The Edmonton Oilers (22-18-3, fourth Pacific) roll into the Bay Area for the first time this season for a rare Friday night tilt against the San Jose Sharks (13-22-8, seventh Pacific). It’s hard to believe, but with half of the schedule left on the books, this is the first time the two Pacific Division foes will meet.
There are very few players in the league with better numbers than Erik Karlsson, but the Oilers have two of them — Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. McDavid leads the league with 79 points (35 goals, 44 assists), meanwhile, Draisaitl is second with 63 points (23 goals, 40 assists). One of those goals was this beauty from Wednesday night, scored from between his legs:
Just a casual between-the-legs tip for Draisaitl. pic.twitter.com/T8V4im3erm— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 12, 2023
The trouble is, once you get past the glory of McDavid and Draisaitl, the roster is just a bunch of other guys. Despite the scoring tears of the top two forwards, the Oilers sit fourth in Pacific Division and would just barely eek into the playoffs with the West’s eighth seed if the postseason started today. Worse yet for the Oil, the three teams behind them — the St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche — all have games in hand. In fact, the Avalanche trail the Oilers by four points with four games in hand. All that’s to say, Edmonton could very possibly miss the playoffs when April arrives.
Part of the issue is that power forward Evander Kane is still out after his wrist was cut by a skate on Nov. 11. While he was expected to miss three to four months while recovering, the Oilers are hopeful to have Kane back in late January or the middle of February, according to ESPN. The earlier, the better for Edmonton, because the current roster isn’t giving McDavid much support.
In fact, general manager Ken Holland is reportedly working the phones trying to find a puck-moving defender to feed the offensive rush. While Darnell Nurse was supposed to be the solution, so far, he has not played up to his brand new $9.25 million per year contract. Nurse has tallied just 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in 43 games.
The team might also be in the market for a goaltender, if the price is right. Jack Campbell, signed a five-year, $5 million annual contract in the off-season, but has already played himself out of the starting role. Campbell holds a middling 10-8-1 record in 20 starts, with a 3.59 goals against average (GAA) and .879 save percentage (SV%). Meanwhile, back-up Stuart Skinner has performed admirably, with a 12-10-2 record, 2.96 GAA and a .914 SV%. However, he’s never proven himself in the slog of the postseason.
Winning the 5-on-5 battle
The good news: San Jose has a shot at winning Friday’s game.
The Oilers, for lack of a better term, stink at 5-on-5. When McDavid and Draisaitl are on the ice together, the team is a plus-3. That’s it. Put McDavid out there alone and he’s even in terms of goals for and against. Worse yet, put Draisaitl on the ice without McDavid and Draisaitl is a minus three (Shoutout to the Hockey PDOcast for finding the perfect time to talk about Edmonton’s 5-on-5 issues).
So how are the Oilers scoring? On the power play. Edmonton converts on 31 percent of the team’s power plays. That’s tops in the league.
Thankfully, San Jose is excellent on the penalty kill. It’s possibly the only place San Jose excels in this lost season. The Sharks have the second best penalty kill in the league, behind on the Boston Bruins.
I expect the special teams to give San Jose a shot at winning this game.
Facing the back-up
The Sharks will face Campbell in net. While the veteran goaltender says he’s feeling good and he’s fresh off a win over the Anaheim Ducks, he’s yet to reclaim the crease for himself. In fact, the only reason he’s starting for a second night in a row is because Skinner flew home to Edmonton to be with his wife for the birth to their first child.
In other words, Campbell still hasn’t proven himself reliable, leaving the Sharks an opportunity to pull out a win and rub dim the Oilers’ playoff hopes just a little bit more.
NHL All-Star Timo Meier?
Time is running out to vote Timo Meier into the NHL All-Star game. For all we know, this may be the last time Timo wears teal on the national stage.
You can vote for Meier by tweeting his name plus #NHLAllStarVote between now and Saturday night. You can also go onto the NHL website and vote for Meier.
Think of it: not only would it be fun to watch Meier at the All-Star events, but it might also be that little something extra that convinces an NHL GM that Meier is worth an unprotected first-round pick and a top prospect.
Bold Prediction: I don’t think that the Oilers’ defense is going to be any good, but I also don’t think the boys are going to be able to withstand a McDavid offensive onslaught. 7-6 Oilers, in overtime.