On Saturday, as the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals faced off to begin the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers faced off against the last-place Vancouver Canucks in a COVID-19 makeup game, losing 4-1. With the division playing more makeup games during the start of the playoffs, the start of the Oilers’ series against the Winnipeg Jets, along with the Montreal-Toronto series, will start a few days later than the other six series in the first round.
On Wednesday, the Oilers will begin their series against the Jets, the first time these two Canadian rivals will face off in the playoffs since the 1989-90 season, where the Oilers defeated the Jets in the first round in seven games (before the first incarnation of the Jets moved to Arizona to become the Coyotes).
The second rendition of the Jets have made the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. After making it to the Western Conference Finals in 2018, the Jets have struggled in the postseason, losing to the St. Louis Blues in the first round in 2019 and falling to the Calgary Flames in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last year.
With the majority of the core returning from the teams of the last few years, the Jets have pushed forward and made it back to the playoffs, finishing third in the Scotia North Division. They were above average but not extraordinary when it came to the scoresheet, ranking 10th-12th in Goals Allowed (GA), Goals For (GF), Goals Allowed Per Game Played, (GA/GP) and Goals For Per Game Played (GF/GP).
Center Mark Scheifele led the team in scoring with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists), ranking ninth among all NHL skaters. Supporting him was Blake Wheeler (46 points) Kyle Connor (50 points) and Nikolaj Ehlers (46 points). Ehlers notched 46 points on the season despite missing the last nine games of the regular season with an upper-body injury. He is on track to return in either Game 1 or Game 2 of their series against the Oilers.
As usual, Connor Hellebuyck has been the main goalkeeper throughout the season for the Jets with 45 starts in 56 games, notching a .916 save percentage (Sv%) and a 2.58 goals against average (GAA).
Hellebuyck will have his hands full as he will face off against the NHL’s best one-two punch in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
These two completely torched the North Division, scoring 105 and 84 points to lead the Oilers back to the playoffs. They were the top-two point scorers in the NHL, leading the Oilers to the seventh-best GF/GP and the seventh-most team goals in the league. To support these two this past offseason, the Oilers brought in former Toronto Maple Leaf and Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie, who provided 40 assists to go with his 48 points on the season.
Goaltending has been an issue for the Oilers in previous seasons and this season, their depth is still shaky with backup goaltender Mikko Koskinen allowing more than 10% of his shots faced to get by him for goals. However, Mike Smith has provided some reliability with a 2.31 GAA and .923 Sv%.
The Oilers look to make up for last year’s failure this time around in the postseason as last year, the fifth-seeded Oilers lost in four games in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the 12th-seeded Chicago Blackhawks.
If the Jets are going to have any chance of competing with the Oilers in this seven-game series, Ehlers must return and produce for Winnipeg. His speed is a game-changing aspect for the team in a series that looks to be high-octane. Despite his possible return, Edmonton’s deadly duo will be too much for the Jets to handle and the Oilers will advance to the next round.
Prediction: Oilers in Six