With a 4-3 shootout win Saturday, the Oilers now sit atop the Pacific Division with a five-point cushion on the three California teams and own the division’s best goal differential at plus-8. Much of their success this season can be attributed to Cam Talbot’s strong play, but in a rather strange turn of events their defense hasn’t looked half bad either, and whatever concerns about Milan Lucic being unable to keep up with Connor McDavid have already been assuaged, as the two have combined to score 10 goals and 21 points in 12 games. The Oilers' 38 goals scored only trails Chicago in the Western Conference, and the scary part is that they could get even better once Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jesse Puljujarvi hit their stride.
They’re also 4-1-1 with two shutouts on the road, and although those wins have come against struggling teams, it’s still a noteworthy mark for a team that finished with just 12 road wins last year. Their two upcoming road trips, during which they face Detroit and Pittsburgh in the first leg and then Anaheim, L.A. and Dallas in the second leg, will be very telling.
No one’s really talking about it yet, but with balanced scoring, a serviceable defense and a goalie that can string some wins together, the Oilers look very much like a playoff team. The races will be tighter than ever with so much parity in the league – of the five teams at the bottom of the league, only Arizona, Vancouver and Carolina seem destined to remain there – but yours truly believes McDavid and co. will make the playoffs.
Stars (PP: 22, PK: 25) at Blackhawks (PP: 11, PK: 30), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Kari Lehtonen (1-3-1, 2.65, .900), Scott Darling (2-0-0, 3.39, .900)
Key Injuries: Trevor van Riemsdyk (upper body), Cody Eakin (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (illness), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion), Jason Spezza (lower body)
The Stars are missing a lot of key players, but that doesn’t take anything away from the importance of this divisional matchup, the second half of a home-and-home series. A win for Chicago would extend their winning streak to six games and put even more distance between themselves and the second-place Blues, while a win for Dallas would vault them into fourth in the division and one point away from a top-three spot. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were both held without a point in Saturday’s 3-2 loss, and will need to lead the way offensively if they want to exact some revenge. Benn has not scored a goal in seven games and the Stars just haven’t been very consistent so far, thanks again to their shaky goaltending.
Jets (PP: 26, PK: 16) at Rangers (PP: 8, PK: 12), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Connor Hellebuyck (3-3-0, 2.69, .913), Henrik Lundqvist (6-3-0, 2.24, .913)
Key Injuries: Joel Armia (undisclosed), Bryan Little (lower body), Shawn Matthias (lower body), Tyler Myers (lower body), Mathieu Perreault (undisclosed), Drew Stafford (upper body), Mark Stuart (upper body)
The Rangers own the league’s best offense, so it’ll be interesting to see how well the talented Jets attack stacks up. The Rangers have managed to stay healthy, which is one reason why they’ve been playing so well, but Paul Maurice’s squad has been a resilient bunch this season, so no lead is safe on a team that can trot out Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. The Jets defense will face a tough test with Myers out of the lineup – Jacob Trouba has until Dec. 1 to sign or is forced to sit out the entire season – and if the Rangers offense is held in check, it may decrease whatever leverage Trouba’s camp currently has. It should also be noted that the Jets have won just 44.3 percent of their faceoffs this season, easily the worst mark in the league, and it makes defending even harder if they can’t get control of the puck right off the bat.
Avalanche (PP: 14, PK: 20) at Blues (PP: 19, PK: 5), 5:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Semyon Varlamov (2-5-0, 3.30, .891), Jake Allen (4-3-2, 2.55, .898)
Key Injuries: Robert Bortuzzo (lower body)
Both teams elected to save their starters for this matchup, with Calvin Pickard picking up a 1-0 shutout win last night and Carter Hutton holding the Jackets to just one goal in an overtime win. Funnily enough, both teams enter the game with a minus-7 goal differential, and both Varlamov and Allen have allowed nine goals in their past two starts, but the Blues are clearly the stronger team. Varlamov, in particular, just hasn’t been very good this season and his 3.30 GAA and .891 save percentage ranks among the league’s worst. The Blues offense should be able to capitalize, but will need someone other than Vladimir Tarasenko to do the damage. Former Colorado College star Jaden Schwartz has just one goal in his past six games, but played 22:00 against Columbus and should be able to snap his scoring slump soon.
Oilers (PP: 15, PK: 2) at Red Wings (PP: 18, PK: 15), 5:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Jonas Gustavsson (0-0-0, 0.00, 1.000), Jimmy Howard (2-1-0, 0.86, .973)
Key Injuries: Tomas Jurco (back), Thomas Vanek (hip), Drake Caggiula (undisclosed), Brandon Davidson (undisclosed), Matt Hendricks (lower body), Zack Kassian (undisclosed), Iiro Pakarinen (leg), Jesse Puljujarvi (undisclosed), Kris Russell (undisclosed)
Jimmy Howard is putting up better numbers than Petr Mrazek but this Sunday battle of the backups still favors the Oilers, who can extend their division lead to seven points with a win. The Wings are missing two of their top wingers, and despite winning is six of their past 10 games have yet to find any sort of consistency in the post-Nicklas Lidstrom era. Puljujarvi left Saturday’s game after taking a nasty knee-on-knee hit from Dennis Seidenberg and will likely be a game-time decision after head coach Todd McLellan said it wasn’t a concern.
Devils (PP: 13, PK: 18) at Hurricanes (PP: 12, PK: 6), 6:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Keith Kinkaid (0-0-1, 2.95, .897), Eddie Lack (1-1-1, 4.00, .857)
Key Injuries: Jon Merrill (finger)
The Devils have scored just 22 goals this season – easily the worst total in the conference – but will be going up against a goalie whose stock continues to decline. After scoring five goals in four games, Taylor Hall is in the midst of a four-game goal drought, but not for a lack of trying – he’s averaged five shots per game in that span, including eight against the Lightning. Odds are he’ll get one or two past Lack.
Flames (PP: 27, PK: 29) at Ducks (PP: 6, PK: 10), 9:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies: Chad Johnson (2-1-1, 2.67, .908), John Gibson (5-4-2, 2.43, .914)
Key Injuries: Simon Despres (head), Ryan Getzlaf (upper body), Nicolas Kerdiles (concussion), Hampus Lindholm (personal), Nick Ritchie (upper body), Nate Thompson (Achilles), Kris Versteeg (groin)
After a 5-0 defeat at the hands of the offensively-challenged Kings on national television, the Flames are just hard to watch right now. Their top players can’t get going and the goaltending has left Glen Gulutzan hanging his head in equal parts disbelief and embarrassment. The Ducks can take sole possession of second place in the division, and all eyes are on center Rickard Rakell, who’s scored six points in three games since signing a lengthy extension.
Kevin Hayes, C, NYR – His shorthanded goal Saturday extended his goal streak to three games, and now has 10 points and a plus-9 rating for the season. Alain Vigneault’s teams are often known for their offensive prowess, and this year’s Rangers are no different – with 50 goals scored in 12 games they’ve averaging 4.17 goals per game, over half a goal more than the next team. Hayes is on a hot streak, but the Rangers offense hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.