Every Edmonton Oilers player admitted their effort wasn’t good enough in losses to Vancouver and Winnipeg. The Oilers worked harder versus Ottawa, but their fundamentals were almost non-existent.
Passing, shooting, reading the play, supporting the puck — the Oilers did this very well in game one versus Calgary, but on Saturday at home to Ottawa they struggled to make simple tape-to-tape passes.
It resulted in an ugly 6-1 loss and the Oilers dropped to 1-3. Many in Oilersnation are concerned.
I understand the frustration and the concern.
The Oilers started 1-7 in October of 2013 and finished with 67 points.
They went 0-4-1 in 2014 and ended up with a paltry 62 points.
In 2015, even the addition of Connor McDavid couldn’t help them out of the gate. They started 0-4 and finished with 70 points.
Last season they jumped out to a 7-1 start and rolled all the way to 103 points and home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
This group is not as a bad as the teams in 2013-2015, but they aren’t playing nearly as well as last year’s team.
The concerns about the Oilers start are valid, but many aspects of their game are fixable.
Watch the Sens first goal. Anton Slepyshev needs to make a stronger play along the boards, but what is Yohann Auvitu doing? He is the last man back. He can’t cheat up the ice, hoping the puck gets out. He turns up ice, and then can’t recover in time to pick up Hoffman in front, and he also makes a very soft play trying to tying up Hoffman’s stick. If he skates directly towards the slot, instead of up ice, then he’s in position when Dion Phaneuf keeps the puck in.
The Sens second goal came from some nice passing on the powerplay, but Cam Talbot reads the play perfectly. However, he slides across his crease without his stick on the ice and the shot beats him five-hole. That is a fundamental error, not one of ability. His ability had him in the right position, as did his hockey instincts, but he knows he can’t come across the crease with his stick off the ice. He over-commits originally and his stick is too far to his right, so when he pushes back to his left he can’t bring his stick with him. Also, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins wins the face-off cleanly and Adam Larsson has a bad clearing attempt. When you win a draw that cleanly on the PK the puck should get out of the zone.
Hoffman has one of the best releases in the league. If you give him an open look he’ll beat most goalies. Talbot stays down longer than he’d like. Also, Patrick Maroon has a slight hesitation and then cant close the gap. Of the first three goals, this one concerns me the least. I credit Hoffman with a great shot. Hockey is all about split-second decisions and I don’t expect players to always make the right one. Mistakes are a part of the game.
However, Talbot needs to be better early on. He discussed it after the game. “I’m not happy with my play. I could have done something different on the first three goals. I have to figure it out,” he said. At Sunday’s practice he spent a lot time at one end of the ice one-on-one with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz working on his fundamentals and positioning.
The fourth goal was unlucky, but by then the game was over. Talbot was pulled, and Laurent Brossoit came in, but after the 4-0 lead not much really matters. The game wasn’t in doubt.
- My biggest concern is the Oilers overall team speed. With Caggiula and Draisaitl out of the lineup they lose some speed. Their overall team speed is a concern and that won’t change until those two return or Peter Chiarelli makes a move. They can still win with this group, but Jussi Jokinen and Ryan Strome aren’t fast players. The Oilers haven’t been playing fast and that makes their lack of overall team speed even more apparent recently. Not everyone has to be a thoroughbred, but when the Oilers aren’t attacking they look slow.
- Their defensive zone decisions and overall coverage have not been very good. This is fixable. They proved last season they can be a solid defensive team. They proved versus Calgary they can play sound defensively and bring a good effort, but this group is not good enough to just expect it to happen. They were a very good defensive team last year, but they’ve gone away from it so far this season. Too many players are cheating, looking for offence, and it has really hurt them. The entire group needs to get back to basics.
- Their powerplay is completely out of sync. Up until last game their first unit was the exact same five as last year when they were dominant. Draisaitl is a big loss, but my issue with the PP right now is they are doing the opposite of what worked for them last year. Mark Letestu and Klefbom were the shooters and found the open lanes. This year, we’ve seen those two passing more and looking for McDavid to shoot. That has to change. I also didn’t like the set up last game were McDavid was setting up on the left side. I’d rather him set up on the right, so if they do pass to him he’s at least on his off-wing and can get a better shot off. And when Klefbom was in a good spot to shooting he was missing the net. The PP should be better.
- Talbot’s play through four games. His .880sv% is gaudy, and remember he started the season with a shutout versus Calgary, where, in his own words, he didn’t have to do much. The Oilers gave up very little that game, but Talbot has been pulled in two of his last three starts. He is better than his numbers and I expect he’ll improve, but he needs to find his game, and find it quickly.
- Offensive zone time. The Oilers haven’t been able to gain momentum with continual solid shifts from their lines. They had one shot on goal in the first 17 minutes versus Ottawa on Saturday. They had ten shots in the final three minutes, but only one was really dangerous. Their puck support was excellent in game one, but since then we haven’t seen them put a team on their heels for any extended period of time. Their passing was atrocious on Saturday and often lead to turnovers in the offensive zone. For me, bad passing is a lack of focus. This is easily fixable. It isn’t due to a lack of talent.
- The Oilers are good, but I’m not sure they are good enough to dig themselves of a massive hole, which is why a win tomorrow is vital. It is far from a “must-win-game,” but the Oilers only lost three (regulation) games in row twice last season. They only lost four in a row once. They don’t have to match that in their first five games of this season. They need to find the same effort and focus they had in game one versus Calgary, because since then they haven’t come close to playing a solid game.
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