THE WAY I SEE IT: MEANINGFUL GAMES

Seriously

You can call it grasping for the silver lining if you like, but the Edmonton Oilers will be playing meaningful games as we ring in the New Year Jan. 1 for the first time in a long time. The way I see things shaping up, that could be the case well into 2016.

With their seventh straight win at Rexall Place Monday via a 3-1 decision over the Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers hit their Christmas break with a record of 15-18-2 for 32 points after 35 games. They’re 11 points better than the 21 points they had through 35 games last season, when they were 7-21-7.

More important, the Oilers sit just one point out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, thanks to a mediocre group of Pacific Division teams that, outside of the Los Angeles Kings, have not made any kind of move to separate themselves from the pack.

The Oilers have given themselves a chance, and they’ve done it without Connor McDavid, out for the last 22 games with a broken collarbone, Nail Yakupov, out with a high ankle sprain, and with Oscar Klefbom on the shelf with a broken finger. They’re in contention despite inconsistent goaltending, a power play that’s been all over the map and a defensive group that’s not good enough.

Yet, here we are.

NOT FADE AWAY?

Who

The last time the Oilers even had so much as a sniff after 35 games was during the 48-game 2012-13 season as they went 15-13-7 for 37 points as part of a five-game winning streak. Hope hit the ditch in hurry after that as they won just once in their next 10 games.

McDavid is back skating on his own. In the last couple days he’s been shooting the puck. He’ll be back by mid-January. Yakupov and Klefbom are also on the way after a 35-game stretch that has seen the Oilers stay in the race despite being near the top of the NHL in man-games lost to injury.

The return of McDavid, who had 12 points in 13 games, and Yakupov will give coach Todd McLellan more options when it comes to how his top-nine forwards look. McDavid, Yakupov and Klefbom should inject some life back into a power play that’s slid during the time they’ve been out of the line-up.

Will Cam Talbot and Anders Nilsson provide better goaltending than what the Oilers have had until now? My best guess is they will, especially Talbot, who has an underwhelming .904 save percentage but is coming on after a difficult stretch. He made 44 saves against the Jets. The Oilers won’t need great goaltending to stay in the race. Anything in the .915 range as a team will do.

THE REST OF THE WAY

WhatIsThis

At the very least, the Oilers have stayed in the playoff conversation to this point despite some challenges and growing pains. How long they stay there is the question. If they can grab points at a .500 clip in their remaining 47 games – I say they will – it’ll be a while.

If the Oilers grab, say, 47 points the rest of the way, they’ll still come up short of qualifying for the post-season, even allowing for a mediocre division, but any buzz that lasts until the New Year is a welcome change-up around here. My take is they’ll keep fans talking into the stretch drive in March. Might they manage more than that? Dare to dream.

WHILE I’M AT IT

Megaphone

  • After six straight appearances where Talbot had a save percentage in the .800s, he’s put together two stellar performances in his last three starts. He was .978 against the Jets and .959 in beating the Boston Bruins 3-2 Dec. 14. Those games were sandwiched around a 4-0 loss to Chicago in which he faced 37 (.892) shots Dec. 17.
  • While it’s easy to poke holes in parts of his game, Teddy Purcell has been very good on a line with Taylor Hall and Leon Draisaitl over the past eight games. Purcell has scored 4-6-10 in that stretch, including two goals and an assist against the Jets. I don’t see him being in the plans here, but at the very least, he’s improving his trade value.
  • Hall is doing an epic SIUTBOHC job on his critics. With three assists against the Jets, Hall is sitting fourth in league scoring with 15-24-39. The stunner for me, though, has been Draisaitl. I said earlier this season that I didn’t see him as a point-per-game player this year, but he’s at 9-21-30 in just 25 games.
  • I’d like to wish everybody who is associated with Oilersnation and all our readers a very Merry Christmas.

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

  • Merry Christmas Robin! I definitely enjoy reading your articles, and I thought your turn on the OilersNation podcast was phenomenal. I’d definitely listen to you more given the opportunity.

    All the best, and I’m looking forward to some good hockey over the next few weeks!

  • Jiff

    Everytime the puck is in our own end we look like we’re on the PK.

    Yak or Ebs playing with CMD don’t matter. Nuge moving to 3rd line don’t matter.

    Until we get some defence that can break up the cycle in our own end we aren’t going to win without goalies stealing games for us.

      • camdog

        Yes! Many readers blame the defense but it takes all 5 to break the cycle on a consistent basis. I wouldn’t blame the forwards or the defense. I would put blame on the forwards and the defense.

        I don’t know if it’s their game plan, lack of speed or lack of compete that allows the opposition to cycle-cycle-cycle, get a good scoring change. There just isn’t enough pressure on the opposition as they seem to have more time to make plays.

          • It’s not just when they’re on the ice. It’s the whole line up, including but less so, Drai/Hall.

            They get beat to the puck. Or they end up on the wrong side (or the opposition just beats them to the right side) that they’re not in a position to gain possession of the puck.

            Might be soft. Might be speed. Might be that coaching has them focused on keeping the puck carrier to the outside. Then they let them have the outside and the puck ends up moving inside for a good shot. This doesn’t happen when the Oilers have possession. Oilers are constantly pressured.

  • Delete

    I’ve run some numbers . . .*

    Division winning percentage against the other three Divisions:

    Atlantic Division: .492

    Metropolitan Division: .496

    Central Division: .575

    Pacific Division: .440

    Conclusion:
    The Central Division is beating up on ONLY the Pacific Division with a .672 winning percentage. That works out to a 14-game advantage against the Pacific. If 7 of 52 games between the Central and Pacific Divisions went the other way, it would be .500. Not insignificant, but not atrocious, either.

    Other than that aberration, each individual division is quite close to a .500 record against each of the other three.

    The biggest factor:
    Anaheim has won 2 of 10 against the Central.
    Oilers have won 2 of 11 against the Central.

    Even these two stats out a bit and it’s pretty close to even across all divisions.

    *I’m a graphic designer, and not all that good with numbers sometimes.

    • Serious Gord

      An unusual way to look at it to be sure. But compare that to league where winning percentages are used – baseball and a 440 winning percentage puts a team a little better than dead last Oakland and a .575 puts you ahead of the blue jays.

      Iow, it might not sound like much, but it is a huge gap.

      And historically where would this years pacific rank?

      • Delete

        With over 160 baseball games in a season, those small winning percentage differences actually add up to quite a few games of W-L separation.

        The point I was trying to make is that all the discussion about the Pacific being considerably weaker than the rest of the league isn’t quite accurate. Take away just a couple games from one or two over-performers, and add a few wins to a couple of under-performers, and the league win-loss record is virtually .500 between divisions

        Other than, perhaps, Dallas and Washington pretty much any game between a Pacific team and the rest of the league is a coin-toss.

        Once the Oilers’ injuries heal up, and assuming Anaheim gets their heads out of their butts, the last half of the season should unfold even tighter between the Divisions.

  • Anton CP

    I don’t believe such a thing as “playing into” certain roster spots because that type of team structures are out of date. The new way of building a team should be more of how to maximize each players’s performance by putting the player at position to succeed.

    How Red Wings seem like geniuses to constantly finding gems out of roughs and still achieving high standard of hockey? They understand their players’ abilities, weaknesses, and strenghs.

    Yak may have only play well with McDavid, but can you be certain that anyone playing with McDavid can equally playing well? Hall and McDavid were on the same line at beginning and both of them struggled. Once Hall moved out of McDavid line and Yak started to light it up with McDavid. Simply put, Yak is a rocket and he needs a launchpad.

  • Anton CP

    Negative Gord, go spew your garbage elsewhere. The team is improving and that’s what’s important. All your whining and complaining is growing so tiresome. If you can’t see the improvement and fight that this team is putting up under Coach Todd compared to Eakins you never will. Get lost, no one here will miss you Debbie Downer.

  • Anton CP

    I was meaning to post this actually:

    Hall could even have more points if the PP was decent. I’d say that it nearly makes up the difference between him and Benn/Seguin. It’s amazing how much of his point totals are 5v5 in contrast to those around him on the scoring leaderboard.

  • tileguy

    Fair projection RB.

    I predicted a 5-15 start over the 1st 20 games….they went 6-13-1.Beat me by 1.5 games.lol.

    The reasons I predicted the disconnected start were basic…and still apply…to my-eye the causality of the win streak which saved the season does not IMHO have a clear evolutionary chronology.What suddenly turned the switch on for Mac-L with a seemingly depleted Roster?We are in the dark.

    We need someone to come in and stitch back together an Organisational history and identity…..you know clamp the cleaned up edges of the Krueger Era tightly to the Nelson tenure{dumb asses lost the surgeon they needed and brought in a top notch builder who is now teaching himself to stitch free-hand lol} and bind the 2 together so Mac-L is put back on track.

    Thankfully evidence shows us Mac-L is beginning to attempt to do this.

    Robin during the period from 2009-2012 the Oilers produced sporadic ANOMOLOUS statistical patterns, of the Dynasty record variety,they were produced first be specific individuals then via process.Then everything changed with the decision to bring in Eakins which catalysed a purging of the Roster.This purge removed any chance of a philosophical carry-over within the locker-room and Coaching crew,and it also catalysed an organisational death-spiral .It was an intentional departure…it was an attempt to remove something highly “offensive” the Players and some Coaches BELIEVED IN and Management was willing to engage MADD to achieve,it was an obsessive knee-jerk reaction and as usual they killed an Ant with a Sledgehmmer .

    Mac-L was scarred badly by the Kings , he developed a collapse defensive System posture which allows his players to in a “controlled manner” ABSORB a big strong puck possesion/transition type of opponent and compete on a less tilted playing field.This forces the up-ice structures to be catalysed out of the D-zone exit…making us sitting ducks with little to no time.

    We enage to deep in the zone by collapsing behind our blueline ,this REDUCES the time we have to manage the puck in our D-zone before terminal pressure hits us usually in TWO well timed terminal waves….BUT REMEMBER we now MUST set and trigger our n-zone transition and o-zone entry in the very short timespan between the collapse defenses engagement and everything hitting our net or the end boards,we are forcing ourselves to speed the game up to much in the assbackwards wrong zone of the rink and this FORCES us to play a more Team Heavy style “funnel defense” keeping everything away from the middle by force because our physicality must then be projected in the JOSTELING and BULLYING for position when speed is reduced in the equation… the management of “contact” is inferior in terms of our Processes.

    Sorry to Mac-L but this has to be done because you WILL need the H&A…..termination of process is actioned by simply pushing back the Oilers collapse defense with a wide 3-man lateral medium/high speed zone entry then bringing through a late up-speed penetrating support,forcing them to play a heavy middle-defend or funnel type game forcing everything to the outside,AND, it forces them to use the boards on a large % of their zone clearing actions due to time restrictions which REDUCES the volume of controlled puck possesions they have which in essence produces voluntary surrendering of critical possesions ,a terminal symptom,it removes their speed and skill from the entire equation….lol…..forces the Forwards to run themselves into the ground and be beat up and ground down up-ice MORE and allows easy Pre-Game tactical planning for the opponent.The Oilers can create playaction check-mates and compete or stay close to Teams like the Kings this way,possesion/transition style teams,but they CANNOT PUSH THE RIVER.

    I would suggest Mac-L consider using the NHS’s Hammer and Anvil System which uses a Stand-Up Blueline defense and a hard fore/back-checking focus supported by INSTANT puck catalysed transitions to quick-strike offense ,we shrink the Rink into a 2-zone “Devils PhoneBooth” a smaller area where skill and quickness wins the day every day.The Oilers DONT NEED to set up and trigger their full rink management from their d-zone,they can SHUT THE FRONT DOOR…..and 2x to 3x the gamespeeds on the opponent via PROCESS not footspeed…hurry up their PROCESS TRANSITIONS and structure building by shrinking the rink,lol….it is diabolical in nature….lol….teams DONT WANT TO GET INTO DRAG RACES WITH US…they ALL want to slow us down….so we SPEED THEM UP VIA PROCESS….lol…..and we dominate them.

    The Hammer and Anvils greatest impact is that it SHRINKS THE RINK and REMOVES TIME COMPLETELY….it speeds both teams processes up for the entire game by 2 gears by proxy and no one can prevent it….it forces everyone into the Devils PhoneBooth….lol….tic-tac-toe we feast on our Foe….lol.

    Heres my next 20 game prediction…..6-11-3….if they continue to use the collapse defense.Players get bussed out.You will know it when you see it.

    13-5-2 if they immediatly switch to the Hammer and Anvil System Stand-Up Blueline defense .Players seem to step out of nowhere and assume elite roles.You will know it when you see it.

    Merry X-Mas to all!