Oilers need to beat Ducks to buoy slim playoff hopes
As the playoff hopes for the Edmonton Oilers dissipate, the only positive will be the exploits of their dynamic duo, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
Sure, the Oilers (34-34-9, 77 points) have a hope of making the Stanley Cup playoffs. However, they sit eight points back of the Colorado Avalanche -- who hold the second wild-card spot -- with only five games remaining in the regular season, making their chances very faint.
So, as the Oilers ready to play host to the Anaheim Ducks (32-37-10, 74 points) on Saturday night, the focus is more on McDavid and Draisaitl, who have both reached the 40-goal, 100-point milestones this season, a rare occurrence over the past 20 years.
Each had a goal and an assist Thursday in the Oilers' 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Dallas Stars.
However, coach Ken Hitchcock is quick to remind everyone that his top two forwards aren't just racking up points at the expense of their defensive play.
"Since I've been here, they've provided us with a competitive direction to follow," Hitchcock said. "Points are points, but when you're playing the game the right way, and the way they get their points -- they're one of the lead horses at checking the puck back and creating offense from positioning defensively -- it's an easy sell for the coach. To me, it's become easier and easier to sell to the rest of the group because our top players are playing the right way.
"The points come and go. They've had great offensive years and they can close -- you give them an odd-man rush and they're going to score -- but for me, it's about winning hockey games. They give us a chance to win every night by the way they play. They're impacting the rest of the group to play that way, which becomes an easier sell for me."
The Ducks have long since been eliminated from the playoff contention, ending a string of six years making it to the second season. Anaheim had won four of six games, but those positive vibes were crushed big-time on Friday night in a 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the Western Conference-leading Calgary Flames.
"We really stuck with them through the first," Anaheim defenseman Andy Welinski told Calgary's Sportsnet FAN 960 after the game. "We played a good period on the road, but they were relentless. They didn't slow down, and that wore on us. They're a good hockey team.
"One part of this organization is the culture, and we've got to do our best to continue that, finish our jobs here. You have pride, everybody wants to play at this level, and you need to do the best job you can to finish out right."
Welinski's first-ever NHL goal was the lone Ducks tally, which actually gave his team a 1-0 lead, so he at least had one positive memory from the game, his 31st in the NHL.
"It's exciting, Definitely a good way to start (the game)," Welinski said. "One of my strengths is getting pucks to the net. Given enough times, one of them is bound to go in, hopefully. The goaltenders in this league are tough to beat, but we had guys in front, and a little screen always helps."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 30, 2019