When you have a fan base as passionate as the Edmonton Oilers do, overreaction comes as part of the deal. It’s no surprise then, with the Oilers off to a 1-3 start after getting waxed in Saturday’s 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Place, some of the same people who picked the Oilers to be Stanley Cup contenders this season are rattled. Big time.
You just have to read our comments section after last night’s loss to see that. Even taking remarks by the drooling and dim — those whose only reason for wading into the fray is to draw a reaction — out of the equation, there’s some consternation growing just four games into the schedule. That’s how it goes here. Better than a shoulder shrug of indifference, I suppose.
That said, much of the angst is premature — just as planning the Stanley Cup parade route would be if the Oilers were sitting at 3-1 instead of 1-3 today. Like I said, though, that’s par for the course around here and it almost always draws reaction from the other end of the spectrum — the don’t-panic-everything-is-fine crowd. When you have one you get the other. You can set your watch by it.
I’m avoiding both extremes. No, everything isn’t fine. No, the Oilers aren’t something you need to scrape off the bottom of your shoes. There is reason for concern. Cam Talbot is struggling, the power play has been a non-entity, the penalty killing hasn’t been good enough and effort and execution has been spotty. Where’s that high-powered attack? Real issues, especially considering the Oilers got schooled by the Sens after a dressing down from Todd McLellan and a tough week of practice.
After shutting out the Calgary Flames 3-0 with 27 saves to start the season, Talbot has struggled. There’s absolutely no question about that. He’s been pulled twice in the last three games and, even allowing for an unlucky bounce here and there, he has underperformed so far. Talbot is 1-3 with a .880 save-percentage and 3.96 goals-against average. Un-Talbot-like.
“I’m not happy with the way things are going too, myself,” Talbot said after getting the hook against the Senators. “On the first three goals there are things I could have done differently on all three of them. They’re saves that I’ve made in the past and they’re saves they expect me to make now. It’s putting us in a hole early. I have to figure out a way to make those saves.”
With Connor McDavid held in check since his opening night hat-trick (and Leon Draisaitl out against Ottawa), the Oilers attack has stalled. Eight goals in four games, and just five goals in the last three games, isn’t enough. The power play is 1-for-12 through four games. The penalty killing has allowed five goals on 16 attempts in the last three games. Even with some decent stretches in terms of effort against the Senators, there’s been almost no finish on the attack and far too many defensive lapses.
“Obviously, we didn’t play well,” McLellan said. “Not anywhere near what I think our abilities are. A lot of it was just fundamentals — fundamental passing, fundamental board work. The penalty kill was poor, so . . . what we got out of the (practice) week, I think we had a better physical effort. I think we actually skated and tried to create, but the polish around our play and the fundamentals that go into a game night-in and night-out were very rusty.”
FROM WHERE I SIT
While the result we saw against the Senators is disconcerting, especially after having a practice week to sort things out after getting drubbed 5-1 by Winnipeg, my take is that at least one of the major concerns — Talbot’s play — is a short-term issue. We’ve seen him struggle before. It happens. That doesn’t mean we shrug-off his last three games, but, as I tweeted last night, I think he’s earned more rope and the chance to bounce back.
No question special teams have to be better and I think they will, although I have more faith in the power play at this point — mainly because of McDavid — than I do in the penalty killing. Not having Draisaitl, especially if his absence is protracted, is trouble because I’m not sure Edmonton’s attack is all it’s cracked up to be without having him as a second threat, even-strength and on the power play. Rookie Kailer Yamamoto was the best Edmonton forward Saturday. Good for the kid. Bad for the state of the forwards.
So, no, everything isn’t fine. It’s in a state of flux, as is often the case with many teams in the first few weeks of the season. You don’t want to dig too deep of a hole and let things slide, but neither does it make sense to get carried away and second-guess absolutely everything about a team that, just a couple weeks ago, was being heralded as a Stanley Cup contender. Many will do that, of course. That’s just how it goes around here.
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