It was a joyous evening in downtown Edmonton on Friday night, as the Edmonton Oilers skated to victory against the Colorado Avalanche. The win officially clinched their third straight trip to the postseason, a feat the organization hasn’t accomplished since the turn of the millennium. To have it happen on home ice with a sold-out crowd around them against the best team in the Western Conference was just icing on the cake.
The Oilers’ high-level of performance down the stretch has the city of Edmonton in a buzz and spirits at a dizzying high.
Oilers Clinch Playoffs for Third Straight Year
This marks the third straight year that the Oilers have clinched the postseason, but this one is extra special. That’s because this will be the first time since 2017 in which the Oilers will have fans in the building for the playoffs. The building was empty for the last two years, unfortunately due to COVID. Before 2017, you’d have to go back to the Stanley Cup Final run of 2006 for the last time it happened. That means this will mark only the third season in the past 16 years where Oilers’ fans will get to watch their team in-person come playoff time.
It’s no wonder why the city is electrified with excitement at the notion. Playing in front of fans could pay big dividends for the Oilers as well, considering how loud the building can get this time of year.
— Spittin’ Chiclets Clips (@chicletsclips) July 1, 2020
Despite having home ice advantage the past two years, it was essentially meaningless other than the in-game matchup advantage. For a hockey-crazed market like Edmonton, playing in front of a packed house can serve as a major difference maker. The Oilers didn’t have that advantage against the Chicago Blackhawks or Winnipeg Jets, but they’ll certainly have it now.
It’s not just the backing of a full-crowd that has this year’s postseason feeling special, though. It’s also the fact that this year’s edition of the Oilers actually looks primed to contend. That’s at least been the case since new head coach Jay Woodcroft, and assistant coach Dave Manson, have taken over.
Oilers Are Legitimate Playoff Contenders
This season has been one of the most up-and-down seasons in franchise history. The team started the year on a long undefeated streak, before plunging to frightening depths in December and January. At one time, the Oilers sat a full six points out of the playoffs, playing so poorly that former coach Dave Tippett was shown the door. That marked the first mid-season coaching replacement in Ken Holland’s long tenure as a general manager in the NHL.
Things looked rocky when Woodcroft assumed the controls in early February; but, it didn’t stay that way for long. The Oilers actually started to win, consistently, and they did so in convincing fashion. In fact, almost every single statistic, from possession to scoring chances to save percentage started to climb dramatically.
Since February 11th when Woodcroft took over, the Oilers have been top ten in the league in 5v5 Corsi For percentage (all shot attempts differential), expected goals for percentage, and team save percentage (stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick). Even better, they’ve been top five in the league in 5v5 High-Danger Corsi For percentage, power play, and penalty kill.
That’s lead to the fifth best points percentage in that time span, just a hair behind the Avalanche. The Oilers don’t look like a team floating into the postseason off of an inflated shooting percentage or unsustainable goaltending. Instead, they look like a team capable of contending in all game states. Most importantly, they also look like a team capable of performing well without their two major stars on the ice, which has been a long-time Achilles heel for this team.
Opportunistic Round One Matchup
Excitement in the Alberta capital also stems from the Oilers’ likely first round opponent. At this point, it looks almost certain to be the Los Angeles Kings. It should be noted that anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Kings have played very well this year to earn a postseason birth. Todd McLellan has coached the team to a surprising top three finish, one that most spectators likely didn’t expect. Considering that, it still does look like an opportunistic matchup for the Oilers.
For starters, number one Kings’ defenceman Drew Doughty is out of the postseason due to injury. Prior to his absence, Doughty was averaging more than 25 minutes of ice-time a night. That’ll undoubtedly sting them, as teams tend to rely on those types of players even more in the playoffs.
Additionally, since February 11th, the Kings rank 29th in 5v5 save percentage. Los Angeles started the season with quite good goaltending, but perhaps as a result to their sweeping injuries on the blue-line, have seen that quality decline in recent weeks. For an Oilers team that boasts offensive dynamos like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, that could bode well for Edmonton.
Lastly, there is this year’s season series, in which the Oilers won all three games against the Kings. Again, there is nothing certain in the postseason and the Oilers have had teams upset them in round one for two years running. The situation is still more optimistic than say, having to face a Vegas Golden Knights team that is millions above the salary cap. That potential still exists, but looks far less likely.
Battle of Alberta, Anyone?
Not too get too far ahead of things, but don’t kid yourself, it’s on the minds of everyone in Alberta. Considering the current state of both the Oilers and the Calgary Flames, it’s not especially hard to envision a round one matchup where these two rivals collide. It’s a scenario that’s been teased multiple times but ultimately hasn’t occurred in multiple decades.
A Battle of Alberta would be the ultimate way to establish this year’s postseason as something truly special for the Oilers and their fans. Over recent years, with the improvement of each club (minus a small blip for the Flames last season), their rivalry has reached levels we haven’t seen since the 1980’s. This year, we’ve watched the two teams go 2-2 in their season series. The Oilers got a 2-0 jump early, but the Flames responded sharply, embarrassing the Oilers in their last matchup, winning 9-5. Close to equals on the ice, each team is bound and determined to claim Alberta’s throne.
Add in the fact that Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk have joined McDavid and Draisaitl in the 100-point club, and it looks like as close to an ideal time for this matchup as any time before. The exhilarating potential of this series, even if far from a guarantee, will have Oilers and Flames fans alike cheering just a tiny bit harder, knowing that a round one win for each team will deliver the goods.
Excitement in Edmonton
It’s been five long years since Oilers fans rolled into Rogers Place for a playoff game. The last time it happened, players like Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, and Cam Talbot helped push the Oilers’ current core to Game Seven of the second round. McDavid was in his second season, Draisaitl hadn’t yet established his league-wide dominance, and Rogers Place was still in its infancy.
A lot’s changed since then. McDavid and Draisaitl have a few more individual trophies to their name, only Ryan Nugent-Hopkins remains from the “pre-McDavid” era, and Rogers Place has finally begun to evolve into a full-fledged “Ice District” which will make playoff festivities in Edmonton even more inviting.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the excitement of Oilers fans. Well, if anything, it’s only grown larger in anticipation over these past five years. This is a club that looks deserving of that pent up joy, and should the Oilers deliver a lengthy playoff-run, it’ll be one to remember.