With Avalanche on the town, Oilers can take a look at run playoff product towards NHL’s elite

EDMONTON — We have passed the time for measuring stick games, or providing anything to anybody.

If your game isn’t sorted out by April 22, then you’ve likely got the clubs in the shop for re-gripping already, with the boat ready to launch at the lake.

So, as the Edmonton Oilers get set for their final crack at the Western Conference’s elite entity, the Colorado Avalanche, it’s not about proving to themselves that they can play with the best. That box has been checked, in a pair of regular season masterpieces that ended in Colorado’s favour, one in overtime and the other in a shootout.

“Two of the best games that I’ve been witness to over the last two and a half months,” raved Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft.

“Colorado is where they’re at in the league standings for a reason, and we’ll be ready for a top team coming in here (Friday) night. (But) as much as we respect Colorado and how well structured they are — their total points speaks for itself and commands attention — for us, we’re putting a lot of focus on refining different parts of our game.”

There is so much important hockey to be played between Friday night and the next time these teams could feasibly meet in a Western Conference Final, you can’t even go to a place where Friday’s result might have anything to do with a series that’s five or six weeks away. There’s this team in Calgary, for one, and besides, said Edmonton’s Derek Ryan, “Edmonton beat Winnipeg last year quite often, and then they got swept in the playoffs. So regular season and playoffs are a completely different beast.”

So let’s enjoy a Friday night tilt and an arena full of superstars for what it is: a playoff tune-up for an Avalanche lineup that could well include Mikko Rantanen, but will be missing Gabriel Landeskog, Devon Toews and Ryan Murray, versus an Oilers team that has been a Top 5 or 6 club in the NHL since the season’s midway point.

Surely, the Oilers will command Colorado’s sustained interest a little more than the Seattle Kraken did Wednesday, in a 3-2 Kraken win over the Avs.

“When you’re facing certain teams — and certain guys that you’re worried about — it helps bring out the best in our players. In the urgency of our players,” admitted Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar, Thursday in Edmonton. “We saw it in the Washington game. The sort of talent that they have… we got more competitive as the game went on, and really started to dig in. We still have a handful of games here left (five) and I think it’s good for our team to play competitive hockey.”

Colorado has been home and cooled for some time atop the Central. They’re battling the Florida Panthers for the President’s Trophy, with the more pressing goal of having their lineup healthy and intact when the playoffs open May 2 or 3.

Edmonton, meanwhile, is rolling along quite nicely. The team is 11-0-1 in its past dozen games at Rogers Place, 7-1-1 in April, and 16-5-3 since March 1, fifth-best in the NHL. The Oilers’ game has stood stout against Colorado twice within the past month.

“We’ve been playing some pretty good hockey lately,” Ryan said. “So it’s a good challenge for us to put that on the ice against the best team in the league and be able to do that on a consistent basis. The last two times we’ve played them we’ve done that, but it’s being able to do it over and over again. That’s what it takes to be successful in the playoffs.”

Today, Edmonton’s game is as sound as it has been since, well… Since anyone can remember.

Define sound?

“Structured. Detailed. Not getting rattled by giving up leads,” Ryan began. “The detail in our D-zone exits, our D-zone coverage, our neutral zone forecheck. Our O-zone forecheck — that’s a big part of our game, especially my line.

“Just every little facet of the game,” he continued. “We’ve put a heavier emphasis on faceoffs, how we’re executing offensive zone faceoffs, how we’re trying to get out of our own zone defensively, on D-zone faceoffs. Just every little detail in the game (is) especially huge as you come down the stretch and play in the playoffs.

“Those details can win or lose your games, and I think that our team has gotten immeasurably better in all those little areas.”

Coming off a loss in Seattle, the Avs will apply a stress test to every one of those areas inside Edmonton’s game.

So, what better time to test run the playoff product, than on a Friday night with a week left in the regular season?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.