If you go back to the start of the New Year, one of the most successful teams has been the Edmonton Oilers. They’re 15-6-4 from Jan. 1st onward, which has pushed them up to second place in the Pacific Division with a 36-23-8 record.
A big part of their success this season has naturally been Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid. That duo ranks first and second in the NHL scoring race respectively and the Hart Trophy is likely going to be issued to one of those two. They’re quickly shaping up to be the next generation’s version of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in terms of having two superstar forwards who can command different lines headlining the same team.
Part of the Oilers’ recent success though has been because some of their other players have stepped up in a big way. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been a force lately with 12 goals and 34 points in his last 25 contests. He set a career-high last season with 69 points and he might top it this season with 59 points in 61 contests so far. Kailer Yamamoto has also been a major contributor since he made his season debut on Dec. 31st. He’s scored 10 goals and 23 points in 23 contests.
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Yamamoto, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins have formed one of the Oilers’ two lines recently and that’s been a very effective trio. McDavid hasn’t enjoyed the same level of talent on his wings. Lately the Oilers have been experimenting with using trade deadline acquisitions Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Ennis along with him.
Finding McDavid some skilled wingers is a project that’s likely not over for the Oilers, but regardless they do have two very effective scoring lines as we approach the playoffs. While I don’t regard them as one of the most likely teams to win the Stanley Cup this year, they certainly will be an interesting one to watch.
The Flyers will look to extend their winning streak to eight games when they host the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday starting at 7:00 pm ET. You can watch the game on NBCSN or online by clicking here.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ slide has continued. Their most recent setback came on Wednesday when they surrendered a 2-0 third period lead en route to a 3-2 overtime loss to Calgary. At least Columbus got a point, but with 79 points in 68 games, they’re looking pretty vulnerable in the Wild Card race. The Blue Jackets own the first Wild Card slot, while the Islanders (78 points in 65 games) and Carolina (75 points in 64 contests) are both within striking distance with games in hand.
Columbus’ struggles date back to early February with the Blues Jackets going 2-5-6 over their last 13 contests. A big part of the Blue Jackets’ recent issues have been with the puck. Columbus has averaged just 2.38 goals dating back to Feb. 8th, which puts them in 27th place over that span. Columbus has struggled to score all season, but at least their goals-per-game was 2.65 prior to their recent slump.
Their defense and goaltending, which had often bailed out the Blue Jackets earlier in the season, has been a major issue too. Elvis Merzlikins, who is currently out with a concussion, has a 0-3-4 record, 2.96 GAA, and .892 save percentage in eight starts dating back to Feb. 8th, but the Blue Jackets’ other options have been even worse. Joonas Korpisalo has a 3.46 GAA and .896 save percentage in his last four contests and Matiss Kivlenieks, who is up with the team due to Merzlikins’ injury, has a 4.02 GAA and .864 save percentage in his last four games.
Columbus will get a breather after Wednesday’s loss, but then they’ll have to play in Edmonton on Saturday and Vancouver on Sunday.
At least the Blue Jackets are still in a better position than the Florida Panthers though. Florida is chasing Toronto for a playoff spot, but the Panthers haven’t been able to take advantage of the Maple Leafs’ inconsistent play. Florida has a game in hand on Toronto, but is five points behind. With so little time remaining in the regular season, five points is a fairly big gap to hope to overcome.
Florida hasn’t exactly heated up down the stretch either. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. The Panthers are 4-9-2 dating back to Feb. 4th. Goaltending has been a major issue. The Panthers have been scored on at least five times on five separate occasions over that 15 game span.
Sergei Bobrovsky hasn’t been the solution despite signing a seven-year, $70 million contract over the summer. He has a 3.23 GAA and .900 save percentage in 50 contests this season. That’s the second highest GAA for a goaltender who has participated in at least 30 games this season. Only Craig Anderson has a worst GAA among that group and he’s playing for an Ottawa Senators’ squad that’s firmly in rebuild mode.
While it’s not a foregone conclusion yet, it certainly looks like Florida will miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year and the seventh time in the span of eight seasons. You have to wonder if a change in management will come this summer. Dale Tallon was first named the general manager back in May 2010 and aside from a brief period where Tallon was the president and Tom Rowe was the general manager, Tallon has maintained that role. Over Tallon’s near decade-long tenure, Florida has made the playoffs since and won no postseason series. They have some bright spots like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, but I think it’s fair to say that more should have been expected out of the Tallon era at this point. It might be time for the Panthers to shake things up.