December 07 2008 09:18PM
Where do the Oilers go from here? After a difficult start to the season, with 18 of their first 26 on the road, they are a surprising 13-11-2 with 12 of their next 15 at home. Their three road games are single treks to Calgary and twice to Vancouver , so they will enjoy home cooking from now until the 11th of January.
The big question is: Can they take advantage of it? They are an average 3-3-2 at home so far and have only played two solid home games v. Calgary and Dallas. In the next 12 home games they play six teams below them in the standings: Panthers, Senators, Coyotes, Stars, Islanders and the Blues. The other six nights Oiler fans will see the Canucks twice, the Blackhawks, Ducks, Predators and Sharks.
They won’t play a home game on the backend of a back-to-backs, but two of their road games will be the second game of a back-to-back set. That will be the 10th set of back-to-back games for the Oilers, but not once in their next 15 games will one of their opponents be playing for a second straight night.
The schedule definitely hasn’t done them any favours so far, but if the Oilers have serious thoughts about winning the NW division they have to become a solid home team. Of the eight western teams currently ahead of them, only the Ducks and Wild aren’t at least four games above .500 at home. The Wild are two games over, while the Ducks are 7-6-1.
The Oilers can look directly to their home record last season as the reason why they didn’t make the postseason. Here are the home records from last year.
Home Record (Points) Detroit 29-9-3 (61) San Jose 22-13-6 (50) Minnesota 25-11-5 (55) Anaheim 28-9-4 (60) Dallas 23-16-2 (48) Colorado 27-12-2 (56) Calgary 21-11-9 (51) Nashville 23-14-4 (50) Oilers 23-17-1 (47)
The Oilers missed the playoffs by three points, so it is pretty clear that if they have playoff aspirations this year; they need to rack up at least 8 wins in their next 12 home games.
LUCKY NUMBER FOUR
The Oilers did not skate today, but if Sam Gagner returns to the ice with his teammates on Monday it will be interesting to see which line he will skate on. I know you aren’t supposed to lose your spot due to injury, but Gagner wasn’t producing before he got his bell rung.
Rob Schremp has three points in three games, which is three fewer than Gagner has all season, while Marc Pouliot has two goals in the last three games. Even for the most anti-Pouliot fan, it is hard to say Gagner deserves to go back on the second unit.
MacTavish has publicly ripped Dustin Penner, sat Kyle Brodziak and demoted Robert Nilsson for lack of production and effort. And in all three cases the players have responded. Why can’t he do the same with Gagner? I don’t think #89 is so fragile that he won’t be able to handle it; in fact, I think it might ignite him. He is very competitive, and even through the slump he hasn’t looked that distraught.
Maybe the view from the pressbox during the past two games has been enough, but it is still hard to argue why he automatically goes back to the 2nd unit. And maybe playing him with Gilbert Brule and Liam Reddox for a game might force him to compete a bit harder and simplify his game.
Every coach has certain biases towards players, but with Gagner clearly struggling offensively it might be a hard sell within the lockerroom to just give him his spot back.
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