Edmonton Oilers: What to expect from now until the end of the season

Edmonton Oilers (Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)
Edmonton Oilers (Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports) /

With their first win over Vancouver earlier this week, the Edmonton Oilers have now clinched a playoff spot.  Oilers fans are not accustomed to this, we’re accustomed to seeing our team wait until the 2nd last or last game of the season to clinch their spot, as has been the habit when we’ve made the playoffs in the past.

So with the Oilers now in the playoffs, let’s go through what we can expect the Oilers to do from now until the end of the season next week.

Expect the Edmonton Oilers to feast on the Canucks for points

The Canucks are outmatched and outgunned by the Oilers even when healthy, and honestly now that one of their biggest weapons in Elias Pettersson is out for the rest of the season with injury it’s going to be a slaughter.

3 out of the remaining 5 games are against the Canucks, who are mired in the Scotia North basement – surprisingly Ottawa’s actually been able to string some wins together – and they’re 6 points behind Ottawa with most of their schedule against us so they’re unlikely to go anywhere from now until the end of the season.

As Tuesday’s game showed, they might be able to hold off the McDrai duo for stretches but we’re wearing them out, and eventually, they’ll get through.  No shame in being beaten by the best, as they say.

Expect Ryan McLeod to have the spotlight on him for a while

McLeod is the only guy from Bakersfield to get a callup this year – not surprising given the times – and so naturally there’s going to be people following how he’s doing.

His early career hasn’t produced any points yet in 6 games so far, but even by the eye test he’s creating chances and has the speed to play the NHL game, at least as a bottom 6 forward.  It’s only a matter of time before 1 of them goes in.

Whether he sticks around or goes on the taxi squad at playoff time will largely depend on him.  If he starts dropping secondary offence like it’s hot expect him to get some playoff time.  Otherwise, his spot will go to someone more experienced.

Dave Tippett did try him in the top 6 briefly – he has nothing to lose, after all – and although he didn’t look overwhelmed he didn’t create much in the way of offence, either.  Might be a little premature for that just yet.

With the way his line clicked in Bakersfield this year, next season it’s entirely possible that Cooper Marody and Tyler Benson make the team next year too and the band is reunited to play the 4th line.  Hey, it’s something to cheer for because then if Kyle Turris is still an Oiler by the time training camp next season is done, then it’s an easy call to waive him so he can be assigned to Bakersfield.  Also then we don’t have to waste a roster spot on Patrick Russell, either.

Expect Laggeson-Bouchard to finish out the regular season as the 3rd pairing on D

Let’s face it, Ethan Bear and Caleb Jones have both disappointed this season after breaking out last year.  They have a combined 2 goals and 10 points on the season.  That’s not good enough, especially considering that Bear alone produced 21 points last season.

Bouchard especially earned himself a longer look with that goal he scored last night.  His boxcars are at least decent, producing 5 points in 13 games.  That’s half of what the duo of Jones-Bear has put up all season in a lot more games played.  Lagesson isn’t really noticeable most nights but he seems up to the task of playing defensive cleanup for Evan Bouchard.  He’s certainly a better fit defensively – at least for the moment – as he is +1 at the time of this writing vs. Jones’s -4.

Unless Jones and Bear work hard in practice and get out of Dave Tippett’s doghouse – or Lagesson-Bouchard completely implodes between now and the end of the season – expect this to be the bottom pairing D for the playoffs.

Don’t expect Alex Stalock to get a start, but expect Tippett to rest Mike Smith and play Koskinen more

Tippett was already asked in a press conference whether Alex Stalock was going to get a start during this stretch run, and Tippett affirmatively answered no.  But Koskinen has been playing better in the latter half of the season, and considering Smith making headlines with his play this season it’s reasonable to expect him to take the lion’s share of the starts in the playoffs.  This means Tippett will rest Smith and start Koskinen more than he normally would right now.

Don’t expect the Edmonton Oilers to overtake the Leafs for 1st place in the division

The Oilers have largely sealed their fate as far as where they’ll finish now.  Although they aren’t mathematically eliminated from finishing in 1st, they would have to win all 5 of their remaining games – and for Toronto to go 1-3 the rest of the way – for them to finish in 1st (without having to use a tiebreaker).  Even having 1 game in hand on Toronto is unlikely to make a difference.

After all, it would be unrealistic for us to expect our team to go undefeated for any stretch of games, never mind for Toronto to completely implode.  6 points is a lot of ground to make up in the last 4-5 games of the season.  For both to happen simultaneously – well, I’m sure a stats nerd somewhere could calculate the odds on that, but they probably wouldn’t be great.

The Oilers are the hottest team in the division right now – as well they should be, considering their competition – but even then I wouldn’t hold my breath.  Don’t expect it to happen and be happy if it does.  That’s the best way to approach it.

And honestly, in this covid pandemic day and age, there wouldn’t be much more of an advantage to it.  After all, you might get an extra trophy but if the Oilers do end up winning the Stanley Cup this year then who’s going to care whether they won their division or not?  After all, what do you remember more about the 80s Oilers, the number of division titles they won, or the number of cups they won?  Exactly.  It’s the latter.

At 2nd place in the division – with neither the Jets nor Habs likely to catch them – they’ve already got home-ice advantage (for whatever that’s worth) in the 1st round anyway, so who cares if they win the division?

Ask any NHL player, they’d rather have a Stanley Cup than a division winner.  Frankly, IMO it’s actually better this way, because if the Oilers meet the Leafs in the 2nd round – which they likely will – then you know the Toronto hype machine will go into overdrive and put lots of pressure on the Leafs to win the series.  Most pundits and media from around the NHL will do the same.

This means the Oilers won’t be the ones with the pressure on them to win, it’ll be the Leafs.  That’s our mental edge.  We can just play our game without having to deal with more pressure from being the favourite to win.

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And lest we forget, the Oilers are used to playing the underdogs.  They weren’t expected to beat Dallas in ’97 in the 1st round, but they did.  They weren’t expected to beat Detroit in the 1st round in ’06 but they did.  And frankly, winning the series against Toronto would be pretty sweet, considering the media hype surrounding them.