There is no joy in Oilerville right now. The Oilers are playing out the string for the 4th straight year, they are 2-7 with a healthy lineup and it is so bad right now that even the patient Tom Renney vented his frustration last night.
The organization and some fans, bloggers and media felt that once the Oilers were healthy we’d get a more accurate assessment of this team, and if that is the case then this team still has lots to work on.
We can start with some of the obvious weaknesses that have plagued this team for the past five years.
- They don’t consistently work hard enough at key times, especially in the 3rd period. Jordan Eberle agreed. "We’re there (in games) but we aren’t giving the extra effort to win games. We are tied after two periods, but we end up losing. That’s happened a few times this year, and we need to find that extra effort."
- Inconsistency has been a major factor. Too many players have either had lengthy slumps, or drastic ranges in their play from game-to-game. Good teams don’t have massive dips or peaks from game-to-game, and until the players find that consistency this team will continue to flounder.
- They turn the puck over way too often. Mistakes are part of the game, and every team makes them, but we aren’t seeing an improvement in this area. Last night in the final two minutes, while trailing by a goal, Corey Potter had the puck twice, with time, and both times he just fired it up the boards, essentially giving away possession. At those key times of the game the players need to hold onto the puck and make direct passes. If he was being pressured, then getting the puck out is the right play, but this team needs to start making better decisions when they have time, and even when they are being pressured.
- Players need to go to the tough areas. Outside of Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle this team doesn’t have many guys who can score from 20 feet out consistently. If the players don’t want to go to the tough areas to score, especially 5 on 5, then they won’t win. The Oilers are 24th in 5-on-5 goals. The players need to recognize this and start paying the price. Ryan Jones and Ryan Smyth were doing this early in the year, but in 2012 I haven’t seen them often enough in the "tough" areas around the net.
- I’m surprised some were angry that Renney challenged his team to look in the mirror and give a better effort. He likely should have went off much earlier this year, but last night his team deserved to be questioned. Shawn Horcoff admitted that guys were bickering on the bench last night and he addressed that with the team. Bickering happens from time-to-time, and often it can be a healthy way to ensure the players are accountable to one another, but it’s clear they are a frustrated bunch right now.
- It is obvious that Ryan Whitney is struggling to be consistent right now, but I think it is way to premature to suggest he’s done as a top defencemen. I’m not making excuses for him, just presenting some facts. Ever since he was a kid he took powerskating in the summer, but due to his ankle, he didn’t take any powerskating the past two off-seasons. His legs aren’t as strong because of his lack of training. He only skated for a few weeks leading up to camp this year, and that does impact how a player plays on the ice.
- I want to see how Whitney looks next September after a summer of proper training. I think too often people make rash decisions on a player’s contributions, without recognizing how much injuries can impact their play. It is fair to question if Whitney or Ales Hemsky can return to their form of two years ago, but I will wait until they both have a summer of proper training before I write them off.
- Jeff Petry impresses me more every game. He’s really learned how to use his speed to benefit his game. His gap control has improved ten-fold the past few months, and that has allowed him to be more physical. He’ll never be Jason Smith, but he’s learning how to be more involved physically, and most importantly, he recognized that he needed to add that element to his game. Self-evaluation is hard for some players, and Petry seems to have realized that using his speed to jump into the play and to step up on forwards will make him more effective. I’m curious to see if he can develop into a bonafide top-pairing D-man.
- Kevin Lowe and Daryl Katz need to look closely at their GM, coaches and pro scouts once the season is over. Those three areas need to be put under the magnifying glass and see if they are the right people moving forward. I expect some significant changes this off-season, but I’m not sure if the changes will be at all three levels, but I’ll be stunned if we don’t see changes in at least two areas.