The red-hot Edmonton Oilers come a callin' tonight to do battle with the St. Louis Blues. Yes, Edmonton has won three of six games since the Olympic hiatus, earning seven points in that span for a total of 54; and for the lowly Oilers, 12 games under .500, that is a hot streak indeed. Even if they have only scored 13 goals in those six games while allowing 16 against, somehow Edmonton has managed to almost catch Florida (55) in points. And they are inching closer to division-rival Calgary (57), although it puts the Oilers eight points ahead of the Sabres in the race which Buffalo comfortably leads for the best odds to win the Amateur Draft Lottery this year. It is extremely unlikely (read impossible) that Edmonton could qualify for the playoffs, though, as they currently trail eighth place Dallas by 20 points with 18 and 17 games left in their respective seasons. Do the math.
The Blues have also fared well since returning from either Russia (almost half the team) or a much needed vacation, winning five of eight games and adding 11 points to their league-leading total of 95, outscoring opponents 17-13 in that span. After Jaro Halak and Brian Elliott suffered identical 0-1 losses in Vancouver and Edmonton, the Blues came back with a new goaltender from Buffalo to win five games in a row before losing in overtime to the pesky Dallas Stars. A clear attempt to cut down on shots against since the long break resulted in a slight offensive drop-off (from around 3.3 goals for per game to 3.15). However, in only one of the eight games did the Blues give up more than 30 shots against (Vancouver); against Dallas the team defense allowed 30. In the other six games, the Blues allowed an average of 21.3 shots against, around five less per game than before the Olympic games. If that trend continues, expect overall team defense to improve, especially as Ryan Miller (4-0-1 with the Blues) gets used to facing far less shots manning the net in St. Louis than he did in Buffalo.
The last time Edmonton qualified for the playoffs was in 2006. And the eighth-seeded Oilers went to the Stanley Cup Finals, cruising past the Presidents' Trophy-winning Red Wings, Sharks and Mighty Ducks before losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games, four of which were decided by one goal. Former Blues Chris Pronger, Ty Conklin, Radek Dvorak, Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny and Brad Winchester were on that team that season. Since then, Edmonton has had eight successful first round draft choices, including Sam Gagner (2007, sixth overall), Jordan Eberle (2008, 22nd overall), Magnus Paajarvi (2009, 10th overall), Taylor Hall (2010, first overall), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011, first overall), Oscar Klefbom (2011, 19th overall), Nail Yakupov (2012, first overall), and Darnell Nurse (2013, seventh overall). All remain with the organization except Paajarvi.
Yet despite that talent, the Oilers have not managed to put it together well, with a mediocre offense ranked 22nd in the league with around 2.5 goals for per game and a terrible defense, ranked 29th in the league (3.23 goals against per game), slightly ahead of the Islanders (3.34). Perhaps the additions of quality goaltenders Ben Scrivens (from Los Angeles) and Viktor Fasth (from Anaheim) will help stabilize the defense and/or give loyal fans hope the Oilers can gradually improve and even qualify for the playoffs next season.
Blues Nation looks forward to NOT seeing fan favorite David Perron score some goals tonight. Perron is the current goal-scoring leader for Edmonton with 24 (and 46 points) in 62 games this season. Of course, Perron was packaged off to Edmonton last July for Paajarvi and a second round pick in the 2014 draft in a cost-cutting move that saved around $2.6M in salary and made possible the necessary addition of several free agents before the season began. Perron was drafted in the first round of the 2007 draft, 26th overall, from the Lewiston Maineiacs of the QMJHL and made quite an impression at his first training camp in St. Louis. Less than three years earlier, Perron had been playing at the Midget B level in his hometown of Fleurimont (a borough of Sherbrooke), Quebec. His progress and advancement to the NHL was simply astounding.
The Blues have sixteen games remaining after tonight, eight at home and eight on the road. Four are against "A" teams (two at Chicago, at Pittsburgh and home against Colorado), seven against "B" teams (at Philadelphia, at Toronto, home against Minnesota and Dallas, home against Philly, at Minny and Dallas), four against "C" teams (at Nashville, home against Winnipeg, home against Washington and home against Detroit) and one against Buffalo. It would be fairly realistic to predict the Blues will split the "A" games, win four of the "B" games, and four of the remaining contests. That would give the Blues 20 more points for a total of 115. And that means Anaheim would have to attain 23 points (in 17 remaining games) to top the Blues for home ice advantage in the Western Conference. Can the Ducks go at least 10-4-3 in those games? Chicago would need 26 points in 17 remaining games (11-2-4) to pass the Blues for the division championship. Colorado would need 27 points in 17 remaining games (12-2-3). Can either the Hawks or Avs do that well?
Time will tell, of course.