EDMONTON, AB - The 56-game marathon is coming to an end as the Edmonton Oilers prepare for their final tune-up of the regular season Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
It's been a long, difficult track to navigate but the Orange & Blue are a confident group heading into the post-season, having secured second place in the North Division and home-ice advantage for when Round 1 against the Winnipeg Jets begins on Wednesday.
After stumbling out of the gate with a 3-6-0 record, the Oilers have found their footing throughout the season and are eager to translate their success to the playoffs. Since Jan. 30, Edmonton has the third-best record in the NHL at 32-12-2 and also has the second-most regulation wins with 31.
"The start wasn't what we wanted but who knows, maybe that brought us together and brought us closer as a group," defenceman Adam Larsson said Friday.
"That could have made us stronger for the second half of the season. We haven't had too much of a deep hole throughout the year and I thought we kept it pretty steady. Now is when the real fun starts."
PREPPING FOR PLAYOFFS
Members of the Oilers are holding to their 'day-by-day' approach to the season. Skaters are using Game 56 to work out any last kinks and to stay attentive ahead of Game 1 versus the Jets.
Even Oilers Captain Connor McDavid.
"I talked to him about whether this is a game he wants to play and he said, 'I want this game because it's one game in a week and I want to make sure I'm sharp," Tippett told the media.
"We want our players dialled in to make sure they're at their best come Wednesday night. We'll do everything in our power to make sure that's the case. Tomorrow's game is another chance to stay sharp."
The Oilers have eight wins in their past 10 contests, averaging 3.80 goals per game and 2.50 against. The club has also been a powerhouse in the special teams department, going 10-for-26 on the man advantage (38%) and 23-for-24 on the penalty kill (96%).
"We want to continue to have good habits," Tippett said. "The game tomorrow, it's a chance to prepare. Individually prepare or prepare as a team to do things right. Those are all factors that we continue to push."
Slater Koekkoek is anticipating a return to action Saturday after a lengthy recovery from a broken collarbone he sustained on Feb. 20 in the Battle of Alberta. Koekkoek paired up alongside Ethan Bear at Friday's practice.
"We have an idea of who our six guys are going to be starting but it's important for him to get a game," Tippett said of the defender. "He hasn't played in a long time and he's got good playoff experience. We want to get him a game before the playoffs start and then we'll see how it goes from there."
Upfront, Joakim Nygard and Gaetan Haas are also expected to be back in the lineup while Mikko Koskinen gets the nod in goal.
The Oilers concluded their last road trip of the 2020-21 National Hockey League regular season, winning two straight 4-3 overtime decisions against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.
With the North Division playoff standings officially locked in, the Oilers will face the Winnipeg Jets in Round 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Finals. Edmonton will host the Vancouver Canucks Saturday afternoon then begin the post-season on Wednesday.
Connor McDavid (33G, 71A) is the League's top scorer with 104 points and Tyson Barrie (8G, 40A) is first in defencemen scoring with 48. Leon Draisaitl (31G, 52A) is second in the NHL with 83 points and Darnell Nurse is second in goals by defencemen with 16.
Goaltender Mike Smith is tied for sixth in wins this year with 21 and is 9-4-0 at Rogers Place. Mikko Koskinen is 13-12-0 with a 3.14 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.
Canucks Team Scope
The Canucks enter Oil Country on a two-game losing streak after coming off a 4-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. The club has been outscored 9-1 over the past pair of outings and is on a 2-8-0 funk over a 10-game span.
Due to Vancouver's season postponement in March and April, the squad still has four games left in the regular season. Vancouver will visit the Oilers Saturday then wrap up the schedule with a three-game series against the Calgary Flames beginning Sunday. The club is last in the North Division with 45 points and owns a 9-16-1 road record.
Brock Boeser heads Vancouver in goals and points with 20 and 42, respectively. Bo Horvat trails Boeser in the goal department with 17 and J.T. Miller is second on the team with 39 points. Netminder Thatcher Demko is 14-18-1 with a 2.93 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage.
Saturday's game marks the 10th and last meeting of the season between the Oilers and Canucks. Edmonton leads the season series 6-3-0, outscoring Vancouver 32-25.
McDavid leads all skaters with eight goals, 13 assists and 21 points in the nine encounters. Draisaitl is next in line with seven goals, 11 helpers and 18 points. In goal, Koskinen is 2-3-0 against VAN in five appearances, sporting a 3.86 GAA and .877 S%.
Boeser (5G, 1A), Nils Hoglander (2G, 4A) and Miller (2G, 4A) all have six points versus Edmonton to lead the Canucks in scoring. Demko owns a 2-5-0 showing, 3.33 GAA and .907 S%. Backup Braden Holtby is 1-1-0 with a 3.57 GAA and .887 S%.
By the Numbers:
The Oilers rank 1st on the power play (28.1%) and the 10th penalty kill (82.2%). ... Edmonton has not allowed a power-play goal against in nine games. ... EDM has outscored their opponents 58-46 in the 3rd period, holding a plus-12 goal differential. ... McDavid & Draisaitl are the only players in the NHL to have more than 30 goals and 50 assists this season. ... Draisaitl is 1st with a plus-31 rating and Nurse is 3rd at plus-29. ...
The Canucks are 25th on the PP (17%) and 24th on the PK (78.1%). ... Vancouver has been outscored 66-40 in the 2nd period this year, holding a minus-26 goal differential in the middle frame. ... VAN is 4-23-1 when trailing first in a game but is 17-5-2 when scoring first. ... The Canucks have the 30th road power play (12.3%).
OILERS - Ryan McLeod (precautionary) is day-to-day; Kris Russell (lower body) is day-to-day; Zack Kassian (lower body) is on LTIR; Oscar Klefbom (shoulder) is on LTIR.
CANUCKS - Antoine Roussel (lower body) is day-to-day; Jay Beagle (undisclosed) is on IR; Elias Pettersson (upper body) is on IR; Justin Bailey (upper body) is on IR; Micheal Ferland (concussion) is on IR.