Entering the season, I was confident the Oilers would compete for the NHL’s Pacific Division title.
Defense and goaltending was always going to be a concern, but I thought the Oilers had a strong group of forwards that would help them overcome any issues on the back end. That hasn’t been the case, though.
The Oilers have fizzled out after a hot start, when it looked like Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were going to lead them to the top of the standings. Now the Oilers are barely hanging onto a playoff spot.
It’s clear the Oilers must find a starting goaltender not named Mike Smith or Mikko Koskinen, as the former is old and often injured, and the latter is playing his way out of the NHL. And it’s probably not fair to throw prospect Stuart Skinner into this situation. The Oilers grade out as one of the worst defensive teams in the league, according to Evolving Hockey. They rank 25th in expected goals against per 60 minutes, and they're allowing about as many goals as they score.
McDavid and Draisaitl can’t do it all. The Oilers score about 58 percent of their goals when the forwards are on the ice together, according to Natural Stat Trick, but only 35 percent when they are both on the bench. That’s not going to cut it. Either Edmonton must find some serviceable defenders, or they better find a goaltender who can make up for their defensive deficiencies.
Coach Dave Tippett is an easy target, as the team has lost 10 straight games with him behind the bench (they won twice during the slide when Tippett was out because of COVID-19). I think firing Tippett would be the right move at this point, but it wouldn’t necessarily make the Oilers a better hockey team. Whether the current lineup wins or loses will be a consequence of shooting and saving luck.
Of course, there will be situations where it might be worth it to take a shot on the Oilers, so keep an eye on the NHL betting market report daily at VSiN.com.
Don’t forget how bad Vegas was with Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone out of the lineup
Vegas has been one of the NHL’s hottest teams since the beginning of December, but with Max Pacioretty out indefinitely after undergoing wrist surgery, and concern around injuries to Mark Stone and Robin Lehner, handicapping the Golden Knights might be a little tricky, at least in the short term. It’s important for bettors to remember how much the Golden Knights struggled earlier this season when Pacioretty and Stone, among others, missed time.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the Golden Knights played 12 games between Oct. 15 and Nov. 12 without Pacioretty and Stone. During that time, they ranked 27th in expected goals and 17th in shot share. Once Stone returned to the lineup, their underlying numbers improved, and so did everything else, but the Golden Knights are not whole without Pacioretty, who is their best offensive forward. It’s unclear how long Stone and Lehner will be out for, but I would monitor the situation closely as both players are difference-makers.
While Vegas occupies the top spot in the Pacific Division, the Flames are the best team right now and have the best points percentage. Of course, Vegas will get Stone and Lehner back at some point, Pacioretty will probably be back before the playoffs and Jack Eichel will eventually make his debut, which should lead to an exciting race between the Flames, Golden Knights and Oilers.
I am holding tickets (from prior to the season) on the Flames to win the division at 14-1 and 10-1, and I believe they should be the favorites with four games in hand on the Golden Knights. The Ducks are a darkhorse, but I don’t think they have what it takes unless the Flames and Golden Knights have their seasons derailed by injuries.