With the Los Angeles Kings gaining ground, the Oilers need to pick up their play if they want to keep their sights set on home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs

Article content

A Western Conference arms race that saw Sean Monahan, Tyler Toffoli, Sean Walker, Casey Mittelstadt, Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm sprinkled around the contending rosters, is showing strong early returns.

The big guns are firing loud.

Article content

Colorado is on a nine-game win streak. Dallas is 8-2 in their last 10. The Canucks are 7-2-1 after three wins in a row. Nashville is on an 8-0-2 heater and even the Vegas Knights have come back to life with five wins in their last seven starts.

Advertisement 2

Article content

And, of more immediate concern to Edmonton, the Los Angeles Kings are starting to pick up speed as well, winning three in a row to close the gap on the Oilers to three points.

Meanwhile in Edmonton, with the playoffs fast approaching and second place in the Pacific Division still very much up for grabs, the Oilers are mired in their second-longest losing streak in three months.

Two games.

And in one of those games they outshot the other guys 36-16.

So, while you probably shouldn’t worry that much about about the state of the Oilers (when a team has the best record in the NHL since mid November you cut them some slack) giving up nine goals and two empty netters in back-to-back losses to Toronto and Ottawa is a bit unsightly for this time of year.

But this is just one of those temporary sags that happens to every team at multiple times in a season.

Isn’t it?

It’s kind of hard to tell because it happens so infrequently to the Oilers. That’s why some people are getting nervous. In the 56 games since Kris Knoblauch took over, their longest regulation losing streaks are three games (twice) and two games (twice), including this one.

Article content

Advertisement 3

Article content

And they’ve been masters at bouncing back.

When they lost three in a row in November, they responded with an eight game win streak. When they lost three in a row in mid December, they responded with a 16-game winning streak. When they went 0-2-1 in late February, they responded with five wins in a row.

Having said that, the last four Oilers games have been a little unnerving. You could see a little bit of a malaise setting in during that narrow overtime win over 27th place Montreal and it continued for another 40 mediocre minutes before their five-goal, third-period explosion against 22nd place Buffalo broke open a 3-3 third period tie.

You can rationalize all four games: Pretty or not, they still beat Montreal. They only needed 20 minutes to pound Buffalo. They outshot 27th place Ottawa 36-16. And it was probably just the usual Toronto distractions that led to a 6-3 defeat (their first in regulation since March 7) against the Leafs.

Their body of work up to this point in the season has earned them the benefit of the doubt.

This is probably a simple case of a team that closes out the season with 17 games in 30 days understanding that there is no need to empty the tank in late March.

Advertisement 4

Article content

Recommended from Editorial

Aside from the race for second place, which comes more into focus when the Kings visit Edmonton on Thursday, the truly important hockey is still four weeks away.

Still, it would help set everyone’s mind at ease if they had one of those response games Tuesday in Winnipeg. The Jets are good, they’re in a battle for home ice in the first round and after three losses in a row are just as hungry as the Oilers should be.

And, as we mentioned, second place no loner seems like a sure thing. It looked for a stretch like the only shuffling that might take place at the top of the Pacific Division was Edmonton catching Vancouver, but now the Kings are getting larger in the rear view mirror.

They won three in a row and four of their last five to make up three points on the Oilers and now sit three points back with 12 games to go (Oilers have 13).

Considering that the Oilers are 9-2-2 in their last 13 home games and 6-6-1 in their last 13 road games, and that there are dramatic swings in their special teams numbers (PK is fourth at home, 28th on the road, power play is first at home, 15th on the road) this is a race they would do well to win.

E-mail: rtychkowski@postmedia.com

Article content

Source link

By admin