Oilers need to be better

The Oilers aren’t playing bad hockey overall, however, they are making major mistakes that lead to goals. Last night the Maple Leafs rarely had any contained pressure. The Oilers didn’t spend much time in their own end, but they gift wrapped the Leafs’ two goals, and both mistakes occurred below their goal line.

The focus and attention to detail has to be better. There are no excuses. This group has to play smarter and be consistently more determined.

I’m sick of excuses. There is no excuse for the continual five-star mistakes made by numerous players on the team. It isn’t just one player. It a different player every game.

One game it is a veteran, the next a rookie or a sophomore.

The Oilers are beating themselves on most nights.

They have either an unwillingness to play smart in their own zone or they simply don’t have the ability to play well. It isn’t a lack of effort, it is a lack of smarts and positioning. It is the D-men and the forwards collectively. Almost 50% of the roster is new, or have been here for less than a full season, so blaming one individual is pointless.

The entire group needs to be more accountable. Maybe they call each other out behind close doors, but I never see it on the ice or even in practice. I can’t recall the last time a player challenged a teammate to make a better play in practice. I don’t expect it to happen daily, but at some point someone needs to stand up and rip his teammates. Like I said, maybe it has happened in the room when only the players are there, but even if it has, it hasn’t made a difference on the ice.

Mistakes are part of the game. They will happen. Every player makes them, because the game is so fast. But over the past 16 games, the Oilers have committed far more egregious, obvious mistakes. You can lose a battle, that happens, but this group is continually losing their check at the wrong time.

“If you look at our team and where it has gone from October until now, I think we need everyone to start stepping up,” said Milan Lucic. “When everyone was contributing we had success. I think the work ethic has been there, but the killer instinct and determination needs to be higher and more consistent. That is what makes us finish plays, put teams on their heels and us on our toes. We have to be more determined,” continued Lucic.

OFFENCE HURTING TOO

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Many of their offensive players are in a funk. They can’t score. Some are creating chances, like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but he can’t finish. The odds suggest eventually he’ll score, but the Oilers aren’t good enough to wait for him to come around. He has to find a way to put the puck in the back of the net.

He isn’t the only one. The list of offensive players not struggling includes Connor McDavid, Leon Draisailt and recently Milan Lucic. Jordan Eberle isn’t in a major slump, but they need him to finish more. He, like RNH, has to be more productive. The rest of the forwards are producing very little recently.

You can’t rely on McDavid all the time. The Oilers have scored one goal in the past three games without him on the ice, and that was Adam Larssson with Eberle and RNH on the ice. One goal from three lines in three games. It is simply not good enough. It borders on pathetic, actually.

And even their best player has to improve one facet of his game. He has to start shooting on the powerplay. Craig Button pointed out last night that McDavid never had to shoot from far out very much in junior. He was so much faster, he could just skate the puck in close and create an opportunity. It is a skill he’ll need to add, and I’m certain he will.

Of course, I have no concerns with McDavid starting to shoot, but he does have to start firing on the PP. His unwillingness to shoot on the PP hurts them, because he has the puck the most and he’s been reluctant to shoot from great positions.

He has played 70:25 of 5×4 PP and he has six shots. He has seven assists, and no PP goals. He’s been on the ice for 6:24 of 5×3/4×3 and has no shots.

I asked McLellan about McDavid’s hesitancy to shoot on the PP and he said, “We are working on it, we are working on it.” Of course they’ve had the discussion. I’m not naive enough to believe me asking the coach about it was the first time it was addressed, but it is the one small area of McDavid’s game he needs to improve. When he does, watch out. He’ll score more, and teams will have to respect his shot, which will create more openings on the PP.

Despite his low shot totals, that doesn’t excuse the overall success of the PP. Jay Woodcroft, the PP coach, needs to try something different.

The Oilers have only scored a PP goal in two of their last eleven games. They had two goals in each of those games. They went 4 for 37, 10.8%, but they are 0 for 27 in nine of those games. The PP has cost them points lately, and you can’t score in two of eleven games and expect to win.

The Oilers are 5-9-2 in their last 16 games, and only once were they victorious without scoring a PP goal. You won’t score every game of course, but the PP has been struggling for three weeks, since November 8th, so Woodcroft and McLellan need to tweak something.

Post-game McLellan said this about the powerplay, “It was poor. Flat out poor. Too fine. Too cute. Too slow to shoot.” 

ENERGY AND NASTY

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The Oilers aren’t a soft team anymore. They have size, they have skilled size and they have some aggressive players. However, when was the last time the Oilers added some nasty in the game? Kris Russell and Matt Benning had some big, clean hits recently, which is great, but when was the last time an Oilers forward got under the skin of an opponent or in their face?

Where has the aggressiveness gone?

“It definitely could be there a little bit more,” answered Lucic when I asked him last night. “And as the season goes along it gets harder and harder to do it, but that is just an excuse. As the season progresses the team has to come together, guys playing for each other and having each others back creates a winning environment. We need more of it. Playing smart is very important, but so is being aggressive and unified.” Lucic said.

The Oilers have different dimensions to their game, and for the past 16 games they haven’t used them often enough. There is no acceptable excuse. They are simply not performing to the level they are capable.

Play smarter. Play hungrier. Play better.

PARTING SHOTS

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  • Many stats will show the Oilers aren’t being dominated like in previous years. Opposing teams aren’t sending wave after wave of offensive zone pressure. The Oilers 5×5 Corsi is 6th in the NHL at 52.10%. Their 5×5 score & venue adjusted is 7th at 52.31.

    However, those stats don’t reflect the major gaffes they’ve been committing. That is their issue. It isn’t sustained pressure that is killing them defensively, it is their inability to stop committing horrific turnovers or misreads. Either they can’t do it or they aren’t willing to, and right now I’m leaning more to the latter. They have enough talent to compete.

  • I asked McLellan about Pitlick and Slepyshev being out and if he’ll change his lineup for Thursday in Winnipeg. “Yes. We will look at our lineup for sure. It is okay to not score sometimes, but it is not okay to neglect your responsibilities defensively and that’s how I look at some of our guys right now,” said McLellan.

    There will be changes tomorrow and there are many forward candidates who are deserving of a night off. Draisaitl skated with McDavid and Lucic today, so Caggiula will likely be the third line centre. Puljujarvi only played eight minutes last night, so he might be one guy coming out, but he wouldn’t be my first choice.

  • Mark Fayne was recalled today and Eric Gryba was placed on the IR. He has only played two minutes this season, but he practiced today and we could see him versus Winnipeg tomorrow.

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