Edmonton’s defence is bad, and there are plenty of candidates to take the blame. Mark Fayne is a popular one these days, elbowing aside old favourites Andrew Ference and Nikita Nikitin. Griffin Reinhart has had a target on his back since the pricey trade that brought him in at the draft. Free agent addition Andrej Sekera gets his share of flak; so too does limited-but-useful veteran Eric Gryba. Brandon Davidson gets dismissed as an AHL’er, and there are plenty of drivers willing to hop in and back the bus over Justin Schultz as soon as he gets healthy.
Frequently getting a free pass is Oscar Klefbom, whose regression this year has been a big part of Edmonton’s problems.
Klefbom has had some just wretched games, games where he’s been culpable in two, three, even four goals against in just one evening. It would be nice to say that Sunday’s contest against Chicago was the first time that happened, but it wasn’t. Incredibly Klefbom shares responsibility on all four goals the Blackhawks scored in that one.
That’s Klefbom at the defensive blue line, failing to control the puck, failing to even get it out of danger; just getting overwhelmed and turning it over. I’ve seen some (fairly) blame Cam Talbot and I’ve seen others (unfairly, good lord, unfairly) blame Mark Fayne but there’s no shot if Klefbom makes a play when the puck lands on his stick.
Fayne surrenders the zone entry, and it’s a good bet the coach didn’t like that. Hall didn’t need to glide on the backcheck, and it’s a good bet the coach didn’t like that either. But Klefbom isn’t covering anyone; he’s stuck in no-man’s land, too far away from his shooter (or anyone else) to impact the play.
Davidson bobbles the puck here. You do that against Patrick Kane and bad things happen. Klefbom’s kicking around at the zone entry, though; he can’t block that passing lane to Kane and if Kane doesn’t miss the initial pass Davidson never has a chance to bobble the puck because Kane’s already gone with it.
I feel bad for Darnell Nurse here. Yes, he’s ludicrously out of position, but it’s easy enough to read his mind: Down by one, 10 seconds left, if he overwhelms the point man… breakaway… if he doesn’t, they’ve lost anyway. You don’t see Klefbom here because he’s in the penalty box. I didn’t particularly like the call against (his glove briefly touched Marian Hossa’s stick; it was a ticky-tack call) but I can’t legitimately say that there was nothing there to call.
So, four goals against. All four tied in large part to Klefbom’s work. It was reminiscent of that night in Washington, where Klefbom went minus-four (partner Justin Schultz was minus-three) and earned it in much the same manner as he did against Chicago.
I can’t recall Fayne or Gryba or anyone else on the defence having a single night which was that bad this year, let alone two of them.
What about the stats? Klefbom’s been an analytics darling in the past, but not so much this year:
- High danger scoring chances percentage: 46.8% (4th, behind Fayne, Davidson and Sekera)
- High danger chances against/60: 9.93 (3rd, behind Fayne and Reinhart)
- Scoring chance percentage: 50.2% (5th, behind Nurse, Davison, Sekera and Fayne)
- Scoring chances against/60: 22.5 (2nd, behind Nurse)
- Fenwick percentage: 46.9% (5th, behind Davidson, Fayne, Nurse and Sekera)
- Fenwick events against/60: 37.0 (2nd, behind Davidson)
That’s a wall of numbers, but the trend is pretty clear. When Klefbom is on the ice, the Oilers get worse at creating more shots, chances and high-danger chances than the opposition. That matters for Klefbom, because he’s supposed to be a true two-way defencemen; not just fast and strong in the defensive zone but capable of carrying and moving the puck, kick-starting the offence. The chance against numbers aren’t as bad as they could be, but his high-danger chance numbers are worse than his regular shot attempts against numbers, which is telling.
In a vacuum these aren’t terrible numbers; Klefbom’s essentially middle of the pack of the nine defencemen Edmonton has. But he’s expected to be more than middle of the pack on one of the worst blue lines in the NHL.
I think I know the reason that Klefbom generally gets skimmed over when it comes time to apportion blame to the Oilers’ blue line. It’s a good one.
Klefbom is 22 years old. He’s played 92 career NHL games. He has real promise and there’s no sense beating up on him before he has the age and experience to really deliver on his formidable potential. That’s all true, and I agree with it, for what that’s worth.
But it’s important to recognize that a big part of Edmonton’s problem comes now and has come in the past from players like Klefbom, promising young skaters not yet ready to take on the significant roles they’ve been asked to fill. Those problems are likely to persist for years – for defencemen, I often hear “200 games played” as a benchmark, and sometimes the number is 300.
Edmonton has Klefbom (22 years old 92 career games), Reinhart (21 years old, 15 career games) and Nurse (20 years old, eight career games) on its blue line now. If we say it’s going to take 200 games to get those guys up to speed (and it might) we’re talking about January 2018 before the training wheels can come off the blue line.
I don’t know if it’s going to take that long. But it’s something to keep in mind when trying to figure out when the Oilers are going to make it back to the playoffs.