The Edmonton Oilers were far from flawless last season in making the playoffs for the first time in a decade with 103 points, but when they screwed up, as even the best teams invariably do, or lapsed in one aspect of the game, they had enough scoring and enough Cam Talbot to smooth over many of the blemishes.
If the penalty killing floundered, Art Ross Trophy winner Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or somebody else would take the edge off with an offensive outburst. When the Oilers struggled to score at even strength, as they often did, the power play would heat up. Then, there was always Talbot to clean up any mess.
Ten games into this season, the Oilers can’t find the back of the net with a compass and a flashlight. After a 5-2 loss to the Washington Capitals Saturday that has just about everybody’s hair on fire, the Oilers have done a 3-6-1 face plant instead of bolting out of the gates 7-2-1 like they did a year ago. While it’s still early, but not that early, as Todd McLellan emphasized in his post-game availability Saturday, there’s a problem.
While Talbot has steadied himself somewhat after a shaky stretch, far too many Oiler players are channeling Doug Friedman when it comes to contributing to the attack, be it at even-strength or with the man-advantage. There are way too many passengers for the top-end of the attack – McDavid and Draisaitl — to carry, so you get what we have here. Angst.
“There’s nothing early about this, let’s not kid ourselves,” said McLellan after watching the Caps win going away with five straight goals. “We’re an eighth into the season. There are a lot of points that have gone by and you never get them back. It’s tough falling behind in a game, it’s also tough falling behind in a season. We have a lot, a lot, of work ahead of us. We have to play better than we have, it’s as simple as that. We don’t have enough players playing at their capabilities to consistently win.”
McLellan understates. The Oilers rank dead-last with 22 goals-for after 10 games. While they’re ninth in the league with 377 shots, they are 30th in shooting percentage at 5.8 (they were 11th at 9.5 last season). The power play is 30th in goals (four) and percentage (12.12). The Oilers are 27th in even-strength goals with 18. When you can’t score on the power play or at even-strength and your PK is ranked 30th in percentage, you have issues.
McDavid, who has 5-6-11 (including an opening-night hat-trick), Draisaitl (1-6-7 in six games) and Patrick Maroon (4-4-8) haven’t been enough to drag along a ham-handed group of forwards that hasn’t been remotely close to being good enough. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Milan Lucic have had their moments, but aside from them, whew, somebody open a window.
Ryan Strome, Zack Kassian, Jussi Jokinen, Anton Slepyshev, Jujhar Khaira, Drake Caggiula and Mark Letestu have combined for a total of 3-4-7. Letestu has two goals and Strome has one. None from the other five. Slepyshev, Khaira and Caggiula don’t have a single point. I don’t think anybody is expecting this group to carry the attack, but you’d expect something more than bupkis, no? You know, maybe something going in off a skate or a backside along the way. Nada. While I’m at it, paging Oscar Klefbom . . .
“Last year, early in the season, we were able to outscore our mistakes,” said Matt Benning. “This year, we are having a little bit of trouble scoring. We just need to keep defending hard and get pucks and bodies at the net. We need to get some greasy goals and it will shift the tides and we can go from there.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
I’ve said and written that I generally like to take 20 games before passing judgment on any roster – good or bad – but if McLellan is alarmed at what he’s seen through 10 games, that’s good enough for me. Besides, points now are just as important as points in March. The Oilers are piddling away far too many of them because they haven’t been scoring enough to give themselves a chance.
My guess is general manager Peter Chiarelli has been working the phones for a while now. If I might be so bold, perhaps Chiarelli should consider spending some of the salary he dumped sending Jordan Eberle to the New York Islanders for Strome on a forward who has an actual clue around the blue paint. With every game that goes by it’s becoming more obvious that there’s not enough of those guys on the roster right now.
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