Pride. Heart. Determination. Guts. Dignity. Self-respect.
That is what the Oilers need to demonstrate tonight. They haven’t shown any of that the past three games, and regardless of how many wins they produce in their final six games, they need to show their teammates, coaches and management that they care.
The players and the their fans didn’t expect to be in this position again; playing meaningless games down the stretch with no energy or emotion.
Two weeks ago the Oilers found themselves in 8th place, albeit for only one day, but they were in the mix. Since then they’ve lost six straight, been outscored 22-7 and outshot 205-153.
On April 9th, after three tough losses to Vancouver, LA and Anaheim, I suggested that overall the Oilers hadn’t shown much improvement from last season. Some of you agreed, and many didn’t. At that time, like we all have earlier this season, I pointed out that the Oilers’ ability to consistently get outshot was a major concern. On Monday new GM Craig MacTavish said the same thing. This is a major issue, and it has been one for the past three seasons.
The Oilers have been outshot in 32 of 42 games this season. They are 9-18-5 in games they’ve been outshot, while they are 7-1-2 in games where they’ve outshot their opponents. Of course they wouldn’t pick up 16 of 20 points during every ten-game stretch just by outshooting the opposition, but it illustrates that they’d have more success and they are actually capable of firing more shots on goal.
The Oilers have missed the net on some glorious opportunities this year, but none of them are near the top in missed shots. Taylor Hall leads the Oilers with 40 missed shots, but that is only 68th in the NHL. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (38) are tied for 80th.
There are exceptions of course, but usually teams that consistently outshot the opposition win.
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Five of the current 16 playoff teams have been outshot, Toronto, Washington and Columbus by a significant margin. New Jersey is an anomaly. They have the 3rd best SF/SA ratio in the league, yet they sit in 11th spot in the east because they simply can’t score. The Devils are 30th in goals with only 97 in 43 games.
Many will tell you the Maple Leafs won’t win a playoff series, unless the magically alter their game. They are probably correct.
The Oilers are 30th in SF/SA with a gaudy -248. It isn’t just their SF, 27.0/game (26th in NHL), that is a concern, because they are 29th (32.9) in SA. They struggle equally in both ends of the rink.
Their struggles are a combination of many things. Nick Schultz said this about their defensive zone coverage earlier this week, "We still have too many guys not playing the system. Some guys are in the wrong spot, or they go to the wrong spot." Schultz is well-versed in knowing how to play a system, having played his first seven seasons in the NHL under Jacques Lemaire.
Lemaire was a stickler for detail, and according to Schultz he was an incredible teacher. He made sure guys played his system.
Are the Oilers too inexperienced, too stubborn or is their system too difficult? It is probably a combination of all three. Ralph Krueger’s system demands places a lot of responsibility on the centres and defence, which is odd considering neither position is an area of strength.
However, it would be too easy to just blame the system. Too often I’ve seen players make bad passes or decisions in their own zone. They also have many young forwards who’d rather play offence than defence.
Yesterday on my show I asked Lindy Ruff his thoughts on who you fit your system to your players or vice versa.
"The players aren’t all so good that they can play any system. You either adjust your system, or find players to play your way," Ruff said.
The Oilers can’t change their system or their players at this juncture of the season, but they can at least show up and compete tonight.
At this point I’m not sure it matters who plays where or with who. Just play with desire, smarts and passion.
Teemu Hartikainen looked to be the odd man out during the morning skate. The coaches won’t just give him a spot in the lineup, he has to earn it. I don’t have a problem with that. It is clear this team lacks any sort of physical presence in their top-nine, and Hartikainen needs to recognize this. He also needs to control puck better in the neutral zone. He has some good elements to his game, but he doesn’t show them consistently.
- Do you have the stage presence, personality and decent singing attributes to be named Edmonton’s best Karaokeier? I’ve had many people claim they are great, but only about 10% of them have actually submitted an audition tape. You have two weeks to get your tape in, or if you just want to come out for a wicked-awesome fun night read here. Details on how to enter are here.
- Reports out of Boston suggest Milan Lucic might be a healthy scratch tonight, if they play the game. Combine that with Craig MacTavish’s comments that the Oilers need to be bold this summer and instantly you have trade speculation. Lucic is exactly the type of player the Oilers need in their top-six, but is he worth a $6 million cap hit?
Lucic’s new three-year, $18 million deal starts next season. The Bruins have almost $59 million committed to 18 players next year, and that doesn’t include Tuukka Rask, Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton. They will need to shed some salary, but will they move Lucic? Peter Chiarelli would likely get a huge return for the former 2006 2nd round pick.
Lucic is having an average season with only 6 goals and 24 points, prorated to 48 points over 82 games. He’s been a 27-goal, 62 point player the past two seasons, but Lucic brings more than just points. He’s big, strong, mean and he’s good enough to play in your top-six and protect his skilled linemates. He’s okay defensively, and he’s young; he’ll turn 25 in June.
What would it take to get him? Would the Oilers 1st rounder, possibly 4th or 5th pick, Magnus Paajarvi and David Musil do it? Would the Bruins want Nail Yakupov straight up. Would the Oilers even consider that? I don’t see them agreeing to Jordan Eberle because he has the same cap hit as Lucic. I’m not sure what it would take, but if, that is a big IF, Lucic is available you can bet Craig MacTavish will be talking to Chiarelli.
- The injury bug is hitting the Blue Jackets at the worst time of the year. Matt Calvert has been great for them the last month, but he broke his finger in the first period last night. Artem Anisimov, Adrian Aucoin and Nikita Nikitin are also injured. The Blue Jackets are in 8th, but Dallas and Detroit are two points back with two games in hand and both teams have more regulation wins than the CBJ. I’m cheering for the underdog. I’d like to see the Jackets make the playoffs.
- Lennart Petrell is likely done for the season. He had a walking boot on after Tuesday’s loss and Krueger said he’ll be out at least a week. I don’t see any way he plays the final two games of the season. He might have played his last game as an Oiler.
- What a great WHL game last night between the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen. Calgary won 3-2 in OT despite being outshot 35-19. Chris Driedger was very good between the pipes for the Hitmen. Game two goes tonight at Rexall Place. If you can’t go you can listen on TEAM 1260 or watch it on Shaw.
- Good luck to the Spruce Grove Saints in the AJHL final. They need a win tonight in Brooks to force game 6 in Spruce Grove on Sunday night.
- The Oilers currently hold the #7 pick in the draft, but Calgary, Tampa and Nashville are only one point behind them in the standings. Considering what Oilers fans have had to endure the past three seasons, I’m guessing most of you would like to see them play hard, but lose 4 or 5 of their final 6 games, to secure a higher pick. Many believed last season was the final time you’d have to cheer/feel that way, but it looks like have one more ELPH rallying cry.
- Tomorrow night the Edmonton Rush play their biggest home game in franchise history. They currently sit in first place in the NLL west division. A win over Calgary guarantees them first place in the entire league and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A loss, however, could drop them to 3rd in the west, if Washington wins. It will be a great game. If you can’t go, you can watch it on Sportsnet. I’ll be part of the broadcast crew, but don’t worry we don’t get much face time.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers and Avs combine for 10 goals in an exciting end-to-end game. The Oilers prevail 6-4, and guarantee they won’t finish last in the Northwest.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Taylor Hall ends his 6-game goal scoring drought by scoring twice. Hall was extremely frustrated after Tuesday’s loss and he’ll show why he’ll be the next captain in Edmonton with an explosive three-point game.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers outshoot the Avalanche.