Edmonton Oilers face plenty of uncertainty heading into the playoffs

As the Oilers prepare to face the Kings in the first round of the playoffs, there are plenty of doubts about if this particular team can win the Stanley Cup.
Edmonton Oilers v Montreal Canadiens
Edmonton Oilers v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

As a whole, Edmonton Oilers fans should be happy with the 2023-24 regular season, especially given how it began. Certainly, having the worst record in franchise history through 12 games and the coach being fired, is not exactly a great recipe for success.

However, the organisation were fortunate to strike oil by hiring Kris Knoblauch to take over from the unfortunate Jay Woodcroft, and they never looked back. As a result, the Oilers are considered one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup.

In this respect, there are certainly a lot of compelling facts and figures to back up this assertion. The Oilers scored the fourth-most goals and allowed the 10th-fewest, to finish with a +57 goal difference which was third-best in the Western Conference and fifth-best in the NHL as a whole.

The Oilers also continued to produce on the power play after last season's record-breaking output, ranking fourth-best in the league. They also finished with the fifth-best face-off win percentage.

On an individual level, Connor McDavid once again led the way, finishing tied-first with 100 assists and third with 132 overall points. Leon Draisaitl finished seventh with 106 combined points, while Stuart Skinner was tied-third among all goalies, with 36 wins.

An average team of late

Despite all this and more, the Oilers find themselves figuratively limping into the playoffs, effectively playing .500 hockey of late. Consider that they are 4-4-2 in their past 10 games and 7-6-2 in their previous 15.

The Oilers have been particularly poor of late, with a 1-3-1 record in their past five games. This includes their final two contests of the 2023-24 regular season, which they lost 5-2 and 5-1 to the Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche respectively.

Now we appreciate that Knoblauch rested a lot of players down the stretch, once the Oilers' fate had been sealed as runner up in the Pacific Division. Also, McDavid did miss a couple of games due to a minor injury and the organisation wanting to take a precautionary approach.

However, even these factors don't account for the Oilers' overall recent drop in productivity. The reality is they wasted a golden opportunity to secure first place in the Pacific Division, and possibly even home-ice advantage in the Western Conference as a whole.

Failings and successes versus the top teams

The recent run of poor form included being demolished 5-0 by the Dallas Stars -- with McDavid in the lineup -- who finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference. Further, they lost 3-1 to the Vancouver Canucks, who they could face in the second round if they get past the Los Angeles Kings.

In truth, the Canucks have been a problem all season for the Oilers, starting with the 8-1 humilation on opening night. Whether playing at home or away, the Oilers went 0-4-0 overall versus their Vancouver rivals, which doesn't bode well for the playoffs if the two teams meet again.

No one will ever deny the talent of this Oilers roster, who on their day can dominate anyone. Consider one-sided wins versus playoff teams such as the Nashville Predators (6-1), Washington Capitals (5-0 and 7-2), Carolina Hurricanes (6-1), the Avalanche (6-2) and Vegas Golden Knights (5-1).

At the same time though, the Oilers have also been dismantled by quality opponents. Aside from the aforementioned 5-0 and 8-1 embarrassments, the Canucks also beat them 6-2, along with big losses to the Tampa Bay Lightening (7-4), Florida Panthers (5-1) and Kings (4-0).

The point is, as talented and dominate as the Oilers have been in an overall sense this season, they have also been prone to streaky and erratic play. This could prove to be the making or undoing of them in the playoffs.

Oilers prepare to face Kings in the first round. dark. Next. Oilers prepare to face Kings in the first round

On the one hand, if the Oilers get on a roll as they did in winning 16-games earlier this year, the momentum could carry them all the way to Stanley Cup glory. By the same token however, they could also just as easily go on a bad run and be swept out of the playoffs 4-0; we now wait in anticipation, to see which version of the team turns up.

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