Oilers: Talking about Playoffs?

Oh what a difference a few wins can make. After an listless loss to the Maple Leafs, the Oilers seemed to be dead in the water, ready to draft Auston Matthews, with all hope lost. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had been traded several times on Twitter. Jordan Eberle was the scapegoat. It was a bad scene to be sure. Since then however, the team has won three straight. They have at least a point in five of their last six games. Eberle has two goals in two games, while Nugent-Hopkins looks to be regaining his stride after suffering the effects of a flu bug.

It’s amazing the highs and lows that sports can bring. But I can understand the fans frustration. Constant losing and disappointment takes its toll, and sometimes enough is enough. I also understand that the excitement over the teams’ close proximity to a playoff spot is mostly tongue in cheek. The Oilers currently have 24 points. The Arizona Coyotes hold the third playoff position in the Pacific Division with 27 points. The Canucks and Ducks are ahead of Edmonton, but not by much. Can the Oilers leapfrog these teams?

(At the time that this was written), the Vancouver Canucks have only nine wins on the season (tied with Toronto for the fewest in the league), their goaltending has been sub-par, and they have eight extra-time losses, by far the most in the league. I don’t see them as real playoff contenders, and certainly not a formidable opponent. The Ducks have underachieved this year, based on their skill, but there seems to be some issues in Anaheim, and they don’t look like the postseason lock we all expected. The Coyotes, on the other hand, are overachieving, seemingly head of their time, so it’s a good possibility we will see them regress.

(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)
(Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports)

Yes, the Oilers are right there in the race, and in recent December’s that hasn’t been the case. It’s great to see them in position, but it comes with great caution. Despite the win streak, the usual problems remain. The team is still struggling defensively, they’re having trouble generating enough scoring chances, and they’ve been relying on goaltending to bail them out. It’s not a formula for sustained success. And you have to consider the reality that a weak Pacific division is making the Oilers seem better than they are.

However, there are certainly reasons to be positive about this Oilers team. Taylor Hall is having a fantastic season (11 goals and 28 points), and it feels like he’s just getting started. Anders Nilsson has been a revelation for this team. I don’t know if he can keep it up, but we shouldn’t assume that he won’t. Nilsson never really got a fair shake in the NHL, and he’s doing wonders behind a sloppy defence. The team isn’t folding despite numerous injuries and negativity, and I credit that to better coaching. Throw in the fact that Connor McDavid is recovering well from his injury, and it doesn’t feel so bad.

That said, I wouldn’t expect that the Oilers will still be in competition for a playoff spot come the Spring. The team could lose the next four games and then we’ll be talking about the draft lottery again. Nilsson could come back down to earth, McDavid might take a long time to get his stride back once he returns. There are a lot of reasons why any playoff talk is ill-advised. But, winning in this league takes luck. Maybe a down division is the lucky break they need. It’s not completely impossible. If anything, it’s nice to see them in contention. That in of itself is a big step forward.