Confident Oilers playing their best hockey at the right time

Loading...

The Edmonton Oilers aren’t a first-place team, and very likely, you won’t see anybody picking them as their Stanley Cup champion when the predictions start publishing over the next couple of days.

What they are, however, is the second-best team in the National Hockey League since head coach Jay Woodcroft coached his first game on Feb. 11, tied with Calgary with a winning percentage of .724 and trailing only Florida (.757). They are also a team that has played .868 hockey at home under Woodcroft, the best record in the game by .100 points over that span.

They may not have been one of the best teams in the NHL all season long, but they have been near the top for the final 38 games of the season — the time that matters the most, as Edmonton waltzes into the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs with some swagger and very recent success.

“I don’t think we are surprising anyone or underdogs by any means. Any time you have Connor and Leon, people are going to pay attention to you,” said defenceman Tyson Barrie, who scored in a 3-2 shootout win over Vancouver to close out the regular season Friday night a Rogers Place. “But I like the spot we are in, how we have played it out, how we have finished the year, and that we have put ourselves in a position to have home ice (advantage).

“I wouldn’t want to play us if I were another team,” he added. “It is a fun position to be in. We are excited to get it going.”

Friday’s game No. 82 was an entirely meaningless affair against Vancouver, featuring one club that will get into a playoff game only if they buy a ticket. We’ve watched that game in this town as early as December in years past, but now the team with its golf clubs at the ready isn’t the Edmonton Oilers anymore.

The Oilers rested Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and playoff starter Mike Smith in this finale, one last dress rehearsal for a team that suddenly has little to prove in the regular season — and everything to prove as a playoff team. Edmonton finishes second in its Division for the third consecutive season, the first time this organization has fielded three straight playoff teams since a five-year stretch that ended in 2001.

It was sloppy early on Friday and strange late, with a bunch of guys not named McDavid and Draisaitl skating around aimlessly in overtime. But on the strength of 39 Mikko Koskinen saves in regulation, and six more in the shootout, Devin Shore’s lone shootout goal gave Edmonton a win, as they close the season with a tidy 49-27-6 record.