After talking to Edmonton general manager Steve Tambellini and head coach Ralph Kruger Tuesday night at the Barons game it will be interesting to see if the Oilers can make the playoffs this season.
Since four young stars — four future NHL All Stars — played three months in the Cox Convention Center diehard Oklahoma City Barons fans are a little more vested in the Oilers than your typical season.
After the lockout ended, the Oilers got off to good start but lost eight of 10, although they earned one standing point in three of the losses. Most games have been close. It’s merely been a play or two that’s made the difference.
“Every game is the same,” Tambellini said. “There are no easy games.”
Similar to their play in Oklahoma City, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Justin Schultz help form a potent power play but the Oilers consistently had been outscored in five-on-five situations before Edmonton romped to a 5-1 win over Dallas on Thursday.
“There’s more time and space (on the power play),” Tambellini said. “They’re tremendously skilled with vision, all those things that make a great offensive player. The other part, five on five against big men, fast, smart, experienced defensemen you have to get to another level to score regularly.”
Tambellini said the Fab Four’s time together in Oklahoma City was beneficial.
“From an organizational standpoint it was fantastic,” Tambellini said. “They got to play together and played at such a high level. The National League is such a tough league. You have the best defensive players playing against you every night. You have to work for it. It’s hard.”
Edmonton is undergoing a major rebuilding process. But now that the Oilers are in Year 3 it’s time three consecutive No. 1 overall picks and a roster stocked with some special young talent starts producing.
Not quite to the halfway portion of a sprint-to-the-finish season, the Oilers are among a dozen teams in position to grab one of the final six playoff berths in the highly competitive Western Conference.
In a 48-game, strike-shortened Edmonton can ill afford another extended slump. The next two weeks will be pivotal. The Oilers still have seven games left on a nine-game road trip.
There have been signs the Oilers should stay in the race until the end, Thursday’s lopsided win in Dallas being Exhibit A.
Good goaltending, like pitching in baseball, is essential.
Devan Dubnyk, 26, might be coming into his own. Dubnyk has played better than his stats — 2.66 goals against average and 92.1 saves percentage — indicate when you consider he gave up six goals in one period in an early-season loss. Throw out the bad period and his stats are very good.
Because of the TV series Oil Change fans around the world monitor the on-the-rise Oilers. (FYI this season’s second episode first airs this Sunday on the NHL Network).
It’s probably 50-50 whether the Oilers make the playoffs.
My prediction is Edmonton will end a six-year playoff drought. The time the Fab Four spent in OKC will help in addition to a roster full of young legs.