CLOSER BUT NO CIGAR

HorseShoe

The old saying is that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and maybe that’s why fans who believe the 2015-16 edition of the Edmonton Oilers is better than the team they watched a year ago get a headache when they look where the Oilers sit in NHL standings.

One of the reasons some believe the Oilers look better – which is not to be confused with anything approaching good enough, given how low the bar has been set – is that they’ve hung around and been closer at the final buzzer after 18 games this season than they were at this point in 2014-15.

At 6-12-0 for 12 points, the Oilers have lost five games by one goal and five more games by two goals. They’ve lost by more than two goals just twice – a 7-4 loss to the Washington Capitals and a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. All of their losses have been in regulation time, so no loser points. They’ve been outscored 58-47, so they’re minus-11.

A year ago after 18 games, the Oilers had lost by one goal five times, by two goals once and by more than two goals six times, the most lopsided being a 6-1 waxing by Los Angeles. Two loser points as part of a 6-10-2 record left them with 14 points. They were outscored 60-44, so minus-16.

Close but no cigar doesn’t qualify as satisfactory progress, but it does play into the impression the Oilers have, at times, looked better despite lagging behind their points total of a year ago. A hat-tip to one of our readers in the Monday mailbag for asking about this.

HOW LONG?

Clock

Connor McDavid didn’t offer any time frame Monday for a return from the busted collarbone he suffered against Philadelphia Nov. 3, so I’m not going to start guessing, but it can’t be bad news that he’s working out already and that he’s apparently ditched the sling he was wearing.

“I think the main part is just getting back to 100 percent,” McDavid told reporters at Clareview Arena. “If there is any positive to it, it’s a bone and it can heal. It’s not like it’s a separated shoulder or torn labrum or anything like that. Bones heal and I just have to wait for it to get 100 percent.”

McDavid was scheduled to do some testing and be evaluated by team doctors yesterday. He’ll meet with medical staff again today and hopes to have a better idea where he’s at after that – not that he’ll be sharing that information publicly.

“It’s obviously disappointing,” said McDavid, who had the clavicle repaired with a plate and screws. “You don’t ever want to get hurt, but we have a great medical staff in Edmonton and we’re doing everything we can to get back as soon as possible,”

THE WAY I SEE IT

Binoculars

While some people are reading into McDavid’s decision not to comment on the play that injured him – he was asked if it was a “hockey play” and if Michael Del Zotto or Brandon Manning gave him an extra push into the boards – doing so is pure speculation.

“These things happen,” he said. “It’s a fast game. It’s hockey. People get hurt. Any time three guys go into the boards at that kind of speed, something is bound to happen. I guess I kind of got the brunt of it.”

Why would coach Todd McLellan and GM Peter Chiarelli dismiss the incident as a hockey play, as they did, if they didn’t feel that way? You don’t think they’d have been screaming like hell at NHL offices if they thought there was intent to injure? What’s in it for them to dress things up?

BY THE NUMBERS

Math

Through the first 18 games this season, the Oilers are marginally better in five of six statistical team categories of note compared to the numbers they established over 82 games last season. Simply put, negligible improvement.

2015-16  2014-15 
Goals for per game: 2.61 2.35
Goals against per game:  3.22 3.37
Power Play: 21.1 17.7
Penalty Kill: 78.9 76.7
Shots for per game: 28.2 28.4
Shots against per game: 29.7 30.0


Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE

    • One of the key factors in McDavids injury was the pathetic Hand of Hate/Fate on his right Hip, inexcusable I know.Over to you Bettman,every single degree of fiscal growth the NHL has had by your hand has cost dearly in peer-respect on the ice.Gary…your Refs have allowed the Oilers to be abused for 5 straight years when their Dynasty Tab had already been paid so you could artificially stifle the sucess of high offense exiting hockey on purpose you clown…..you let Sidney be ruined with your over-focus on NHL growth and you have intentionally been derelict in protecting the Oilers trove of NHL future assets ….shame on you Gary.Now you have almost let the 2nd Generational Player under your guard be destroyed…..shame shame shame.

      • Jay (not J)

        Yeah, and Gary Bettman bathes in the blood of newborns. The Oilers would never have survived the ’90s without Bettman’s work on their behalf. When Katz and Mandel were acting like idiots over the arena deal it was Bettman who put the brakes on the insanity and brought the two sides together. Bettman is the gold standard for hated commissioners, but in Canadian markets other than Montreal, Toronto and (debatably) Vancouver he gets no appreciation for the work he did to maintain franchises that would not have survived the 70 cent dollar.
        Do you think that he is glad that what should have been a huge marketing asset is injured?
        Do you think that he likes the fact that no Canadian team has won since Calgary in the 90s? (no, Montreal doesn’t count. Don’t even bother)If just one of these sad sac teams could reach up and grab that ring then a whole nation could quit whining to him about an imagined bias against Canadian teams.
        Your comments reflect a very popular sentiment. I just don’t think that sentiment holds water when you look at the last 25 years of NHL history.

        • Semi

          While I can agree with a lot of what you say I can’t on the Bettman saving Edmonton. It was the fact that Edm won multiple Stanley Cups that saved them. Not Bettman. That’s why Winnipeg and Quebec didn’t survive. No cups, no storied history to protect, see ya later. It’s not a coincidence that the only teams other than Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, to survive the 70 cent dollar were Edm and Cgy.

          • You couldn’t be more wrong.

            Bettman dug in his heels, as he tends to do, and lobbied heavily to keep the Oilers in Edmonton when other markets (Houston) with backers who had deep pockets were inquiring about buying the team.

            Gary met with a bunch of us in the editorial board room at The Journal one day during a visit to Edmonton and I was stunned at how passionate he was about keeping the NHL in this city. Didn’t expect it.

            Winnipeg and Quebec did not survive because both cities had issues with outdated buildings. That’s what sunk the Jets. Edmonton made it because of Bettman and the formation of the EIG.

          • bazmagoo

            Did not know this happened.

            I wouldn’t mind seeing a nod to the eig in the new barn. Those names do not get the gratitude nor recognition they deserve.

            Still hate Bettman (and always will) but to a lesser degree.

          • S cottV

            I still disagree. It might’ve been the NHL’s prerogative to save the Oilers, Bettman was just their front man. I’m sure he put on a real nice show for the “press” but I don’t buy it. He was just following orders. You really think he was passionate about saving Edmonton and it was out of the goodness of his heart? The tin man has no heart. Neither do most lawyers.

        • Jay (not J)

          Your illustrations of the NHL sucesses Bettman was on watch for are texbook accurate in terms of the impacts which were created but you touch lightly on causality and on methodology.

          Bettman has CHANGED THE GAME ITSELF to make it better fit his marketing schemes,albeit those schemes were what he was hired to provide, I accept he had to remove fighting or make concerted efforts to do so,that he had to somehow provide entertaining hockey for every City with a Franchise with a watered down league wide talent base,he had to even the playing field by changing the game and how rules were interpreted out of the rule-book so teams like Edmonton who played a wide-open offensive syle would not make the rest of the NHL look bad,he had to find a way to keep players salaries under control during difficult times of general economic fiscal restraint ,Gary is a lawyer so he fell back on the statistics classes he had to have taken in school lol and he simply charted the numbers sympatheic to his vision and put them where HE WANTED THEM and then forced round pegs into square holes with a scorched -earth policy reaching ino the one place he never should have gone….the heart of the game itself… until he had the fiscal picture he wanted to see lol. Gary did not understand the game enough to know he could have instituted impacts he wanted withou changing the core value drivers of the game itself,and I am afraid the record shows he did just that.

          I want my Face-offs back,I want one Ref back,I want goals back,I wantLEAGUE INSPIRED player respect and protection for superstars BACK ASAP,I want Sidney Crosby back,I want statistical valuations thrown in the trash and I want the player valuation/salary/Union/Ownership process disrupted so it may heal itself and grow stong again.I want things like Marshmallow Goalie pads which simply insult the game itself gone….I want high-tech sticks which let Jenny Hockey shoot like Ovie GONE BECAUSE OF MY RESPECT AND ADMIRATION OF OVIES SKILLS AND HARD WORK.I want bullet-proof elbow-pads which cause concussions via incidental contacts GONE so 2nd rate players stop throwing their bodies at each other recklessly,I want them to have to protect their livelyhood which resides in those elbows and their opponents bodies.We need to FORCE RESPECT back into the game by reversing the dynamics which catalysed the loss.

          Most of all I want the information and data control process the NHL and owners and Managers and MSM and now CSM or Cyber-Stream-Media{My term} use in a stakeholder manner disclosed disenfranchised and disbanded.

          Watching McDavid be hurt on a penalty play which was not called as such in todays game was to much for me to accept sitting down,then listening to Wayne Gretzky and Oilers Management and Broadcasters everywhere kow-tow to a delusional UNTRUTHFULL party-line which runs absolutely contrary to existing video evidence is simply not acceptable on any level.Don Cherry does NOT STAND ALONE…I stand to his right side.McDavid DOES NOT HAVE TO COMMENT TO DEFEND HIMSELF because a few like Don and I and others will BE HIS VANGUARD…this unfortunate injury has clearly given Mr.McDavid an opportunity to see WHO HE CAN COUNT ON TO GIVE HIM A CLEAR UNBIASED ACCURATE HONEST PERSPECTIVE….and who will feed him bull-spit to support an artificially catalysed and externally managed status quo.Remember his young man,never forget and never forgive,this is your peek at your future son,look long and hard while this window of opportunity is open.Oh yes Grasshopper I know you are learning fast now…

          Bettman is responsible for making decisions which foster forward progressive growth of the game,during his tenure he ripped down many obstacles to growth and prosperity which we wanted him to do but his time has passed and now we must reverse course and retroactively undo some of the damages to the game itself Bettman knowingly inflicted,IMHO even Gary knew back then we would have to revisit and repair his changes,he needed to give the NHL a tracheotomy and now we need to close the hole up he had to create.

          IMHO Gary would make no excuses for himself,and very few people have the natural acumen to undress Bettmans tactical steel-trap mind or methods,he is a numbers man and it is still a numbers world.You will never present a challenge to Bettman unless you use zero numbers in your processes,and drag him into deeper dynamic waters he cannot swim out of.

          We could go over every landmark decision Bettman ever made and illustrate 3 options he had to achieve the over the horizon targeted dynamic impacts which fit his gameplan.Gary had many many options he could have actioned to achieve the exact goals he has accompplished to date WITHOUT BASTARDISING THE GAME ITSELF but he chose to follow what to him and his crew was the path of least resistance a numbers based stats focus which was the easiest for him to manage within his fiscally driven agendas framework.Gary had to change the game itself to make his numbers dance for him.

          I want it all back.I want exciting offensive hockey back and I want it honestly concieved of by the FEW NHL TEAMS truly set up that way led by the OILERS …I dont want a Bettman style artificially contived Official actioned “false offense” similar to the failed efforts we have recently witnessed that have caused us to back-pedal to repair old wounds.

          Yes Bettman will be remembered forever as one of the NHLs most impactfull advocates…which he most certainly has been…however IMHO he has run an evolutionary course similar to Kevin Lowes in many ways….both were 100% vested in preserving the NHLs health and well being during a downtime,they are both men of action who know how to win and are willing to risk and expose themselves to do it.They have established legacies and must let go gracefully or be pushed out by something NewAge and stronger than they are….its natures way.

        • Jay (not J)

          Hate to ruin your statement but Bettman or no Bettman, Katz or no Katz, this team was and is not going anywhere. If you were a businessman, would you pull your team out of arguably one of the top 5 NHL markets in the league to risk it in an unknown city?
          I didn’t think so. It wasn’t Bettman who rescued Canadian franchises, it’s what commissioners do to protect the integrity and culture of the league. Give your American loving head a shake and wake up. In this city, hockey is a way of life, and this team isn’t going anywhere! Just ask Katz now after the debacle he created with the buzz about moving to Seattle!
          While I’m at it, what makes you privy to the ongoings of Bettman and the team? Take a napkin and wipe the brown off your face.

  • camdog

    Last season the Oilers finished the season -85 in goal differential. This year the Oilers are on pace for about -45. Goal differential of about 40 goals shaved off of last year, having finished off the toughest part of the schedule and dealing with significant injuries to start the season. It’s all about expectations. I expected the Oilers to be about a 23-25th place hockey team and that’s where we are headed.

  • For Pete's Sake!

    The Oilers main problem is still in goal. We’re still getting sub-par goaltending with below .900 save percentages.

    When is this team finally going to get a goalie who gives them a fighting chance to win???

    The confidence a great goalie would bring to that young dressing room would be phenomenal.

    When is it going to happen Chia? It’s your job to answer that question for this long suffering team and fanbase.

      • For Pete's Sake!

        Obviously they’re young and a major work in progress. But how are they ever going to gain confidence and get better when their goalie lets in two or three “savable” goals every game.

        Young defenses especially feed off of the confidence that good goaltending brings.

        And we all know that no other team in the NHL is ever going to give us a top pairing Dman without robbing us blind. The way we are now, we’re always dealing from a position of weakness.

      • OilClog

        Jersey’s blueline: Gelinas, Greene, Larrson, Merril, Moore, Schlemko, Severson

        Dallas : Benn, Demers Golisoski, Jokipakka, Klingberg, Oduya, Olesiak.

        These two teams are not loaded with all star STUD defense men and are in the hunt.

        Their goalies have .928 and .921 save %.

        I am not suggesting Oilers don’t have blueline issues, but goal tending is sub-par and the teams defensive play over is not that good, not to mention the slugos on the 3rd, and 4th lines, that don’t score and don’t defend.

        • OilClog

          Dallas corrected after Niemi couldn’t do it.

          But this is a good point. Overall, the Oilers are a sub-par team top-to-bottom. Their 3/4 lines are invisible offensively and their top lines can’t play too risky a style because their goaltending is sieve-like.

      • For Pete's Sake!

        With Nurse, Klefbom and Reinhart gaining experience and getting better, I see definite hope for our defense getting better in the future.

        None of those guys were there at the beginning of last year.

        Sekera, Fayne, Davidson and Gryba can play decent supporting roles to those young guys until Chia can go out and sign some good defensive help in the offseason.

        But we need the goaltending to help those guys out and we’re not getting it.

        We need a goalie who can give us at least league average .915 goaltending to give the team a chance to win all these close games.

        Is that too much to ask of your goalies?

        • bazmagoo

          There is a direct correlation between quality of scoring chances and save percentage. I’m not trying to say you are wrong, I’m just stating my opinion that the defence is more at fault for our shoddy goals against.

          If the Oilers go into next season with Nurse, Klefbom, Reinhart, Sekera, Fayne, Davidson, and Gryba as our 7 dmen we will miss the playoffs again. In my mind our defence group needs to be improved a lot.

  • Leaking5w-30

    Good article. Another angle to look at are games lost to injury compared to this point last year. And more specifically games missed by top players. we have been out at least 1 of our top 4 forwards in every game so far.

    I know that good teams win in spite of injuries (this is not a good team). But you have to wonder if we might have a couple more wins if not for the Eberle, Connor, Shultz, and nuge injuries/ sickness.

  • OilClog

    No defender can stop his goalie from letting in shots from behind the damn net multiple games in a row!!

    Mark Fayne is a veteran defender that tried to bear hug the King that scored the wide open goal to win the game.. That Talbot was sitting inside his net for.

    This team was tied with LA with 2mins to go, no Nuge or Jesus.

    This is a different team.

    Sekera the other veteran defender got schooled the first goal.

    Talbot has done nothing but poop all over himself, let’s not blame the defender for his best Scrivens impersonation.

    When are the overpaid veterans going to show up so the youngings can stop trying to do it all themselves?

    These losses that are piling up are not the fault of play by the likes of Klef, Nurse, Davidson, Rhino.

    Talbot has no one to blame but himself for how utterly terrible he’s failed at the most crucial points. How do you let in goals from behind the net in the last damn minute?!

    This season looks nothing like the last few, there is plenty of progress in what is being seen on the ice, when the injuries relent and a lil seasoning into what the coaches are implementing takes place.. the standings will change.

  • Semi

    Because I love making myself sad (and I’m off sick anyway), I thought I’d look back on all the goals against.

    It was rather interesting, and heavily depressing, but paints a pretty clear picture.

    D needs to improve.

    Oilers have been scored on 58 times.

    I have the D being directly at fault for 27 of them (Sekera leading the way with 7!).

    12 on the forwards, 15 on the goalies, and a couple that I didn’t count (empty net and a few PP and 5v5 goals where no one really screwed up. Also these don’t include all mistakes on each goal, just the main one(s)).

  • bazmagoo

    On a positive note I’m super pumped that Leon and Taylor are developing chemistry. Can’t wait until Connor comes back and we can roll 3 lines out at the opposition every game. That’s going to be fun!