Draisaitl, Oilers chase wild-card spot in matchup vs. Sabres
In a season full of turmoil, the Edmonton Oilers are managing to keep it all together and still talk about the possibility of playoffs next month.
Edmonton (28-30-7) plays the last game of its five-game road trip in Buffalo on Monday against the Sabres (30-27-8). The Oilers beat Buffalo 7-2 on Jan. 14 in the previous meeting in Edmonton.
As Saturday's games came to a close, the Oilers found themselves holding 63 points and locked in a group with two other teams that were chasing the Minnesota Wild for the second wild-card spot -- the Chicago Blackhawks and the Vancouver Canucks.
And the trio lagged behind the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes, who both lurked right behind the Wild, within two points of Minnesota.
While reigning two-time Art Ross Trophy and 2017 Hart Memorial Trophy winner Connor McDavid grabs much of the media attention, Edmonton also remains relevant during its odd season because of the play of 23-year-old Leon Draisaitl, particularly in February.
A native of Cologne, Germany, the center became the first Oilers player to reach 40 goals in 65 games in a season since Jimmy Carson turned the trick in the 1988-89 season, one in which Carson did it in 55 games.
Draisaitl joined Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Ilya Kovalchuk as players 23 or younger who scored 40 goals in a season's first 65 games since the 1999-2000 campaign.
Selected third overall at the 2014 NHL draft in Philadelphia, Draisaitl recorded 17 points (12 goals, five assists) -- topping the NHL in goals for the month -- as Edmonton earned points in eight of 14 contests in February.
His 40th goal in Saturday's 4-0 win over Columbus made him the first German-born play to reach the mark, and after McDavid, he became the second Oilers player to net 40 since Petr Klima in 1990-91.
Draisaitl's February has left the Oilers, who fired coach Todd McLellan in November, still looking at the standings sheet each day.
"With everything that's gone on this season, it's kind of neat where we are in the standings," said teammate Alex Chiasson, who broke a 21-game streak without a goal in Saturday's win. "Opportunities don't come up like this every year. Playoff hockey is the best. Let's embrace this and move forward."
In Toronto on Saturday, Buffalo yielded four unanswered goals and three-point games to John Tavares and Mitchell Marner in the Maple Leafs' 5-2 win, and the Sabres slipped to 9-14-2 in 2019.
Jason Pominville (15th goal) and Conor Sheary (12) scored for the Sabres, but the Atlantic Division team dropped another chance to close the gap some in the standings. The Sabres trail the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens by nine points in the wild card standings.
"We didn't meet our standard tonight," said Buffalo second-year coach Phil Housley. "But I like the way we played in the third period. ... We get one goal, it changes the complexion of the game. But the bottom line is we just didn't get the result at this time of the year."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 3, 2019