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Oilers continue to check off boxes as regular season comes to an end

If you missed that rare, midweek, afternoon start in the Mountain time zone on Wednesday, allow Edmonton Oilers head coach Dave Tippett to summarize it for you.

“Sloppy, nobody got hurt, and we got two points. Other than that it was good.”

We could spend the next 800 words or so describing a meaningless game between two teams that have their playoff matchups set, but if games like this are your thing we’ll point you towards a season-ending series between Calgary and Vancouver that will mercifully unfold in the soap opera time slots next week.

This one ended on a lovely Leon Draisaitl feed in overtime, deposited home by Dominik Kahun, who could barely believe his ears when he heard his name called for the opening faceoff of overtime. That shift is generally occupied by one Connor McDavid.

“I was thinking my game was probably over. Then my coach said I’m going out with Leon,” chuckled Kahun, who scored just 27 seconds into OT for Edmonton’s second straight overtime win over the Canadiens. “It gives me confidence when pucks go in.”

Why use Kahun ahead of McDavid in overtime?

“Why not?” asked Tippett. “We were looking for a little German magic there, and they came through.”

So Edmonton wins, and closes out their regular season with seven consecutive road wins, something this franchise has not done since 1987. It can’t hurt going into the playoffs on a heater, nor can six consecutive wins over their Round 1 opponent, the Winnipeg Jets.

Look — on its own, none of that stuff is worth anything come playoff time. But this time of year is about ticking off the boxes.

Are we confident on the road? Check.

How are the special teams? Check.

Do we have a third line coming along? Check.

So, let’s look at a few of those boxes, as Edmonton closes out what has been a fantastic regular season, ranked 10th in the NHL in winning percentage (.655).

• Special teams: With a two-for-three afternoon in Montreal, the Oilers pulled clear of the pack, topping the NHL with a 28.1 per cent power play unit. The penalty kill, meanwhile, is Top 10 at 82.2 per cent, and best in the North.

• McDavid and Draisaitl cruise into game No. 56 with seven consecutive multi-point games each. They’ll finish one-two in the NHL scoring race this season, and McDavid will very likely have more assists than any other player — except Draisaitl — has points.

“From experience, your top players are going to have to be your top players going into the playoffs,” said Alex Chiasson. “We’re not too worried about that.”

• How about having a third line that’s coming together, with 21-year-old Ryan McLeod centering a couple of playoff war horses in Chiasson (29) and James Neal (32)?

“I feel like me and Nealer have always played well together. We understand the game and how each other plays. We know where to go,” Chiasson said, on a night when his line produced another even strength goal. “Then add in McLeod in the middle. He plays a really mature game for a guy who doesn’t have a lot of experience in this league.

“We’re just trying to use these last couple of games to figure out how we can play and be effective as a line.”

Whether or not McDavid and Draisaitl are employed on the same unit or separate lines versus Winnipeg, a third line that can produce the odd goal and at least neutralize Adam Lowry’s line will be a big story in this series.

• How’s Tyson Barrie doing? Check!

With another two assists Wednesday — unless Cale Makar goes wild in Colorado — Barrie will lead all NHL defencemen in points this season. He has 8-40-48, which is more than any other player — forward or defenceman — on a new team this season.

When’s the last time a team had the top two NHL scorers and the leading defenceman? How about 1985?

Darnell Nurse. OK, we’ll say it: He reminds us of a 25-year-old Alex Pietrangelo.

Nurse’s plus-29 is tied for tops among all NHL players, second only to Draisaitl at plus-31. He has taken a huge step this season: he’s a Top 15 scorer among NHL blueliners; fourth in the NHL in ice time at 25:42 per night; and he’s a big part of a Top 10 penalty kill. He rang a shot off the post late in Wednesday’s game that would have been his 17th goal, a sign that the offensive awareness we always wondered about has finally arrived.

• Goaltending? Well, the starter seems fine…

If Mike Smith gets Game No. 56 off, this will be the second best season of his 15-year career, a decade after his best season in Arizona. We never thought we’d be saying this as the playoffs open, but the Oilers have the best goaltender in the North this season.

Smith’s .923 saves percentage ranks fifth among NHL starters. His 2.31 goals against average is sixth, and both numbers are better than any goalie in the North — including Round 1 opponent and reigning Vezina winner Connor Hellebuyck (.915, 2.60).

Oilers fans had their hearts in their throats when he appeared to get injured in a crease collision Wednesday, but Tippett shrugged it off.

“Ah, he just got some snow in his eye. He’s all right.”


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