Sure, the Edmonton Oilers appear poised to come off the rails for a ninth straight season, but at times like this it might be helpful to lean on the words of owner Daryl Katz in his open letter to fans last January 20th and understand that his team is at least on the right track. Or not.
To Oilers Fans Everywhere:
“We all thought this was going to be the year the Oilers turned the corner. Obviously, that hasn’t happened, and it hurts. It’s frustrating – for all of us. For our fans, for our players and staff, and for everyone in our community who shares a common bond around a game, a team and a city that we love.”
The entirety of Katz’s plea for patience by fans, insistence that everybody in the organization is accountable and disappointment over “personal attacks” directed at POHO Kevin Lowe can be found here. Katz, or somebody else writing on his behalf, later continues: “That’s our vision. We are committed to it — and we’re confident that we are on the right track.”
While I agreed to a point, as many of you did, it appeared the Oilers were on the “right track” with some of the additions GM Craig MacTavish made this off-season, only the most optimistic fans expected the team finish in a playoff position. Too many holes at centre, lack of depth on the blue line and unproven goaltending. I had them 12th. You?
Today, at 4-7-1 after a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers to open a five-game road trip and with Taylor Hall on the shelf for at least another couple of weeks, the “right track” letter by Katz rings hollow. Fact is, the Oilers, who face the Boston Bruins Thursday, could be an afterthought yet again in the Western Conference by the time they get home.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Through 12 games, the Oilers are two points better than they were last year when they went 3-8-1 in their first dozen games on the way to a 4-15-2 start that had them playing a chase game in the standings the rest of the way. We could be in for a repeat, and that’s somewhat surprising to me. Here’s why:
- While I can’t think of anybody who considered Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth proven No. 1 NHL goaltenders, I thought the tandem was an upgrade on Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera, architects of the disastrous start of 2013-14. They haven’t been. Dubnyk had an .894 save percentage in 32 games here last season. LaBarbera was .870 in seven games. So far, Scrivens sits at .897 and Fasth at .861. Fasth, coming off a groin injury, struggled in Philadelphia.
- The Oilers again sit near the bottom (28th) of the NHL with 43 goals against and are 29th in goal-differential at minus-13. Much of that falls to Scrivens and Fasth, but they’ve been victimized by glaring errors in defensive coverage and giveaways. I expected a much less error-prone group with the additions of Nikita Nikitin and Mark Fayne.
- Benoit Pouliot, hailed by some advanced stats people as a very good signing based largely on his ability to drive possession, has been only OK. Not terrible, but not good enough with 1-3-4 so far. Teddy Purcell has 1-4-5. Again, only OK. With Hall out, coach Dallas Eakins needs more from them.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The above isn’t a complete checklist of what’s ailing the Oilers. We’ve discussed the decision not to bring in a proven veteran to bolster the middle between Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Boyd Gordon. The power play has been ineffective in recent games. Now, there’s no Hall to drive the attack.
With the bar having been set so low, I still believe, as I did in pre-season, this edition of the Oilers is better from top to bottom than the team we saw last year. That doesn’t mean, it’s becoming painfully obvious, this group is even close to good enough to push for the playoffs, “right track” or not.