The two hottest teams in the NHL both currently reside in Alberta. Just as the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were being left for dead and looking at lottery picks again, both teams have gone on their best runs of the season.
With an Oilers win on Friday night, and the Flames’ win on Saturday, both over the Rangers, each team completed perfect 5-0 homestands. Suddenly there’s hope that both teams can salvage their seasons.
While at the moment they remain far out of reach of a wild-card berth thanks to the ultra-competitive Central division, both are just two points out of the second playoff spot in the Pacific Division, where second place through seventh place are separated by just three points.
How are they doing it? For both teams, with extra scoring prowess and some good fortune.
During the Flames winning streak they’ve won two games in overtime and one in a shootout. It’s more than just puck luck though. The Flames have scored 22 goals in the five games, and Johnny Gaudreau has been one of the hottest players in the league. He has 10 points in the five games and is now seventh overall in the NHL scoring.
The Oilers have increased offense and improved goaltending to thank for their turnaround. Since being shutout in Toronto on Nov. 30, the Oilers have scored 20 goals in five games. More importantly, Anders Nilsson has taken over in goal and gone on one of the best runs of his career. Nilsson has started all five games during the winning streak, posting a .927 save percentage. It may not sound like All Star goaltending, but it’s a big improvement from what the Oilers had been getting.
But if each team is to keep their momentum going, now comes the hard part – winning on the road. Home games haven’t been a problem for either team this season: The Flames are 10-5 and the Oilers 9-5-1 at home, but on the road they have seven wins combined.
The next stretch of games could very well be what decides the playoff fate of the Oilers, especially. By the time the calendar turns over to 2016, the Oilers will have played 39 games, nearly half the season. They have nine games in the next 17 days to finish off December, and six of them are on the road. The Oilers, of course, are still without No. 1 pick Connor McDavid and have also lost defenseman Oscar Klefbom to a fractured finger.
The Flames begin a four-game road trip in Nashville on Tuesday and follow it up with tough games at Dallas, St. Louis, and Detroit. When they return home on Dec. 22, they can settle in with eight of the next nine at home. While the scheduled looks less daunting for the Flames, it will be equally important to take advantage of the friendly schedule.