November 10 2013 11:14AM
I didn't pick the Oilers to make the playoffs this season, had them 10th, but I don't think anyone expected them to start the season this poorly; 4-12-2 in their first 18 games and tonight a date with the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Oilers have to play like they did in Tampa Bay or they could easily get blown away in the Windy City.
We could break down the stats. Goals for, goals against, PP, PK or any other stat, but we all know that won't be very flattering for the Oilers.
It would be easy to pile on the Oilers right now, and I've noticed many have. Every goal that goes in is either a major breakdown or bad goaltending. The other team is also paid to play and they are capable of making nice plays. Even if the Oilers were 12-4-2 they'd still be allowing goals.
Hockey is about mistakes, they will happen, but the key is trying to force the opposition to make more. We know that hasn't happened often enough, but that shouldn't be a surprise.
The Oilers aren't built to win more games than they lose. They just aren't.
Yesterday I noticed a debate raging about the Oilers depth, and some were suggesting the Oilers finally have lots of depth in their-top nine. Are they better than they used to be in that department? Yes, but they are a far cry from having lots of proven NHL depth. I'm sorry, but that is true.
The reality is the Oilers won't win consistently until the make up of their top-nine is changed. I and many others have written or said this for the past few years. The Oilers aren't heavy enough, don't have enough grit and they don't have enough consistent skill in their top-nine.
That isn't the player's fault. You can't expect them to suddenly become heavier, or more physical. The one thing they can control is their ability to make smart plays. They need to do that more frequently, but even then I'd only see them as a .500 or so team.
Some people believe the Oilers don't really know what they have in their top-nine because they haven't had all of them healthy at the same time. It is true the forwards are finally healthy, but I defy anyone to tell me why the Oilers don't know what they have up front.
We know what type of player Taylor Hall is. He is their most dominant forward.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is still developing his overall game, but he's shown signs of what he can be.
We could describe every player's strength and weaknesses; we've seen them play enough. Marc Arcobello is the only surprise, and thus far he's been a pleasant one. Nail Yakupov has only played 60+ games, but we know where he needs to improve and what skills make him dangerous.
I don't need to see 20 games with a healthy group of forwards to know what the Oilers have. They will show great skill, good speed and creativity, but this team isn't going to win ugly games. They aren't going to overpower you down low. They won't consistently score goals from on top of the crease. They don't have that mixture, and the Oilers need to accept the weaknesses of the group as a whole, and find ways to fix it.
It doesn't mean they don't have good individual players, they do, but collectively as a group this team isn't going to succeed.
The same can be said for their defence.
They don't have any big, physical defencemen. Philadelphia dominated them down low yesterday, strictly by getting good body position. Even if Ladislav Smid was still on the team, the Flyers would have had success. Andrew Ference is now their most physical D-man, and it is unfair to expect him to lead the team in that department. He will battle guys his size, and guys bigger, but the Oilers need some heavy D-man who can stop teams from cycling down low.
There will be no magical fix for the Oilers. The players have to play smarter and more consistent, and Craig MacTavish has to look for trades that will help balance his lineup; the Oilers need more than just a top-pair D-man.
Until MacTavish tweaks his roster, the leaders need to keep the players unified. It won't be easy, but they owe it to themselves and the fans to compete every shift.
The other teams aren't going to go easy on the Oilers, in fact right now they might look at the Oilers as "point night." After the Detroit loss, Smid said, "Guys think it can't get worse, well it can," and he was correct. It is easy to let negativity overwhelm you. It happens for all of us, and in the case of the Oilers it will be extremely difficult to stay positive and upbeat, but they have to, or the final 64 games might be just as painful, or worse, than the first 18.
It is fair to suggest that Eakins could stick with the same lines for a few games, and hope they find some chemistry. Switching lines often hasn't helped them win. Every NHL coach switches things up when his team is losing, but maybe Eakins should buck that trend and stick with some combinations to see what happens. I'm not sure there is a right answer at this point, but he will keep his top two lines the same to start the game.
Luke Gazdic is out with an injured shoulder.
The same six D-men will play and Devan Dubnyk starts.
- My wife is the best. She suggested I use Alice Eve in Oilersnation. I'd never seen Alice before, but I would agree.
- The Oilers are said to be one of the leading teams in terms of using analytics, yet they continue to lose and they are one of the softest teams in the league. Is it just a coincidence, or have they gone too far into looking at statistics rather than on-ice play? Using analytics as another tool is smart, but it leads me to some questions.
Are the Oilers using them properly?
Are they relying on them too much?
Is it too early to see the benefits from them?
Are they a non-factor, and the issues are mainly with scouting?
I don't know the answers, but it is something worth looking at. They weren't very good before they started using analytics, so maybe that is the bigger problem. When a team is in the midst of an eight-year losing streak they need to look at every aspect of their organization and try to improve it.
- Speaking of analytics, I'm curious why when Ryan Jones had a bad Corsi rating he was getting ripped, yet now that he is even at Corsi, has two goals in ten games and is +3 no one is suggesting he stay in the lineup?
- Here is a great story on Brendan Shanahan. Shanahan will go into the Hockey Hall of Fame tomorrow, but it will be bittersweet because of his father's battle with Alzheimers. Shanahan was one of my favourite players, and he's very deserving of us his induction into the HHOF.
- Taylor Hall returned from injury with a new stick, and the half-orange shaft matches the Oilers colours. He has two goals in two games, and he's abandoned the toe drag. I'm sure he will bring it back at some point, but he's focusing on beating guys with his speed. He has 60 points in his last 56 games.
- I usually don't rip on the officials, because they have an extremely tough job and they get it right more than they get it wrong, but that 5 minute major to Anton Belov yesterday was the worst call of the season. He never hit Giroux in the head, so how does he get a match penalty? They worst part was they met for three minutes to come up with that decision.
You can't reverse the call, I understand that, but at least come out after the game, or today, and admit you made a mistake. MLB admitted Angel Hernandez blew a call in May, and Jim Joyce earned a lot of respect when he came out and admitted he blew the call at first base that ruined Armando Gallaraga's perfect game.
The Flyers never scored on the match penalty, although it did lead to a weak make up call, and a subsequent four-on-four where Giroux scored, but fans deserve hearing someone from the NHL admit it was a horrendous call.
- If the Oilers deal Ales Hemsky, which seems likely, I hope it isn't just for prospects. You won't improve as an organization if you continually ship out proven NHL players for maybes. Dealing Smid for prospects only made sense if they had another trade happening and needed to clear cap space. MacTavish said he felt they had depth and could move Smid, but they don't have size right now. Klefbom and Nurse will add size when they make the team, but today's lineup is smaller without Smid.
- A reminder to watch the Nation's own Jason Strudwick tonight on Battle of the Blades. If you don't watch it, please vote for him. If Struds wins, the Inner City Children's Program will get $50,000. That will make a major difference for many young kids in Edmonton. You can vote here later tonight or tomorrow.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have played the Hawks tough the past few seasons, but I don't see a miracle happening tonight. Hawks win 5-3.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall picks up two points. Hall has 15 points in 10 career games vs. the Hawks.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The comment section is filled with positive, up beat comments. Fans decide to pull a George Costanza, and write the opposite of what they feel. Everything in Costanza's life was going wrong....
"Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable. I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party. It all became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat... It's often wrong."
After that riveting speech George decides to do the opposite of everything that is normal for him. Up is down, down is up....Later in the show Costanza is rewarded...
"A job with the New York Yankees! This has been the dream of my life ever since I was a child, and it's all happening because I'm completely ignoring every urge towards common sense and good judgement I've ever had. This is no longer just some crazy notion, Elaine, Jerry. This is my religion."