October 15 2013 07:45AM
Things can change quickly in one week. Last Tuesday, the Oilers were coming off a come-from-behind victory over the Devils ignited by the return of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and many felt things were looking up.
Since then, they've lost three straight, they are still giving up almost five goals a game, Nail Yakupov has been benched and Oilersnation is livid. Welcome to another rollercoaster season of Edmonton Oilers hockey.
There is so much to discuss, I wasn't sure where to begin, but I'll start with the status of Yakupov.
I wasn't shocked Yakupov was scratched in Toronto, although I didn't think it would happen, but I was surprised he sat out vs. the Capitals. Here's my take on it.
I have no problem with Eakins healthy scratching Yakupov. Some will like it, others hate it, but Eakins made it clear from the start of the season what he expects from players. We aren't privy to every conversation that goes on, but Eakins did hint at why Yakupov was scratched. He felt the former #1 pick was frustrated and trying to do things on his own.
I doubt Yakupov pouts. He's a proud kid and he isn't lacking in confidence or bravado. When he plays tonight, no way he doesn't, I'm sure he'll have an extra jump in his stride. The key will be can he maintain that, and will he play the type of game that Eakins wants. I'd like to think he would, but we won't know until the next 10-20 games.
Many great players have been banished to the pressbox for a game or two, and they were better for it. Steven Stamkos and Ilya Kovalchuk spent a game upstairs and they became two of the most lethal score scorers of the past five years. Yakupov's skill didn't evaporate during the past 72 hours. If he hates Eakins, that is fine. Coaches and players aren't supposed to be best friends. Eakins' job is to get the most out of Yakupov, and he clearly feels that benching him for two games will be the right way to motivate him. Time will tell if he was correct.
If Yakupov plays well, Eakins will play him, and he'll likely play him a lot. Eakins challenged him, let's see how Yakupov responds.
I don't understand those who claim Yakupov hasn't produced because of who he's playing with. First of all it is a cop out, and secondly it isn't true.
Yakupov started the year with Boyd Gordon. Gordon is currently leading the team with four goals.
Then he played with Marc Arcobello and David Perron. Both of them are tied for the team lead in points with five. And Arcobello managed to produce playing with Ryan Smyth, who many claim is an offensive anchor, even though he has three goals.
Then he played the final 22 minutes of the NJ game rotating with Gordon, RNH, Arcobello, Perron and Hall.
He was back with Gordon vs. Montreal, before sitting out the past two games.
Since Yakupov has been scratched, Arcobello had a 3-point game playing with Eberle and Smyth. Smyth, Perron, Gordon and Arcobello all found a way to produce without playing beside Hall or Nugent-Hopkins. So tell me again why Yakupov is the only one who is getting "brutal" linemates? It simply isn't the case.
Stop blaming his linemates. They are all NHL players, and Yakupov is skilled enough that he should be able to contribute offensively playing with any of the other top-nine forwards on this team.
- Even the most anti-Dubnyk fan, wouldn't have predicted he'd start the season this bad. He didn't struggle this bad early in his career, even when he went eleven games without a victory. In those first 11 NHL games, he allowed 47 goals on 338 shots for a .860SV%. In his next six games, he went 4-2 and stopped 193 of 208 shots for a .928SV%.
During his next three NHL seasons he had a .917SV%. It is fair to question his penchant for allowing a soft goal, but even when he was doing that he still found ways to have a respectable SV%.
His first four starts has been the worst stretch of his career. I don't think it is possible he can continue to struggle this bad. The question is how long before he gets back to playing like he did last year. Even if Dubnyk played average in his first four starts the Oilers would have won two of them.
He needs to find his game to keep the Oilers in the hunt, but even if he plays well, I can't see Craig MacTavish starting next season with him as the clear cut starting goalie. At the very least, he'll have a legitimate contender battling for his job, and at worst, for him; he'll be the back up or not in the organization.
- The Oilers have scored the first goal five times this year, yet they've lost all five of those games. Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera can't complain that their teammates came out flat. One of the goalies has to start making some saves when the Oilers have the lead. Every team will give up leads, but the goalies have to at least make it difficult to tie the game.
- Last year the Oilers scored first in 24 of 48 games. They went 12-6-6 in those games. In 2011/2012 they scored first in 40 of 82 games and went 23-11-6. In 2010/2011 they scored first in 32 of 82 games and went 14-8-6. They are getting better at scoring first, and if they can get some decent goaltending they should start winning.
- The Oilers haven't allowed 29 goals in a six-game stretch since November 9th-17th, 2010. Back then the Oilers were a bad team. They were outshot 235-140 and outscored 33-11 in those six games. Their SV% was .860 at that time.
- This year the Oilers have outshot the opposition 177-170, and they've been outscored 29-18. Their team SV% is a paltry .839. The Oilers are far from perfect, but much of their problems would be solved by even decent goaltending.
- They are still making some key mistakes defensively, but with decent goaltending they would have beat the Jets and Leafs and be .500 which is about where I'd expect them to be. If their goaltending doesn't improve this road trip could turn ugly very quickly. The Penguins got spanked by the Panthers on Friday; they won't be taking the Oilers lightly tonight.
- Arcobello has played very well, but he needs to start hitting the net. Last night he had two great chances from within 15 feet and missed the net both times. You can't score if you don't hit the net. I've been impressed with many facets of his game, but he needs to stop looking for the perfect shot. Just get in on net.
- Hall needs to put away the toe-drag move for a bit. It isn't working. I understand wanting to try it, but he needs to use his speed and go wide, or just rip a wrist shot. He has a great shot. He needs to let it fly.
- The +/- stat isn't the best indicator of how a player is playing, but you can't ignore that RNH is -9, Hemsky is -8 and Hall is -7. They have to be better defensively. No excuses.
- The PK is a mess. Goalies can be better, stating the obvious, but the Oilers are leaving guys wide open all over the ice. They've given up 7 PP goals already. They were 9th in PK last year allowing 29 PP goals all season. Right now Gordon is the only forward with any significant PK experience. Acton, RNH, Hemsky, Perron and Hall haven't done it very often in the NHL. It will take some for them to get comfortable, but I wonder if they look at adding another veteran forward who can kill penalties?
- Alex Steen has to be one of the most underrated players in the NHL. In the summer Hitchcock told me Steen was his best forward, and he thought Steen could score 70 points this year. He said Steen was an excellent two-way player, who was going to focus a bit more on offence this year. It is very early, but Hitchcock looks like a genius. Steen has 4-4-8 in four games for the Blues.
- Speaking of the Blues, Magnus Paajarvi has been a healthy scratch for all four games this season.
- Until the Oilers are better defensively, not just in goal, they won't compete for the playoffs. The Oilers are are 1-4-1 and 19-29 in goals for-goals against. The top-three teams in the west prove defence wins. Sharks are 5-0 and have outscored the opposition 24-7. The Avs are 5-0 and 18-4 in GF-GA while the Blues are also 4-0 and 19-7 in GF-GA.
- The players and organization need to realize the Oilers don't have significantly more skill than the other teams in the west, and until they commit to playing better away from the puck and in their own zone this team isn't making the playoffs. It is early, but team defence and goaltending are the obvious weaknesses.
- Overall I think this team is better than previous years, and eventually they will see results, but they need to try and salvage the month of October. I don't belive they can't be 10-12 points out of the playoffs on October 31st, and still make the playoffs. They must find a way to stay close.