The Edmonton Oilers made headlines in the first month and a half of this season for all the wrong reasons.
Their Stanley Cup aspirations and expectations were rightfully up there with every other elite team in the league, but, after a brutal 2-9-1 start of the season, the Oilers find themselves in early December with a new head coach and a 9-12-1 record.
Having now won 7 out of their last 10 games, the Oilers have 19 points which is still just 14th of 16 teams in the Western Conference.
The good news for Edmonton is they are 8 points out of a playoff spot and have played the least number of games in the conference. If the Oilers continue this recent strong pace, they could realistically be in a playoff spot in a month.
|To win Stanley Cup
|To win Western Conference
|To win Pacific Division
|To reach the playoffs
The Oilers have a few factors in their favor. The most obvious is they have 2 of the best players on the planet in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
They have other talent on the roster, but McDavid and Draisaitl lead the way on a nightly basis. Fortunately for Edmonton, those guys are back to producing at the extremely impressive rate to which we have become accustomed.
This team will remain dangerous as long as those guys play at their usual high level.
Another factor firmly in the Oilers’ favor is the overall weakness of the Western Conference. Looking around the conference, outside of the top 3 in the Central and Pacific, there is a steep drop off to the remaining teams in each division.
If the Oilers are going to make the playoffs, at this point, it is most likely not going to be by cracking the top 3 in the Pacific as the Vegas Golden Knights, Los Angeles Kings, and Vancouver Canucks are all at least 10 points clear of the fourth-placed Calgary Flames.
In that case, Edmonton will have to beat out some combination of Arizona, St. Louis, Minnesota, Nashville, Calgary, and Seattle. On paper, Edmonton should be able to leapfrog those teams in the standings.
The combination of the high-end talent the Oilers boast and the quality of opponents they would battle with for the wild card bode very well for Edmonton.
The Oilers have games in hand on every team in between them and the wild card. A run of 10 wins in 15 games could very well get the Oilers into a playoff spot, and they have the talent to do just that - and hold onto the spot.
A tough aspect the Oilers will need to battle through is the strength of the top-end teams in the Pacific.
The Golden Knights, Kings, and Canucks are strong, deep teams that would love nothing more than to spoil any chances the Oilers have of making the playoffs. Some combination of those 3 teams will almost certainly be the top 3 locked up in the Pacific, and those three sit at least 14 points above Edmonton.
Of course, that is not to say that Edmonton cannot hang with Vegas, Los Angeles, and Vancouver head-to-head.
They absolutely can, especially in their current form. But with the hole they dug themselves in the first 15 games of the year, their margin for error against elite teams is razor-thin. That is not a great spot to be in when there are several division matchups remaining this season.
Although the Oilers have much higher top-end talent and more overall depth than several bubble teams ahead of them, that does not mean Edmonton will sweep all remaining games against those teams.
A few things have to go right for the Oilers to lock in a playoff spot come spring. If any team can do it, though, it is the one with McDavid and Draisaitl.
As mentioned, McDavid and Draisaitl are back to their elite level of production, which has reaped benefits for the Oilers.
It is no coincidence that the Oilers' recent surge has coincided with the increased production of those players. Not that their production was bad, they were still at a point per game pace.
The standard McDavid and Draisaitl have set for themselves is just so high that it seemed like underachieving. Nonetheless, they are back in a big way.
However, the knock on the Oilers for years has been that they cannot get over the hump on the back of just 2 players. Not to take away from Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane and more great Oilers players, but defense and goaltending continues to be Edmonton’s Achilles heel year after year.
The Oilers’ defense has taken a step forward, but it has been a moot point due to brutal goaltending. As good a the Oilers forward group is along with their top defensemen, Edmonton should be looking for some help come trade deadline time.
This team cannot continue to rely solely on McDavid and Draisaitl and expect a Stanley Cup Final run.
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