The standings don’t show it. The results don’t show it. But Todd McLellan believes the Oilers are improving. McLellan is talking about his team this year, not the one that missed the playoffs for the past nine seasons. He’s lucky — he hasn’t had to endure the constant losing, and he isn’t concerned with the squads who finished at, or near, the bottom of the standings the past six seasons. He is only focused on the group he coaches.
While I agree with him the team is showing significant signs of improvement in many aspects of their game, eventually the team needs to win hockey games.
“We’ve used the term ‘moral victory’ more than once this year,” said McLellan after Monday’s 1-0 loss to Washington. “The points
are very, very important in the standings, but the growth and the
development of the team is just as important. We lost the points but
grew as a team.”
McLellan is in a tough spot. It isn’t his problem the team has been terrible for nine years, but he is in charge of finding the potion to end the losing.
The Oilers are better defensively.
They can retrieve the puck.
They battle consistently.
And most importantly they are slowly eliminating the catastrophic error that ends up in the back of the net and deflates the team. But the wins aren’t occurring often enough.
Tonight is another game they should win. Carolina is not a good hockey club. Despite what their CF% and SF-SA ratio suggests, the Hurricanes are not a dominant team. They can’t score — they are averaging two goals/game, 28th in the NHL — and although they surrender the fewest shots per game, 25.4, they are 23rd in GA/game at 2.86.
Some can argue they are better than their record, but for me, you are what your record says, and just like the Oilers they are not a good hockey team right now.
If the Oilers grew as a team in Washington as McLellan believes, then they need to prove their coach is correct and defeat the 26th place Hurricanes.
- The Oilers had an optional skate, so there might be a late change, but it looks like the only lineup change will see Anton Lander in for Luke Gazdic. Lander will centre Korpikoski and Pakarinen.
- The league reviewed Korpikoski’s elbow to Jay Beagle’s head, but deemed it accidental. They believe it should have been a penalty. My issue with the NHL is their inconsistency. Korpikoski is not a dirty player, but your elbow doesn’t accidentally flare out. If Beagle is injured, I guarantee there is a suspension, and if the league wants to eliminate head shots, they need to enforce them. Their inconsistency in most disciplinary matters is frustrating. I’m still baffled how the referees missed that call. That was clear contact to the head.
- I landed in Winnipeg this morning for the 103rd Grey Cup. If you’ve never attended Grey Cup week, I highly recommend
you do at least once. You should arrive on Thursday because that’s when
the parties begin. The game is the final event, but the three days leading up
are excellent fun.
Even with Grey Cup fever gripping the city it didn’t take
long for someone to discuss the woes of the Jets. Whether it was the cab driver, the hotel
concierge, a guy at breakfast or in the hotel lobby, they were quick to discuss the
plight of the Jets.
Jets fans, like Oilers fans, are passionate. It is great
talking sports with passionate people.
Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien are unrestricted at the end
of the season, and Jets fans are worried they will lose one and possibly both
for nothing. They are fearful their
GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is too tentative and will end making the wrong decision.
Every fan I spoke with is tired of losing. Even though the
Jets made the playoffs last year, they didn’t win a game, and the fans are restless
and tired of being average. I did tell them that at least they’ve seen the playoffs in a decade. Oilers fans would die for the
opportunity to watch the Blue and Orange in the playoffs, regardless of the outcome.
They desperately want to acquire Travis Hamonic, he’s from
Manitoba and they love him, however, they are similar to Oilers fans in
they don’t want to part with any of their core players to acquire him.
They are split on Pavelec. Some believe his injury will crush
their playoff hopes, while others believe his absence will help them. Like you,
they have goaltending concerns.
The Jets are in the toughest division in hockey, and
currently sit in sixth place and two points out of the last wildcard spot. They seem more frustrated than Oilers fans. I’m not sure the Oilers realize how loyal their fans truly are. Ten years of losing and fans haven’t wavered. It would be wonderful if the Oilers actually rewarded fans for their loyalty, other than by just saying they appreciate it.
- Justin Schultz was involved in contact drills yesterday and said he felt great afterwards. He could be ready to play by the weekend, and if he is all arrows point to Griffin Reinhart going to Bakersfield. He doesn’t have to clear waivers, and he’s been a healthy scratch a few times recently. He could play tonight, and if he does Gryba would be the one who comes out.
- The Hurricanes are a statistical anomaly. I mentioned their possession numbers are good, despite their woeful record. They are 3-5-3 on home ice and 4-5-1 on the road, but their special teams don’t match that. Their PP is 22% at home, but only 5.3% on the road. Their PK is 81.8% at home, but only 70% on the road.
- The Oilers PP has hit a bit of lull. They are 1 for 19 (5.2%) in their last five games after going 11 of 36 (30.5%) in their previous 12 games. The Oilers have yet to win a game when they didn’t score a PP goal. They are 7-5 in games when they score a PP goal, but they are 0-8-1 when they don’t score on the man advantage.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Recent games between the Canes and Oilers have been high-scoring affairs. Lindholm (6 points in 4 games), Eric Staal (15 points in 10 games) and Jeff Skinner (9 points in 6 games) are all point-per-game producers against the Oilers, and Nugent-Hopkins (8 points in 5 games), Taylor Hall (4 points in 4 games) andJordan Eberle (9 points in 6 games) are all at a point-per-game pace or better against the Canes. Hall (9g, 15a) leads the Oilers this season with 24 points.
The Oilers come into tonight’s game having outplayed the Capitals in Washington on Monday night, only to have the game stolen by Braden Holtby in a 1-0 shutout. Expect that to weigh on them a bit heading into tonight’s game. The team practiced at PNC Arena yesterday without Matt Hendricks or Oscar Klefbom, but there were no indications that it was anything other than a maintenance day and both are expected to be available.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have to win, don’t they? It is great to see growth in their game, but they need growth in the standings. The players reward their coach for his patience and loyalty and win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: They score on the PP and they win.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After a one-game stint in the pressbox Lander scores his first goal of the season. After the goal he sits on the bench beside Yakupov. Yak leans over with a serious look on his face and says, “What did you see different from up there? Is the game really slower?” Lander looks at him and says, “Hell no, but I saw my career slipping away to the AHL. I’ve been there, I don’t want to go back.” Yakupov leans back slowly and says, “Good point.”
Recently by Jason Gregor: