The Oilers had a very successful October. They finished the month atop the Pacific Division with a 9-4-1 record. Leon Draisaitl led the league in scoring for the month with 25 points, and Connor McDavid wasn’t far behind him with 23 points. James Neal was 2nd in the league in goals, and he led the league in powerplay goals. They team got dependable goaltending from both Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith. Ethan Bear emerged as a legitimate player on defence.
There are still question marks around this team. There are many doubters out there. While their strong October was a big help in their quest for the playoffs, the playoffs are far from a certainty. A strong October was important, but a strong November will be even more important for the Oilers if they want to make the playoffs.
Rory Boylen from Sportsnet wrote an article about the importance of being in a playoff spot by American Thanksgiving last November. In that article, he quoted a Tweet from Nick Alberga (@thegoldenmuzzy) that said that over the last 5 seasons (2012-13 to 2016-17), 62 out of 80 teams that were in playoff spots at American Thanksgiving in those seasons went on to make the playoffs (77.5%).
Boylen also included the standings from last American Thanksgiving in this article.
The Sabres, the Rangers, and the Canadiens were all in playoff spots last American Thanksgiving. All three would miss the playoffs.
In the West, the Wild and the Ducks fell out of the playoff race after holding spots at American Thanksgiving.
If we add last year to Alberga’s percentages, 73 out of 96 teams that held playoff spots in the last 6 seasons went on to make the playoffs (76%). Basically, we can expect 4 of the 16 teams that will be in playoff spots on American Thanksgiving this year to miss the playoffs in 2020.
American Thanksgiving this year is on November 28. The Oilers need to keep their string of solid play going through November if they want to maximize their odds of making the playoffs this season.
November is also important because 8 of their 14 games in the month will be against divisional opponents. Their last game of November is on the 30th against the Canucks, so the Oilers will have 7 divisional games before American Thanksgiving. They get Anaheim, LA, and Vegas once each, and they get Arizona and San Jose twice each.
In a format where the top 3 in the division earn playoff spots, each game against a divisional rival is massive. Those 4-point swing games are incredibly important. In 2016-17, the Oilers went 20-6-3 against divisional opponents. That strong record against the Pacific was one huge reason they got 103 points and got the 2nd seed in the division that season.
This year, the Oilers are 2-0-0 against the Pacific after beating the Canucks and the Kings in the first two games of the season. The Oilers can make large strides towards getting back to the playoffs this year with victories in those 8 upcoming Pacific Division battles. They likely won’t win all 8 of them, but being above .500 in those games is certainly achievable.
The Oilers will also have a few measuring stick games this month. They will get chances to see how they stack up to some of the league’s best teams. That starts with Saturday’s matchup against Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin (who was activated from the IR on Friday), and the Pittsburgh Penguins. They had a slow start, but they’ve figured it out and they’ve been playing well as of late. They get the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on the 6th. They get the Vegas Golden Knights on the 23rd, and they get Nathan Mackinnon and the Colorado Avalanche twice.
Those are some of the best teams in the league. How the Oilers play against those teams will be pretty revealing. For those that have been asking if these Oilers are for real, we will likely get our answer by the end of the month.
If you recall, I wrote an article about the Oilers defence after Adam Larsson went down on opening night. I wasn’t optimistic about what the defence group with Bear, Joel Persson, and Matt Benning on the right side could do; but they’ve been solid. Brandon Manning even got a few games in, and he wasn’t horrid.
American Thanksgiving will be 8 weeks and one day after Larsson’s injury. He could very well be back by then. I said that the stretch from the start of the season to American Thanksgiving would be important. If the Oilers have another strong month in Larsson’s absence, then they will be in great shape for the remainder of the season… as long as they get some offence from the bottom 6!