Oilers Could Vault Into First Place With Sweep Over Maple Leafs

The Edmonton Oilers are on a roll. Now 11-2 in their last 13 games, the team is not only quickly shooting up the Scotia North Division standings, but the NHL standings as well, nipping at the heels of a team that they’ll play in a three-game series starting on Saturday, then concluding on Monday and Wednesday evening.

It’s no small bit of news and TSN’s Frank Seravalli framed it well on Twitter Friday when he said, “For surging Oilers, first place is within striking distance for just the second time in the Connor McDavid era.” He noted that a sweep could vault the Oilers to the top spot in both points and percentage, pending what the Winnipeg Jets do.

Beyond Toronto, if the Oilers win all three games, it separates Edmonton from a couple of the other North Division teams. Vancouver is now 10 points behind the Oilers in the standings with just over 30 games to go. Montreal is sliding, Calgary is all over the place and Ottawa is playing like a different team, but it might be too late.

How Good Have the Oilers Been Lately?

Admittedly, Edmonton struggled out of the gate early. Going 3-6 in their first nine, there were plenty who wondered what the issue was. Insiders were quick to point to the team’s inability to add a goaltender in the offseason, choosing to go back to the well with Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen. Some said the low-cost acquisitions were astute but not enough to make a difference, while others suggested the team couldn’t win if they didn’t get more scoring from players not named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

None one of those things seem to be an issue now.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Koskinen weathered the storm of having to play every game game to start the season and Smith has come back and is now 6-0 in his starts since returning from injury. Sure, McDavid and Draisaitl are one and two in terms of points for players in the NHL, but the depth is offering production — including recent goals from Jesse Puljujarvi, Tyler Ennis and Dominik Kahun — and the blue line is among the most productive in terms of offense throughout the NHL.

The Oilers are firing on all cylinders and you can tell they have a newfound confidence and swagger about them that wasn’t there at the start of the season. They’ve got a number of players itching for playing time and not enough spots to fit everyone in, which is a fantastic problem to have.

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How Likely Is a Sweep Over Toronto?

It’s cocky to suggest any team will beat another three times in a row. It’s certainly arrogant to suggest the Oilers can do it to the Maple Leafs who are first in the standings for many reasons.

The Leafs been consistently good this season. Despite some key injuries and being forced to shuffle their lineups as a result, the Leafs haven’t lost more than two games in a row all year. They’ll be coming off of a three-day rest and they’ll be looking to put a stop to the Oilers run.

That said, the team is dealing with some injuries as players like Frederik Andersen is day-to-day, Joe Thornton and Jake Muzzin just returned to practice after missing the last two games with injuries, and Jack Campbell has been out with a leg injury. Even Auston Matthews is reportedly dealing with a nagging wrist issue that shouldn’t keep him out of the lineup, but the Leafs have reportedly had to alter their game plan in an effort to work around the issue.

This team is beatable and if the Oilers can continue to apply pressure while the Leafs organization is already a bit down, there’s a legitimate shot Edmonton could go 3-0.

Momentum Is a Real Thing

Between the two teams, the Oilers are definitely the hotter franchise. They’ve won five straight while the Leafs have been hit and miss against teams who have struggled in the standings. The Oilers are all effort, holding each other accountable and every line is trying to outdo the other, never wanting to be the reason for a momentum swing during a game.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ross D. Franklin)

The key here for Edmonton is to forget they are on a roll and act as though the Leafs can embarrass them at any time… because they can. If there’s one area the Oilers can struggle in, it’s allowing a series or two during a game where the ice tilts against them. Against Toronto, that could mean trouble.

I’m well aware that suggesting the Oilers are the better team right now will stir up the ire of Maple Leafs fans. As such, I’ll finish with a word of caution. The Oilers can absolutely beat the Maple Leafs three games in a row the way they’re playing. At the same time, the Oilers can’t take for granted that they are feeling good about their game. If they do, they could also lose three straight, plopping them right back down into a position where the playoffs are questionable.

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