Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Slow start for the Oilers shouldn’t equal panic

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Sean17

    My concern is the same as it was in the off-season, pre-season and now in the regular season. The D depth is not there and it should have been addressed. Matt Benning is having the same struggles Brandon Davidson had. Knowing Sekera would be out, why not bring in a vet to cover and do spot duty. It seemed like an odd gamble to not bring in a safety net. Heck, even Fayne might be capable enough.

  • Natejax97

    Exactly Jason. This is well put!! I would add that the cheating for offence is a trait of almost every young player and it will take some time to drive the structure back into the group. I would not hesitate to say that Benning would look much better with a team structured defense as well. That’s not making excuses for him, that’s just saying that some back check support would help him with his assignments. As far as Talbot goes, the Oilers will go just as far as goaltending lets them this year. Talbot is a great teammate and pro and it shows by how he tries to pull the attention off rom his young teammates. Pittsburgh lost 10-1 this year…Vegas beat Dallas…and Colarado is 2-1…so there are early season jitters everywhere. Go Oil!!

    • Mc?

      You can literally say that a team will only go as far as goaltending will take them about 29 other NhL teams. ‘ sure there is one team that doesnt matter’. Haha.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    McLellan will do his job and we’ll get back on track. I’ve calmed down a bit from last night (mostly because I spent 90% of it pondering this loss) and I know that this is a group that can and has bounced back after bad games like this. Heck remember the last time Edmonton had a bad game 3 games into the season last year? We went 5-1 after that.

    • EzraElliott

      But we had two bad games in a row this time, which did not happen very often, if at all, last year. We need to capture the same resiliency we had last year.

  • Consultant

    Seemed like we were putting out our first line against theirs. Anyone know if that was the case?
    I understand hoping to win that match-up but allowing McD to play against softer comp makes more sense to me. Then put a checking line against the Wheeler line. Didn’t seem like we were using our home ice advantage…

  • ScottV

    Drai and McD need to settle down and stop cheating to offence quite so much. Pay attention to better execution in transition and in defence. They were directly or indirectly involved in 3 ga’s vs the Jets. The more complicated switching on the fly between c and wing duties with Drai and McD isn’t looking real good right now.

    The first ga – Russell was the weakest link but earlier in the sequence – Drai was lack lustre in low forward defensive support that gave up unnecessary time and space for the Jets. The second ga – Yamamoto got schooled on a very good deceptive play, that left him covering air. Yak used to be good at that. The 3rd ga – McD bit too hard when Drai almost stripped the puck from the Jets. It didn’t happen and instead of stopping on it and skating back through the middle – McD goes for the big swerve away from the play, leaving a gaping hole in the middle and a 3 on 2 attack. Our d man couldn’t stand up because of it, which allowed for a pot shot goal. On the 4th – Drai didnt have to double up on the guy that got a bit away from Larsson (shades of the swarm), which allowed a 2 on 1 attack on net. The 5th ga didn’t matter.
    Dont get me wrong – they will sort it out and McD and Drai are destined to be the best 2 centremen in the world. Right now – it’s just a matter of getting their heads out of the clouds – playing with a bit more balance and focus.

    • OldBalls99

      McLellan has used this strategy almost exclusively with McDavid because that line has historically owned any line they face, including the other teams top line. Makes sense to me. They just had an off game, especially Draisaitl. Traditional thinking does not work best with an outlier like McDavid.

  • madjam

    Last season after losing for first time on our 3rd game against Buffalo , the Oilers went on a 5 game winning streak . This Year ? Comparing last years lineup to this years might help ? Have we adequately replaced the early season form of last year players like Eberle , Pouliot , Lander , Pitlick , Puljujarvi and albeit injury Sekara ? I doubt that we have .
    Eberle -Strome a loss , Pouliot- Jokinen a loss , Lander we never replaced so still a loss , Pitlick – Slepyshev a slight loss , Puljujarvi – Yamamoto looks like another loss there for start of a season . Might be wise to bring Jesse up immediately , to be ready for next game seeing as they are doing little for Kailer .
    Feel last years starters were better than this years in retrospect , and perhaps another reason we are 1-2 instead of 2-1 .

    • madjam

      Last season we had more firepower from which opposition had to worry about and Sekara we have not come close to replacing . Have a feeling club might have to play above it’s head just to remain a playoff club this season with Sekara out and any subsequent injuries to key players . You just don’t downgrade that many positions on team and expect to get better in my books .

      • JimmyV1965

        I’m not sure how we have less firepower than last year. It’s the exact same team as last year minus Eberle. And I’m pretty sure 99% of the people on this site thought Eberle was useless. If I recall correctly all his goals came against easy teams and after we had three goal leads.

    • sweatyballs2

      Eberly completely useless when the chips were down, if Strome can make 1 pass next playoffs and take a hit doing it that trade is a win never mind cap space. Pouliot lost his confidence and became useless, too, his 1st year and a bit were pretty good but then he became very average for 4mil a year. Pitlick can’t stay healthy, Slepysev is good and has a shot at getting even better.

  • Connor Mcdraiyamoto

    There are a few RH defensemen worth following in this years draft all projected to go in the back half of the first round

    Jett Woo 6″0 205lbs (WHL) 7 points in 6 games
    Evan Bouchard 6″2 182lbs (OHL) 7 points in 7 games
    Calen Addison 5″10 180lbs (WHL) 4 points in 5 games, all players I think worth tracking

  • Oilitsinyoutogive

    so this isnt really related to anything here but I know Oilersnation has some of the best people around for Oilers related stuff. I am going to be lucky enough to be at the oilers vs Blackhawks game coming up on the 19th of October in Chicago. My issue is this city only seems to be selling the new jerseys with Mcdavid on the back. Now, don’t get me wrong I love Mcdavid, but I would rather be wearing someone else’s jersey. The question I have is does anyone know where I can get a new Jerseys with Kassian and Talbot numbers? I want actual stitched jerseys though? none of this reprint stuff everyone seems to offer….

  • Oiler Al

    When your first line plays soft on defensives side of the game, allowing 3 goals A, and your second pairing D , joins the party with 3 G/A and the goalie lets in two softies, your chances of winning are not very good.

  • Tonto

    This is why I don’t pay attention to pre-season. So what the Oilers are 1-2 in their FIRST THREE games of the season. I don’t see what the big deal is. Please explain to me when is an appropriate time to loose 2 games in a row when not to cause panic. You people are such big babies.

  • Alberta Ice

    One hears over and over the importance of a positive start to the season. Expectations for this year’s team are extremely high. The race of last year exceeded all expectations and put the Oilers into high gear. Will that high gear continue? Or is it now grinding down a bit? Time for a pit stop over these next few days to fix the problem. (And I’ll join you in panic mode if it isn’t fixed by game 10.)

  • RJ

    I think the answer is pretty simple: Eberle has been invisible out there. (I kid, I kid)

    Maybe it’s from years of watching Oilers that have scarred me, but it seems like the old Oilers affliction that got them the past two games. They play a strong game in Game 1, and then they coast for a few games because they think that other teams should just roll over.

    Skillwise, the Canucks should have lost but they brought a lot more compete to the table. I think they dominated the Jets for stretches but they weren’t consistent enough to win.

    For those saying it’s early, I’d just point out that they were only two points out to win the division last year. Having that last shift change makes a big deal in the playoffs, especially where a single shift or two can decide a series.

  • Spydyr

    When your goalie has .895 save % and you being outworked by the other team more often then not you lose. Work harder and stop some pucks. Everything will be fine.

  • Heschultzhescores

    We have plenty of skill, what we always seem to lack is the motivating of that skill. Besides CMD, seems like others need a daily reminder with an azz kick.

  • Expectations are super-high for the first time in a decade. Vegas odds as the season began had Edmonton as the second favorite to win the Stanley Cup. So it feels really good to be worried about a two-game losing streak. Seriously, this was the status quo for so long, the acceptance of mediocrity, the assumption of failure…that it really feels nice to have people, the fans, the team itself, stressing about falling behind in the standings in the FIRST WEEK OF THE SEASON. And it’s healthy. A little panic, a bit of fear…it’s a motivator. “Guys, this isn’t good enough. We must do better.” Gonna be a fun season, and it’s just now getting underway.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    No, you’re definitely not a one line team, and the link you made between the top line and the rest of the guys is valid.

    That’s why I still say you’re going to be all right, as well. You simply cannot keep that top line down. And when they’re on, confidence spreads through the lineup like a wildfire and everyone gets re-energized.

    I look forward to the two or three streaks of domination that will happen for the Oilers this season.

  • Dean S

    I said it last year and I repeat, Oilers have great potential but need a more consistent goaltender to win the Stanley Cup. Cam Talbot is great when he is on, but much to inconsistent. He”s on his knees quite often before the puck is passed or shot. One great game and then a stinker (7-0 blowout to SJ, playoffs last year). Knee drop goaltenders get injured a lot too (Jonathan Quick). Come on Peter, lets get a future Stanley Cup Goaltender. Go Oilers Go.