I have a bad feeling about this

Jonathan Willis
October 26 2013 05:33PM

The Edmonton Oilers had a pretty decent game. Really they did. Scout's honour. 

They lost anyway, and that's getting to be an ugly trend.

The Loss To Phoenix

Dallas Eakins said basically the same thing after the game.

Eakins avoided placing blame on goaltender Jason LaBarbera, instead saying that the Oilers need to get better at blocking those point shots. While that may be true, and it's certainly true that some of those outside shots were deflected, LaBarbera allowed four of five goals from far outside the scoring chances area.

And, just to add injury to insult, Tyler Pitlick scored his first NHL goal but then left the game on crutches after taking an awkward hipcheck. 

A one-goal loss to Phoenix isn't a huge deal, but the trouble is that the hole the Oilers are in gets deeper by the day.

The Problems

  • Over the last five seasons (including pro-rating Minnesota's 2012-13 pace) the eight place team in the Western Conference has averaged between 94 and 95 points. That means the Oilers need to record something like 88 points over their final 70 games - which assuming an average rate of overtime losses works out to a 40-22-8 record the rest of the way. Even if you believe (as I do) that the Oilers are significantly better than the record to date, that's a lot of ground to make up.
  • The goaltending has been flat-out bad. Devan Dubnyk seems to have rediscovered his form of the last few seasons, but Jason LaBarbera has yet to have a good game for Edmonton. At age 33 he's a little young to be losing it, so there's got to be at least a decent chance he bounces back but it's been ugly so far. I do think the Oilers move to add a goalie at some point but for right now the most important thing is Dubnyk playing as well as his long-term track record says he should.
  • The injuries up front are getting silly. As Bob Stauffer tweeted after the game, Pitlick is the ninth forward on an NHL contract to be out. He joins Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Ryan Smyth, Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Hamilton, Steve MacIntyre, Ryan Martindale and Curtis Hamilton. If I had to guess I'd say Linus Omark is the next call-up; remarkably the Oilers will still have two plausible call-ups on the farm (Anton Lander and Andrew Miller) if they make that choice.
  • The penalty kill is a major concern, too. No team in the NHL is as likely to allow an opposition shot attempt 4-on-5 as the Oilers. It's not just a case of the goalies needing to stop more shots (though that has been a factor); it's a case where the entire unit just hasn't been good enough. I can't help wondering if the decision to work in a bunch of skill guys into the rotation is part of the problem here; the Oilers are leaning pretty heavily on inexperienced personnel. 
  • I'm less worried about the power play. A year ago, the Oilers scored on 16.9 percent of the shots they took (while not really generating a lot of shots); this year shot generation is up but the Oilers are clicking at just a 6.6 percent rate (meaning that any shot last year was more than twice as likely to be a goal as any shot this year).

Add a deep hole early in the year to a bunch of injuries to bad goaltending to struggling special teams and the Oilers chances of coming away with a playoff berth this season look pretty grim. Some of it will self-correct (the power play and possibly the goaltending), some of it needs help from the coaches (the penalty kill) and some of it (the injuries and the early hole) just needs to be overcome.

Put it all together and this looks like a season on its way to going pear-shaped, despite the team as a whole being significantly better than it was a year ago.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#101 MessyEH!
October 27 2013, 01:56AM
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We need one more bonafide top 2 defender.

And a new goalie coach.

Fire bucky and smith.

I miss blaming Horcoff and Whitney.

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#102 Big Cap
October 27 2013, 02:14AM
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Can’t stand to see that sour, cry baby look that our Big Mouth, Blow Hard, No-It-All coach displays after another one his swarm defense tactics have gone array.

Tell us again how you demand top fitness, and an ultra competitive team, because NO other coach demands the exact same thing. I’m sure when guys like Sutter, Carlyle, Quenneville, and Torts heard you spout off, they all thought, “Great Idea, I’m going to try that out too”

Hello, Pete Laviolette... you got any plans over the next few months?? Eakins your time is done!

PS - And thanks Eakins for taking down our history and tradition of our proud and successful years past.

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#103 Time Travelling Sean
October 27 2013, 03:27AM
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I'm depressed, but not so depressed to crap on our team, and be so fickle as to lose all hope/faith 12 games into an 82 game season.

Our worst season in history we started 6-3-1, who knows...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

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#104 BLAKPOO
October 27 2013, 05:57AM
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Labarbera being terrible is a goaltending issue. Labarbera getting the start and being allowed to stay in after 3 brutal goals? That's a coaching issue. Yeah, sure it's against his old team, and it would make Labarbera feel like a champ to beat his old team, but we're not looking to make "After School Specials". We need wins.

This game was very winnable. Despite the bad penalties and consistent turnovers ( I'm looking at you, Nail ), the Oil showed some great ability and perseverance to battle back. It's a shame bad goaltending and bad coaching decisions lost them this game.

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#105 Loweblows
October 27 2013, 06:18AM
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Hey Mactavish, are you having fun yet?

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#106 Rdubb
October 27 2013, 07:32AM
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WHAT IN THE HELL HAS HAPPENED TO OUR SPECIAL TEAMS? The past few seasons they were in the top half & even as good as the top 5. So with that kind of "production" out of the special teams, why has Eakins decided to "switch" things up? There were far more serious problems that those two areas, wasn't there? I know I have said this before, but watching the PK last night made me mad, and down-right PISSED...I don't want to name players here...while on the PK, the PHX point man had the puck, and both forwards moved over to the side of the ice where the puck was, pretty easy pass to the opposite defenseman, puck moved down low (or shot), and a few seconds later, GOAL. And this happened on almost every single PK, maybe PHX didn't always score, but both forwards converting on the d-man with the puck, he makes a simple pass over, and now it is basically a 4 on 2. I don't know it that is this stupid "swarm" defense, because if it is, Eakins better change it FAST. Just Watch the Oilers PK today, you'll see the same dumb ass thing happening over and over. I am not an NHL coach and never will be, but if I can this being a stupid play, I am sure coaches like Suter, Tippit and whomever else can see this too, and easily break down the Oil system. Eakins has his fingers in to many things, let the guys who ran the PK and PP go back and do it the way they have for the past 3 yrs and get the PK & PP back on tract & we'll stop losing these games we should be winning.

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#107 OILERSORDEATH
October 27 2013, 07:51AM
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Jesus the Hockey Gods are ruthless bastards!! This is just flat out rediculous. Somethings got to give soon.

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#108 Serious Gord
October 27 2013, 07:57AM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

I'm depressed, but not so depressed to crap on our team, and be so fickle as to lose all hope/faith 12 games into an 82 game season.

Our worst season in history we started 6-3-1, who knows...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

It's not fickle it's math and the historical record.

No team in the modern era has ever come from dead last on Nov 1 and made the playoffs. Very few - 3 (?) have ever done it when they were 5 or more back on Nov one. The oil is 8 back with St. Louis having three games at hand. And two back of Dallas and they have two games at hand. And the oil have only two game left before nov1. Thus it is a near impossibility to make the playoffs.

So who is being fickle in light of those facts?

Time to take your realism medicine.

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#109 @Oilanderp
October 27 2013, 08:27AM
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Throttlehead wrote:

At this point in the season compared to last season, where exactly have we progressed?

GA- worse wins- worse PP- worse PK -worse

We just have a better car salesman telling us the so called positives after the game.

Have you watched the games? The best statistical tool I have to prove progress in the team is my wife: the amount of times she shhhhushes me due to my incredulous screaming at the TV has markedly decreased. It still happens, but not nearly as much!

If you want to feel depressed or angry about this team you can find whatever reason you need: it's there. All I know is compared to 3 years ago this team appears to be on the verge of actually playing hockey. I'm enjoying it in the here and now, and encouraged because given the age of the team, it will only get better.

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#110 Loweblows
October 27 2013, 09:09AM
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Lars eller was wrong. We play like a ECHL team.

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#111 just plain bad
October 27 2013, 09:52AM
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eskimos 3-14 fc eddies 2-6-4 oilers 3-8-1

8 wins of a possible 41

Tell me again,city of what?

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#112 Time Travelling Sean
October 27 2013, 11:06AM
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Serious Gord wrote:

It's not fickle it's math and the historical record.

No team in the modern era has ever come from dead last on Nov 1 and made the playoffs. Very few - 3 (?) have ever done it when they were 5 or more back on Nov one. The oil is 8 back with St. Louis having three games at hand. And two back of Dallas and they have two games at hand. And the oil have only two game left before nov1. Thus it is a near impossibility to make the playoffs.

So who is being fickle in light of those facts?

Time to take your realism medicine.

Who said anything about making the playoffs? I'm more concerned with effort/competitiveness.

I meant being fickle with regards to supporting the team, we say we are loyal, crap on Lowe sure, but Yakupov has had a tough start to the season, so let's trade him/he's going to the KHL/should have drafted Murray.

If Hemmer wasn't doing well we would be screaming for his head/Dubnyk was one of our better players last year and has 3 rough games and so let's hack his head off too.

The games haven't been awful, the only ones in where we were truly outplayed and outclassed was Vancouver, and Pittsburgh.

And about games in hand...there is 70 games left, 72 for Dallas, don't tell me it is impossible to be competitive for a playoff spot when there is 70 games left

We've had below par goaltending and awful Special Teams, but our PP chances created is better in volume this year to last, so it's only about time their chances start going in, and Dubnyk is looking back to normal so who knows? It isn't mathematically impossible to make the playoffs by Nov.1, nor miss them.

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#113 Jack meoff
November 03 2013, 01:23PM
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@james_dean

Hey Kevin , thought you new how to win? lol

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