A Look At The Edmonton Oilers Week Ahead

Edmonton Oilers week ahead

A perfect 5-0 record. First place in the Pacific Division. The top two scorers in the league. A weekend team bonding trip spent in Las Vegas. A schedule that looks favourable for the Edmonton Oilers week ahead.

It’s hard to see how Edmonton’s start could be any better. Especially compared to last year, when the team struggled out of the gates to a 3-6-1 start. The Oilers were able to recover, eventually finishing second in the North Division, but that rough start likely cost them a first-place finish – a scenario that may have led to a drastically different outcome in the playoffs.

This season already has a different feel. The Oilers are pacing the Pacific Division in terms of points and goal differential. Their biggest contender for the crown (at least in preseason predictions), the Vegas Golden Knights, have stumbled off the block to an injury-riddled 1-4 start. Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have been inconsistent, the Seattle Kraken no longer look like any sort of threat, and the hockey world is still trying to determine if the San Jose Sharks are for real.

A first-place finish in the Pacific, at this point, has to be goal number one for this team. Not only would it be the first time they have won a division since 1987, but the ramifications of home-ice advantage in the playoffs would be substantial. This is a year the Oilers are expected to be contenders, and playing at home for a good chunk of the playoffs certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The Oilers’ quest for a division crown continues this week, with two games against the Philadelphia Flyers and the Vancouver Canucks. Let’s take a look at the week ahead of the Oilers.

Mike Smith Still Hurt, Mikko Koskinen Holds Steady

Oilers fans took a collective worried gasp last Tuesday, when Mike Smith was injured mid-game. He left with a lower-body injury and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. On Monday he skated before practice, but was not between the pipes, as reported by TSN’s Ryan Rishaug.

Mike Smith in a track suit helping out with the other goalies this morning. Still out with lower body injury.

At this point, it looks like Saturday is the earliest possible date for Smith to see game-time, but Monday against the Kraken may be more likely.

The good news is that Mikko Koskinen has looked top-tier to start the season.

In the game that Smith was injured, Koskinen stepped onto the ice in relief and rocked a .952 save percentage, significantly helping the Oilers secure the win. He then started back-to-back games against the Arizona Coyotes and Golden Knights, with a combined .940 save percentage in those two games.

Koskinen quickly compiled three wins and looks more than capable of holding the fort while Smith recovers. That’s a big sigh of relief for Edmonton.

Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl Remain Separated

When the Oilers hit the road against Arizona last week, Dave Tippett opted to split Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl onto separate lines. The decision gave the Oilers more protection from their opponent’s matchup advantage. It forced Arizona and Vegas to have to account for McDavid and Draisaitl as separate entities, preventing them from stacking their checkers against one concentrated line.

Tippett’s decision paid off, with rejuvenated energy in the top-six, and two wins. It looks as though the decision will remain intact for Wednesday’s game.

There are pros and cons to both types of deployments, but the separation of Draisaitl and McDavid makes the Oilers deeper. The second line, prior to the separation, was starting to struggle without Draisaitl’s presence. It lead to several goals against on Tuesday, which could have been dire against a more challenging opponent.

On Friday night, both McDavid’s line and Draisaitl’s line scored a goal at even strength. Those goals helped set the stage for the go-ahead goal in the third period, scored by the Oilers’ red-hot third line.

It was a night of legitimate scoring balance and Tippett can’t be faulted for wanting to see more of that.

Top Pairing Defenceman Evan Bouchard

It also looks like Evan Bouchard will see action on the top pair with Darnell Nurse come Wednesday evening. Things had been trending this way with Bouchard gaining more and more playing time to start the season. The increased role reached exclamation point status when Bouchard logged a season-high 24 minutes on Friday night.

Where Tyson Barrie has struggled, Bouchard has absolutely capitalized. Bouchard will have even more of an opportunity against the Flyers to prove that this is no early-season illusion.

How good has Bouchard been? Here are some quick stats, according to Natural Stat Trick.

At even strength, Bouchard leads the team in terms of Corsi (55.7%), Goals For percentage (80%), Expected Goals For percentage (65.1%) and is second in Scoring Chance For percentage (61.7%).

There is no question Bouchard has earned his shot, and based on early returns, his ceiling looks sky-high.

Starting to feel like if Bouchard does the thing and becomes a big point producing star dman AND is also a massive play driver, it’s going to be the piece that springboards the Oilers into a contender. And if JP has indeed turned into what he was supposed to be all along – yikes!

This Week’s Opponents

Philadelphia Flyers

On Wednesday, the Oilers will suit up against the Flyers. The Flyers sit at 2-1-1 to start the season but are eighth place in a difficult Metropolitan Division. Despite winning half their games, the Flyers are well below 50% in terms of even-strength shot differential, scoring chances, and most importantly, Expected Goal For percentage.

Both of the Flyers’ goalies, Carter Hart and Martin Jones, are off to hot starts. Carter Hart, who is from Sherwood Park, will likely get the start on Wednesday and will be a good test for the Oilers’ newfound scoring depth.

Vancouver Canucks

On Saturday, the Oilers will hit the road as they travel to Vancouver. At the time of this writing, the Canucks have a record of 3-2-1 but are on a two-game winning streak. Unfortunately for the Kraken, the Canucks got their rivalry off to a hot start by playing spoiler in Seattle’s Saturday night franchise home-opener.

Similar to the Flyers, the Canucks are sub-50% in all possession statistics but are especially struggling in terms of Expected Goals For percentage. Their 41.9% actually sits a tad bit below the Chicago Blackhawks. It is early though, and these numbers can change in a hurry.

Thatcher Demko has been excellent so far, meaning the Oilers will need to overcome two strong goalies if they plan on remaining undefeated through week three.

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