Flying high and feeling pretty good about themselves when they left town six games and a dozen days ago, the Edmonton Oilers have lost a little altitude and swagger since we last saw them.
If nothing else, a six-game swing provided the Oilers with a little more context than they had. They weren’t as good the 7-2-2 record they had when they started the road trip and they certainly aren’t as bad as they looked in a 6-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center that saw them wrap up their annual November jaunt with a 2-4-0 mark.
Losers of three straight games and four of their last five, the Oilers return home at 9-6-2 — nothing to sneeze at compared to a 4-10-3 start after 17 games in 2010-11 — and with, I’m guessing, a clearer understanding that there’s a long way to go to get where they want to be after they wilted in the Windy City.
If losses in Phoenix, Boston, Detroit and Chicago have served to make it abundantly clear the Oilers aren’t ready to romp to the top of the Western Conference, as it seemed many fans thought they were, they’ll come out of the trip a better team, as a group, if not in the standings.
You did see this coming, right?
ALONG THE WAY
The kids struggled as we thought they might, and is to be expected along the way. Nikolai Khabibulin, who left town with a gaudy saves percentage in the .960s, was merely mortal. The power play cooled off. The team continued to struggle to mount a consistent attack. The defence looked like we thought it would to start the season.
— Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went 2-1-3 on the trip. Jordan Eberle had a goal and an assist in Chicago, leaving him at 1-2-3, and Taylor Hall, struggling mightily, finished with 0-2-2 in six games.
— Coach Tom Renney broke up the Kid Line to start the game in Chicago, playing Hall and Nugent-Hopkins with Ales Hemsky and putting Eberle on the right side with Ryan Smyth and Shawn Horcoff.
— Hall has gone eight games without a goal and Sam Gagner, who played between Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones, didn’t get sniff on the road and has gone 11 games without lighting the lamp.
— Edmonton’s power play cooled off in a big way. The Oilers finished up the trip going 2-for-19 with the man advantage.
— The Oilers allowed 20 goals on the trip, two more than they gave up in their first 11 games. They were outscored 20-14.
— The Oilers were outshot in 13 of 18 periods. In 12 of those periods, they didn’t manage to hit double-digits in shots.
There was good news, of course. While Khabibulin levelled off a little, Smyth continued to astound with his early season play. Smyth led the Oilers with 5-2-7 on the trip.
The other potential positive is that Renney’s shuffling of the lines might balance the attack. Gagner is back in the middle where he belongs and Jones is on the third line. Paajarvi still can’t get anything done with the puck, but I like his chances better with Gagner and Jones.
The bigger picture is the big slab of humble pie the Oilers have to digest between now and when they host Ottawa Thursday will serve them well, if it prompts them to re-focus and get back to work. Renney didn’t like the effort he got Sunday, especially late when the Blackhawks took it to his team good and plenty.
The Oilers still have a tough slate the rest of the month with four of their next six games on the road, but with games against the Senators and Chicago at Rexall Place, they’ll get a chance to re-assess and right themselves. They’d best take advantage of it.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.