The Oilers two-game losing streak has awoken Oilersnation. What is wrong with the Oilers?
There are many differing opinions, but for me it comes down to a few simple things.
“We have to work harder. We need to be more competitive,” said Adam Larsson after last night’s loss to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Oilers have worked hard and competed at times, but they weren’t consistent enough the past two games. At times they looked frustrated with their inability to finish off plays.
Through their first seven periods of hockey the Oilers have five goals on 105 shots, and one of them was into an empty net. You can see the frustration. Players started cheating, looking to create offence.
Their work ethic needs to be more consistent, and their best players need to be their best players.
Neutral zone turnovers have cost them. Blind passes out of their defensive zone have resulted in turnovers. Not checking hard enough on the backcheck has allowed chances. And too often they simply haven’t finished off good scoring chances of their own. The offensive players are supposed to produce. That is their job. It is the hardest job, but that’s why they get paid big dollars.
I keep hearing people suggest the Oilers are a one-line team and that is their issue. I strongly disagree. When their top line is going, it makes every other player’s job easier.
Case in point, the opening night win over Calgary, or the Jets first line dominating the Oilers last night. Mark Schiefele, Blake Wheeler and three-goal scorer Nikolaj Ehlers owned the Oilers.
In Vancouver, the first line didn’t score, but the Oilers still scored twice. If that line scores one goal, then the game goes to OT.
Last night the Oilers top line was outclassed by the Jets first line.
Of course you want production throughout the lineup, but the Oilers top trio has one goal in two games, and the second line and second unit PP was on the ice for three. If a team gets three goals every two games from secondary scoring and their top line is as productive as Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Patrick Maroon were last season, then the offence will be fine.
Edmonton averaged just under three goals per game last season, 2.96, which was seventh best in the NHL. The top line scored 86 goals but contributed to many more. The top line was outstanding in game one versus the Flames, dominating Calgary all over the ice.
However, the Oilers top line needs to be better than they have been the past two games. They were outscored 3-1 at even strength last night, and then were separated in the third period.
They were split up because they weren’t producing offence, and were cheating defensively. It happens and the reality of the NHL is when your best players are the best players your chances of winning increase exponentially. When they don’t produce, your odds of winning decrease significantly, especially if they start taking too many chances to create offence and forget about their defensive responsibilities.
Many assumed the line was split up to generate offence, and that is part of it, but as Todd McLellan said last night, “Or it was done to find some defence.”
Cam Talbot needs to be better and he said exactly that post-game.
“They’re saves you’ve seen me make before, that I expect to make and my teammates expect me to make. I have to give us a chance. Tonight I didn’t do that, again,” said Talbot.
He didn’t have a chance on a few of their goals, but Connor Hellebuyck and Jacob Markstrom made some huge saves on Saturday and Monday night, and especially in Vancouver, Talbot didn’t make as many. He did make a few huge breakaway stops versus the Jets when the game was 4-2. And he had interesting take on all the breakdowns in front of him.
“Once the guys start to have confidence in me back there, then they’ll start of have confidence playing in front of me. It starts from the net out. I have to be better,” said Talbot.
Of course the two losses aren’t solely on him, but he knows his importance to the team, and he along with McDavid and Draisaitl need to be the drivers of the team. Milan Lucic can play better, mainly with his giveaways along the boards in the defensive zone. Many others can as well, but often it is difficult to win when your best players aren’t dominating. The supporting cast will win a few games, for sure, but I felt McDavid, Draisaitl and Talbot did not play as well as they can the past few games.
The good news for the Oilers is it won’t last. Those three are proud players. They know they can play better, and they will, and when they do the supporting cast should follow.
If those two forwards start cutting corners defensively, it is noticeable and we saw that last night. They weren’t the only culprits, far from it, but McLellan separated them to send a message to the group. It gets the attention of the team when a coach isn’t afraid to demand more from his best players. He has applauded them regularly, but last night I felt he split them up more for what they weren’t doing defensively, rather than for not producing offensively.
The Oilers became a 100-point team last year because they improved their defensive zone coverage. They haven’t played well enough in their own zone the past two games, and it resulted in two losses.
Everyone is guilty, but their best players were noticeable for the wrong reasons the past two games. I expect we will see a better performance from those three on Saturday, and the trickle down effect will impact the entire group.
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