The unpredictability of sports is what makes it so appealing. Whether it is game-to-game, week-to-week or even month-to-month, often we see massive swings from how teams and individuals perform.
In December the Edmonton Oilers struggled mightily. Many pundits and fans were already writing them off. “Here we go again,” was said and written. It is understandable, to a point, due to the woes of the franchise since 2007. But, this year’s edition of the Oilers is different. They didn’t fold. They didn’t panic. They absorbed the tough month, refused to let it define them and once they got some consistent practice time, they rediscovered their game and have been one of the league’s best teams in 2020.
The Oilers went 4-8-1 in December. Only Detroit and San Jose were worse. The Oilers were 31st in goals against/game, allowing 3.71. They were 25th in goals for/game at 2.64 and that included them scoring seven goals on the final day of 2019. They were outscored 52-37.
But since January 1st, the Oilers have become dominant. They are averaging a league-best 4.50 goals/game. Only Chicago (3.55 goals/game), Tampa Bay (3.57), Colorado (3.80), Toronto (3.82), Washington (3.92) and Florida (4.00) are within one goal-per-game.
They have the eighth lowest GA/game at 2.70. They’ve outscored teams 45-27 and they are 7-2-1. They’ve only played 10 games, tied for the fewest with Colorado and Minnesota, and the extra practice time has clearly helped them. They will play more games the rest of February, with 13 games between tomorrow and the 29th of February, but three times they will have two days between games and they play back-to-back only twice. The first set is both afternoon games and Jason Strudwick told me those are much easier to play as they will arrive in Carolina Saturday night, after playing in Florida, at a decent time so they will get a good sleep.
The Oilers turnaround is a surprise in how dominant they have played, but this team has more talent than previous years, and now that Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are on separate lines it makes the Oilers a much more dangerous team.
Draisaitl has 21 points in 10 games in 2020. He leads the NHL in points, despite playing the fewest games. He has averaged 2.10 points/game in 2020, followed by Sidney Crosby (1.70), Artemi Panarin and McDavid (1.50). Draisaitl has been amazing, and doing it apart from McDavid should finally silence the ridiculous narrative that he only produced because he played with McDavid.
It isn’t the best stat, but Draisaitl, and even McDavid’s, turnaround in +/- from December to now is incredible.
In December Draisaitl produced 7-7-14 in 14 games, while McDavid scored 3-12-15. Both were point-a-game players, but Draisailt was -24 while McDavid was -10. I know that includes empty net goals against, but still, to be -24 over 14 games was stunning. It was clearly an outlier.
Since then Draisaitl has taken the league by storm. He has 21 points in 10 games, is +13 and his line, along with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (6-7-13) and Kailer Yamamoto (4-5-9), has been outstanding.
The Oilers now have two legitimate scoring lines, and right now Draisaitl’s line is the most productive. That could change in February and March, but both Draisaitl and McDavid are dominant enough to be the leading force on their respective lines, so regardless of which line produces more, both will be dangerous.
For months I’ve believed the Oilers’ biggest need was a top-six winger. They could use a more offensive third line centre, no question, but another scoring winger would be ideal. Obviously those are harder to find and will cost more in a trade, but if Oilers GM Ken Holland could land a scoring winger to play with McDavid the Oilers could become the favourite in the ultra-tight Pacific Division.
Even if he doesn’t, they will still be very competitive and possibly for the second time ever (and first since 1982), the Oilers and Vancouver Canucks could both finish first and second in their division in the same season. The Canucks have been very good in 2020 as well.
They are 9-3-1, have the third most points, and the fourth best points percentage (.731). The Oilers .800 points percentage is third best, behind Columbus (.814 going 10-2-1) and Tampa Bay (.821 going 11-2-1).
The Calgary Flames have also been good in 2020, posting a 7-3-1 record, and the race for home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division is going to be awesome.
Six points separate the top-five teams and the Oilers have games in hand on all of them. The Flames are an interesting team. They are -22 in GF-GA. The NHL’s standings includes shootout goals for/against, which is asinine, and that’s why it says they are -17, but in actual goals they have scored 140 and allowed 162. Usually, that is a recipe for not making the playoffs, but the Flames are right in the mix in the Pacific Division.
Is their awful GF% a result of a few bad blowouts or is it hiding a bigger problem?
CAN’T LOOK AWAY…
I was at a watch party on Saturday night at Atlas Steakhouse in Grand Villa Casino with 20 diehard Oilers fans. This was one of our Month of Giving items and Mike and his group were fired up. When Sam Gagner stabbed at a lose puck, Cam Talbot responded with a few blocker punches, then Matthew Tkachuk and Ethan Bear fought, the energy level in the room skyrocketed, and with Mike Smith standing at centre ice the anticipation of a goalie fight grew. When Smith threw his stick, took off his mask and then Talbot skated into the TV frame, the room exploded.
It is amazing how a goalie fight gets people fired up. I think it because it is so rare, and it shows how emotionally charged the game has become.
The last three games between Edmonton and Calgary have been the three most intense games between these teams in years. It seems like the Battle of Alberta is back. Goals, fights and two competitive teams is long overdue and I think I’m in the majority when I say everyone in the province would love to see these two teams meet in the playoffs. It would be awesome.