When the Oilers quickly lost 3-2 in overtime to the largely uninterested Anaheim Ducks, the math became real simple.
If Montreal loses to Toronto AND Edmonton defeats Vancouver, the Oilers will end up in 28th overall.
Any other combination and, after two years of finishing 30th, they end up 29th, and when the bingo balls come tumbling out of the machine Tuesday in the NHL Draft Lottery, the worst the Oilers could do would be end up picking third overall.
As it is, thanks to a New York Islanders win Thursday night, the Oilers can now do no worse than select fourth overall in the draft.
Meanwhile, in the Great Race To Avoid Disgrace, the CBA-to-CBA or possibly Lockout-to-Lockout standings, it’s over.
The Oilers ended up in 30th place, unable to nose ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Islanders down the stretch at the end of the season. In the seven years between collective bargaining agreements, they have ended up with the worst record in the NHL.
Thursday night the team was encouraged to send a message to the fans.
“If you want to go out there and have your fans leave the building with good feelings about what lies in store for them in the future, then you better show up,” said coach Tom Renney.
It’s debatable to the extent they may or may not have done that.
Outshooting the Ducks 11-1 early, it certainly appeared to be their intent. And then a lot of Oilers, who didn’t really come close to burying a chance, seemed to lose interest, focus and attention to detail. And suddenly the quacks had a couple of quicks and Eberle was required to score his 34th of the year and Nugent-Hopkins to produce his 52nd point.
It was the kind of game the Oilers are going to have to start winning next season if they intend to finally get out of the league’s low-rent district.
The season was like the old rodeo joke. A point here. A point there. And a lot of bull in between.
This is a team that went 8-2-2 in the first dozen games to start the season, and with the win against the Ducks is 5-3-3 in the last dozen to end it, heading into Saturday night’s game in Vancouver.
The Oilers have improved themselves by seven wins over the 25 last year and by 12 points over the 62 produced in the standings in each of the last two seasons.
They currently sit with a goals for/against total of -23, compared to -76 last year and -70 the year before that.
The improvement in the standings or the goals for-against doesn’t count for much, when you are 28th or 29th after being 30th two years in a row.
They’ll almost certainly end up No. 2 overall on the power play compared to No. 18 in 2010 and No. 27 in 2011.
The Oilers sat No. 14 in penalty killing going into games Thursday, compared to No. 26 in 2010 and No. 29 in 2011.
Those are dramatic improvements.
Less dramatic, but still improvements, are likely finishing 23rd five-on-five after being 30th in 2010 and 29th last year, and ranking 27th in faceoff percentage after being 30th in both of the last two years.
After winning 13 at home last year, they made it 18 this year. And after 12 wins on the road last year, they managed to make it 14 this season.
“We’ve made some progress this year,” said 18-year-old rookie Nugent-Hopkins.
“I think we’ll make a lot more next year. I think we’ll be in the playoffs. I really do feel that. I think the rest of the guys and that coaches feel that, too,” he added.
“We’re making strides here. Hopefully we’ll be better next year,” said Eberle.
“We’ll get there,” said Renney. “It’ll be fun to watch when it happens.”
It better start to happen next year or it’ll get real ugly around here.
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