December 31 2013 03:16PM
2013 has not been a good year for the Oilers.
They won 32 of 89 games going 32-46-11, and only Florida (71) and Buffalo (74) compiled fewer points than the Oilers' 75. It was not a banner calendar year for the Oilers, and tonight they will try to end a disturbing trend vs. one of the top teams in the western conference.
The Oilers are 1-11-1 against the top-eight teams in the west since October and have been outscored 53-27. They beat Colorado 8-2, but in the other 12 games they've been dominated by combined scores of 51-19.
Opponents Record GF-GA SF-SA
Anaheim: 0-1 2-3 25-34
Chicago: 0-2 5-10 48-63
Colorado: 1-1 10-6 57-74
Los Angeles: 0-1-1 1-4 40-88
Phoenix: 0-2 6-11 63-61
San Jose: 0-1 1-3 31-37
St.Louis: 0-1 0-6 23-33
Vancouver: 0-2 2-10 42-84
The Oilers have given up143 more shots than they've taken during these thirteen games. On average they've been outshot by 11 shots. The Canucks and Kings have thoroughly dominated the Oilers, but the only current playoff team they've outshot is the Coyotes. They have to continue that tonight if they have any hope of beating the Coyotes.
The above stats illustrate just how far the Oilers need to go to become a playoff team. It's a bitter reality pill, but one the organization needs to be aware of. There are no short cuts or easy paths to becoming an elite team in the NHL, and the Oilers need to work on becoming more competitive against the top teams.
It won't happen overnight, because their talent level isn't going to magically increase, but their core players should be inspired to work harder and smarter against the best teams.
Roman Horak will play his 83rd NHL game tonight and first as an Oiler after coming to Edmonton in the Ladislav Smid trade. Horak has been playing centre in OKC, but he'll play the wing tonight. He hasn't shown enough offence at the AHL level (27-25-52 in 104 games) or in the NHL (5-13-18 in 82 games) to be considered a top-six forward, but Oklahoma head coach Todd Nelson thinks he could be a solid two-way 3rd liner.
Nail Yakupov will watch from the pressbox tonight. Dallas Eakins had this to say about Yakupov after the morning skate, "We're going to get him back in the lineup ASAP. I'm going to do some things differently and so is he. The plan is one game."
Eakins hinted that he will play Yakupov with Gagner and Eberle when he returns and he'll keep him there if Yakupov is more committed away from the puck, especially in the defensive zone. Many feel that the Oilers should automatically give Yakupov significant minutes, and while I agree players need to play in order to improve, Yakupov has to show that he is willing to learn to be committed.
I don't blame Yakupov for not being great defensively. Prior to playing in the NHL he didn't have to worry too much about the defensive side of the game, because he was so dynamic offensively. That changes when players reach the NHL, and it is up to the individual player to adapt.
If Yakupov shows a new dedication and awareness to the defensive side of the game, his offence will improve, but if he struggles learning to play defence, which would be understandable considering he's trying to do it in the toughest league in the world, why wouldn't the Oilers consider a short stint in the American Hockey League?
I've yet to see one legitimate reason why the Oilers couldn't let Yakupov gain confidence and improve his defensive game in the AHL.
Would 10-15 games in the AHL ruin him? I don't think so.
Also, the threat of him bolting to the KHL is a hollow threat. The KHL honours NHL contracts now, and he has one with the Oilers until the spring of 2015. Does anyone honestly believe that if he returned from the AHL a better player, had a strong final 20 games and a good NHL season next year that he would still hold a grudge over a one month stint in the AHL? I sure hope not.
Who cares if his agent Igor Larionov spouts off again? When he and Yakupov went public earlier this year it didn't cause a major disruption. It was talked about for a day and then people forgot about it. I'd like to believe that the Oilers organization has thick enough skin to not let a vocal agent dissuade them from making a move that will benefit the player and their organization long term.
Maybe this one-game benching will grab Yakupov's attention and he'll realize in order to succeed in today's NHL you need to be responsible in both ends of the rink. Time will tell, but if he struggles with his defensive assignments, I would strongly consider a stint in the AHL. I don't consider a stint in the AHL a negative.
Most players need time to develop and the goal of the Oilers and Yakupov should be to improve his overall game, and if a stint in the minors is the best option, then they should take advantage of it.
I understand the situation is different, but when Hall went to the minors he wanted to focus on becoming a better passer. In his first 136 NHL games Hall had 46 assists. In the 79 games since playing in the AHL he has 54 helpers. He used his time in the AHL to improve his passing, and he admitted it was much easier honing that skill in the AHL than it was against the best players in the NHL.
I've noticed many feel that Yakupov hasn't been given the same opportunities as Hall, RNH or Eberle. Of course he hasn't, because every situation is different. Every situation is different, and when Yakupov came here the Oilers already had RNH, Hall and Eberle, something those three didn't have to deal with when they entered the league.
The other main difference is their production. Yakupov had one outstanding month, one good one (January) and he's been consistent in the other five, but not been nearly as effective. That isn't a knock on Yakupov, just the .
Yakuopov had an outstanding April, and he produced 1/3 of his career totals in those 14 games. In the other 73 games he has 12 goals and 30 points. He has struggled a bit adapting to the NHL, which is understandable, and by no means would a short stint in the AHL suggest he can't be an effective NHL player.
I believe the benefits from a stint in the AHL would significantly outweigh seeing him play limited minutes in the NHL>
Every player will mature and produce at different rates, so no one should have expected that Yakupov, just because he was a #1 pick, would automatically produce or develop at the same rate as Hall or Nugent-Hopkins.
They had different linemates and they are different players. Hall is more dynamic and Nugent-Hopkins has a much more complete overall game. I think is it unfair to expect them to all produce the same, and it is unrealistic to expect them to be used the same.
The most important thing when it comes to Yakupov is ensuring he develops properly. Much of that is on him, as Struds pointed out in his article, but the Oilers are also responsible for watching how he develops. If he continues to struggle in the NHL, then they must strongly consider sending him to OKC.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: At some point they have to beat one of the top teams, don't they? They end 2013 with a 4-3win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Perron, three goals, is the only Oiler dressed tonight who has scored against the Coyotes this year, (Acton, Jones, Pitlick also scored). He continues to produce against the Dogs picking up a goal and an assist.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Bryzgalov plays his first game with his new mask and plays great stopping 34 of 35 shots. He makes a save with the right side of his mask and after the game credits his son's drawing for that stop.