The walls are closing in on Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland. With just over three weeks until the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline, his Albertan franchise finds itself delicately poised in a wildcard spot, tied on points with the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks.
The playoff race in the Western Conference is particularly difficult to call this year. Unlike in the East, where there is daylight between the conference’s contenders and pretenders, the battle for a spot in the post-season out West is a quagmire.
The Pacific Division, in which the Oilers are based, is a hot mess.
The Calgary Flames lead the way with 66 points, trailed by the Vegas Golden Knights (62) and LA Kings (61). Edmonton, meanwhile, enter the weekend with 59 points on the board and a positive-five goal differential. If they are to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’ll need to win more than half of their remaining fixtures. And it won’t be easy.
The Oilers are skating uphill heading into the stretch, they’ve lost their last two games and have a difficult weekend ahead. On Saturday at 17:30 (GMT), Connor McDavid & Co. face the league-leading Florida Panthers. Holland’s team will then travel to Carolina on Sunday to face the second-placed Hurricanes at 18:00 (GMT).
Edmonton’s upcoming back-to-back could make or break their season and you can watch it unfold live in the UK.
The Lowdown on the Edmonton Oilers:
This season hasn’t gone to plan for Edmonton. Although Leon Draisaitl and McDavid started the year in blistering form, they’ve been unable to drag Holland’s poorly constructed roster to the top of the Pacific Division.
Edmonton’s biggest area of concern falls in the blue paint. Inconsistent goaltending has plagued the Oilers this term, with Mikko Koskinen coming under fire for his poor performances. The Finn has a .899 save percentage and is unlikely to re-sign with the Oilers following the expiration of his contract.
That said, the Oilers’ defence hasn’t exactly helped their netminders this year. Duncan Keith, an offseason acquisition from the Chicago Blackhawks, hasn’t played up to his $5.5 million/year contract and isn’t getting much support from his teammates. Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci aren’t having stellar campaigns either, particularly in the defensive zone.
Of course, Edmonton’s greatest strength is in their opponent’s end. McDavid and Draisaitl are tied for second in the NHL for points (73). Both are in contention for the Hart Trophy.
However, with his team short on scoring depth, Holland snapped up controversial free agent Evander Kane last month. In 12 appearances for the club, the 6-foot-2 winger has registered nine points (five goals, four assists) while playing in a top-six role.
The 30-year-old’s arrival isn’t the only radical change in Alberta, though. The Oilers fired head coach Dave Tippett a fortnight ago, promoting Jay Woodcroft from his role behind the bench in the AHL. Edmonton are 5-2-0 since making their coaching switch and most improve further if they are to finish in the top three of their division.
Florida Panthers Preview:
The Panthers are on fire, taking Joel Quenneville’s October resignation in their stride.
“Obviously, this year too, what happened is not easy on a team,” Jonathan Huberdeau said of Quenneville’s departure. “But I think we handled ourselves. We have good veterans and that’s why it didn’t hurt us and we kept climbing.”
Joe Thornton, 42, is just one of Florida’s vets. He’s played a fourth-line role this term, averaging 11:02 time on ice under new head coach Andrew Brunette. Under the 48-year-old’s leadership, the Panthers are 35-12-5 on the season and boast the league’s best offensive record.
Huberdeau has a league-leading 73 points this term and is Florida’s player to watch versus the Oilers.
Edmonton’s clash with the Panthers will broadcast live on the NHL Network from 17:30 on Saturday.
Carolina Hurricanes Preview:
Oh, the Hurricanes are on fire too. Rod Brind’Amour’s team have played their way into Stanley Cup contention and are heavy favourites for Sunday’s meeting with Edmonton. Since the turn of the month, Carolina are 4-2-2 – with their only disappointing performance coming in a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Freddie Andersen and Antti Raanta have performed tremendously between the pipes for the Canes this term, more than vindicating Don Waddell’s decision to trade up-and-coming goalie Alex Nedeljkovic last summer.
In the offensive zone, Sebastian Aho is Carolina’s player to watch. The fast-skating forward has 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 47 appearances this term, making him one of the league’s most exciting talents.
Edmonton’s clash with the Hurricanes will be broadcast live on FreeSports from 18:00 on Sunday.