Two weeks in and things haven’t gone as planned for the Edmonton Oilers. While many pegged them as a Stanley Cup contender, they’ve stumbled after their shutout win against Calgary on opening night.
What’s concerning about the Oilers and how much should fans worry? Is this just a slow start or a result of a greater problem? Let’s take a look.
Their 1-3 Record
Concern Level: Medium
The Oilers are 1-3 and fans are starting to panic. The good news is it’s four games. A win against Carolina Tuesday and Chicago Thursday puts them back at .500 and everyone can breathe. The bad news is Carolina looks like an improved team with Scott Darling in net and a mobile defence, while Chicago is second in the league in goals scored.
Edmonton has seen their season disappear in October in recent years, so it’s understandable to see fans getting a bit nervous, but this time might be different. Despite their three losses, the Oilers are first in terms of 5-on-5 Corsi for% (shot attempts for/against) at 59.56% with a 4.03% shooting percentage. That’s not going to last. If the Oilers can continue to generate shots like they are then the goals and saves might follow, but that’s a fairly big if. Small sample sizes like this one mean it could just as easily go the other way.
Concern Level: Low
Cam Talbot is the least of the Oilers’ worries. After shutting out the Flames in their first game, Talbot’s been pulled twice and now has a .896 save percentage on the year.
Talbot has been great since arriving in Edmonton, even with a small adjustment period to start, his last two seasons feature .917 and .919 save percentages. He’s better than this and will likely improve.
Even with Talbot’s struggles, Laurent Brossoit looked good in his two relief appearances against Vancouver and Ottawa and could be an option if Talbot doesn’t return to previous levels.
Concern Level: High
Connor McDavid’s line is always a good bet to dominate. That’s never been the problem. It’s the scoring when McDavid is on the bench that’ll help transition the Oilers into true contenders, but where will those goals come from?
So far, the Oilers have two 5-on-5 goals without McDavid on the ice. If the Oilers plan to load up McDavid’s line with Leon Draisaitl, then it’s up to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic, and Ryan Strome to provide secondary scoring. Darcy McLeod (a.k.a. Woodguy) had a nice thread on Twitter about this here. The Oilers will miss Jordan Eberle and his 50+ points, many of which were scored without McDavid, especially if Ryan Strome can’t be much more than a depth centre/winger and Milan Lucic can’t recover his 5-on-5 scoring.
A shallow right-wing means the Oilers will rely on McDavid even more this season. Splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl could give the Oilers a more balanced attack, something McLellan tried at times in Winnipeg and Vancouver, but couldn’t against Ottawa due to Draisaitl’s injury.
The Second Pairing
Concern Level: Flames Ownership Having to Privately Fund their Arena High
The Oilers were left with a giant hole when Andrej Sekera got hurt against Anaheim in last year’s playoffs. General manager Peter Chiarelli chose to re-sign Kris Russell and bet on young defenders Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse to hold the fort while Sekera recovers, and well, that hasn’t gone as planned.
The Russell-Benning struggled after opening night, and Russell probably isn’t suited to anchor the second pairing on his own. That leaves Nurse or Eric Gryba as options to elevate, but neither is optimal.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done in terms of acquisitions. Top four defencemen usually aren’t moved mid-season, and the only ones available now are the ones Vegas chose in the expansion draft but don’t want to waive. Edmonton needs more help than a Jon Merrill or Griffin Reinhart.
Edmonton could lean on Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson more and limit the ice time of the other pairings. Klefbom’s averaging a career-high 23:25 minutes a game, while Larsson’s only at 20:50. If Todd McLellan can push them to 23-25 minutes a game, that means fewer minutes for a shaky second pairing.