it could become clear soon, as the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks have made up ground and have made things very tight and interesting within the division. The Vegas Golden Knights have also not been doing so hot lately, going 3-4-3 in their past 10. The Vancouver Canucks made up ground when Bruce Boudreau was hired, but have played .500 hockey after cooling down a bit. The only team that is really out of the race is the Seattle Kraken, so there are seven teams fighting for three spots, possibly more.

The top seven teams in the division are separated by 10 points, but keep in mind that the Golden Knights, Ducks, and Kings have all played the most games of the bunch. This gives the room and opportunity for the Flames, Sharks, Oilers, and Canucks to make up ground as the playing field levels.

Vegas shouldn’t get Jack Eichel back as soon as they anticipated but look like the strongest choice to at least make the playoffs within the division. The Kings are the only team to have won more games than they have lost in the past 10 among Pacific teams. While the Oilers are the only team who is on a winning streak of more than one game.

Oilers Step Up Their Play When it Matters Most

The Oilers are 10-2-0 against teams in the Pacific Division. If that keeps up, it is a great sign and they will be able to close the gap on the teams above them as they make up games and play against these opponents. The Oilers have won three in a row against divisional opponents, including a regulation win over the Flames which may have been the most important for the team this season. It snapped their seven-game losing streak, held their biggest rivals without a point in a game that may have saved their coach’s job. The Flames are the only other team in the division who have played less than 43 games (39 each). With the Oilers behind them in the standings, the Flames are a team that the Oilers need to leapfrog to get a playoff spot. The only two losses came in the midst of the 15-game span where they won two games, while only one of the two teams are ahead of the Oilers in the standings, the Kings.

The Oilers are 2-0-0 against the Flames this season, scoring five goals in each and holding them without a point. Every point matters and the Flames are improving their play again as well. The teams play two more times and with the track record of Edmonton dominating the Battle of Alberta, those two games favour the Oilers. Even the Flames’ coach Darryl Sutter said that the Oilers are a top team in the division despite struggles (“Fightin’ words? Hardly. Sutter says struggling Oilers are a top team in Pacific Division”, Calgary Sun, Jan. 20, 2022).

Mikael Backlund, Mikko Koskinen
Calgary Flames’ Mikael Backlund scores on Edmonton Oilers Mikko Koskinen. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Let’s look to California. All three of the teams there are ahead of the Oilers in the standings, but the games in hand the Oilers have are huge. They have seven games in hand on the Ducks and eight points back, six points back of the Kings with five games in hand, and two points back of the Sharks with four games in hand. The Oilers have yet to play the Sharks, but they are the least of their worries in California, as they are the closest and will be without Erik Karlsson for an extended period of time. The Oilers are 1-0-0 against the Ducks, beating them in regulation, while they are 0-1-0 against the Kings. With the addition of Evander Kane, the Oilers get that physical and goal-scoring boost upfront as well as the familiarity with the west and more specifically the division as a former Shark.

Related: Kane Signing Forces Oilers to Decide Which Forward to Demote Next

As for the other three teams in the division, the Golden Knights, Canucks, and Kraken, the Oilers are a combined 7-1-0 against them, only losing to the Kraken. They’ve beaten the Golden Knights twice in regulations, the only team above them in the standings and holding first place in the division. Two of the games vs the Canucks have gone past regulation, but they have been important wins for the Oilers and a win is a win.

Success to Come Once Oilers Reach Playoffs

The Oilers have had no difficulty qualifying for the playoffs each of the last two shortened seasons, finishing second in the division in both years behind the Golden Knights and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite that, they have ended up playing two teams normally from the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Winnipeg Jets, winning one of eight games.

If the Oilers can finish this season in the top-three of the Pacific Division, the success rate should be higher against teams within their division. If we look back to the 2016-17 playoffs, the Oilers beat the Sharks in the first round and lost in game seven to the Ducks in a controversial series. They won seven games in those two series as opposed to one game in the past two. Finishing the season in the top-three of the divisional will ensure that at least one of the first two series they would play is against a team in their division.

Making the playoffs isn’t enough with this team the Oilers have assembled, they have to win rounds and compete for a Stanley Cup with two of the best players in the world under contract. Time is ticking on both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl’s contracts, and some wins when it really matters would go a long way.

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