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Photo Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Unexpected Struggles

Oscar Klefbom is struggling. The Oilers top-pairing left defenceman had an October to forget.

He produced very little offensively and looked challenged defensively.

Many felt the injury to Andrej Sekera would hurt the Oilers second and third pairings, but it is the Oilers top pairing who have struggled the most.

Klefbom looks out of sorts.

He is a team worst -6. His decision making has not been elite.

He made an ill-advised pinch fifteen seconds into the game versus Carolina. The Oilers had lost three straight heading into that game and their top defender made an extremely risky play early in the game.

On Saturday versus Washington, with the Oilers leading 2-0 late in the first period and in complete control of the game, he lunged for a puck in the neutral zone, didn’t get it, and the Capitals raced up ice and scored with 18 seconds remaining. One could argue that was a 50/50 play, but why try it at that point of the game? When he is on, he would either get a piece of the puck, or sit back and force Carlson to beat him.

Your top defender can’t make those decisions at key times in game. Klefbom has shown he is better than how he’s playing thus far, and I expect him to improve, but it needs to happen quickly.

Every aspect of his game is off.

Offensively, he has no goals and two assists in ten games. He had 12-26-38 last year for the Oilers.

Klefbom fired 201 shots (2.45 shots/game) on goal last season, ninth best in the NHL among defenders, and he’s shooting more this year, with 34 shots (3.4/game). But his shot has been erratic.

He leads NHL D-men with 22 missed shots. He had 84 (1.02/game) last year, but so far he’s averaging 2.2 missed shots per game.

I could see how a finger or wrist injury could impact his accuracy, but neither should impact his decision making. Klefbom simply has not played smart enough through ten games. When I asked Klefbom if he has a injury or if anything is hampering his shot, he replied:

“They have a lot of guys in the shooting lane. Last year I started shooting the puck more and maybe guys didn’t know who I was, but they’ve done their scouting work. Sometimes I shoot for sticks or tips and I’m not shooting for the net. If I’m just going for a high shooting percentage (accuracy), I’m not going to shoot as much and I’ll hit the net a lot more, but most of the time I’m shooting for sticks,” said Klefbom.

An interesting response, in part because avoided the injury question. He does shoot for sticks and sometimes it will go wide, however, he has missed some shots and I’m sure last year there were times he was shooting for sticks and tips as well.

He, like most players, admitted he is pressing. When players are playing well, they can ride the wave of confidence. When they are struggling, the wave engulfs them.

“It is tough. If you are out there and you make one mistake you start thinking what you could have done better and it is turning into bad momentum. I have to be better for sure. Right now it isn’t good enough for the whole team, but for me, my personal level, is not good enough,” said Klefbom.

McLellan has seen his fair share of players go through stints where they lack confidence.

“Confidence comes from making the right reads. Not feeling good about your game comes from making the wrong reads. It goes together,” said McLellan.

“In my opinion, Klef is a little indecisive right now. He is indecisive defensively and offensively. Shooting…he has a tremendous shot, but it is not getting to the area he is targeting, whether it is blocked or he is missing the net, and those are individual struggles which affect the team play. You mentioned him as an individual, but there are others who are impacting team play,” continued the head coach.

Klefbom has company on the bus of players playing below their capabilities, but when you play as much as he does, the reality is he impacts a game more than guys playing 12 or 14 minutes.

Klefbom and Adam Larsson were very solid last year, but early on they’ve been on for far too many goals against. Klefbom was on for 58 5×5 goals last season, but he’s already been on for ten against this year, and noticeably at fault on a few of them.

He is a good enough player to rebound from a tough month, but like many others on the Oilers, Klefbom needs to find his game in November in order for the Oilers to pick up some wins.

Todd McLellan switched up his defence pairs at practice today. Klefbom was paired with Matt Benning, while Darnell Nurse skated with Larsson.

A change can be good, but Klefbom’s biggest challenge will be between his ears. He can’t think too much if he makes a mistake. It is easier said than done, but Klefbom has the ability to be an impact player and heading into November they need him to rediscover the level of play he had last year.

QUICK HITS…

1. McLellan switched up his lines today:

Maroon-McDavid-Draisaitl
Lucic-RNH-Yamamoto
Caggiula-Strome-Slepyshev
Pakarinen-Letestu-Kassian

Khaira and Jokinen looked to be the odd men out. These aren’t major changes, as the first and fourth lines have played together before, while RNH and Lucic have played together most of the season.

The bigger change came on the powerplay units, which have really struggled.

McDavid-Maroon-Letestu-Caggiula-Klefbom
Draisaitl-RNH-Lucic-Strome-Benning

“This way they (McDavid and Draisaitl) get their own units and I think it will create a competitive environment between the two units. If one unit gets hot and keeps going they will get the icetime and the other will need to pull up their socks,” said McLellan on splitting up McDavid and Draisaitl on the PP.

2. Let’s be clear Ryan Strome is not the main reason the Oilers are 3-6-1. Of course he hasn’t replaced Jordan Eberle’s scoring. He isn’t as talented offensively. No one should have expected him to, including management. I actually think Strome has gotten better the past few games, but people need to remember he is a complementary forward. He isn’t a highly productive player, and he isn’t paid like one. If you want to question Chiarelli for making the trade, go ahead, that is fair, but Strome should not be expected to be something he isn’t.

3. I could see using Nurse and Larsson in a shutdown heavy role, while you could play Klefbom/Benning with McDavid’s line to create more 5×5 scoring. In theory Klefbom and Benning should be able to produce more offence, although Nurse has always done well transporting the puck when he’s on the ice with McDavid. Both pairs should be able to move the puck up from the backend.

4. Kris Russell leads the Oilers defence corps with four points in ten games, including two on the powerplay. He is tied for the team lead in PP points with two, which illustrates the PP struggles. Russell has only played 14:47 on the PP, ninth most among Oilers. Klefbom has played 38:22 and has one assist. McDavid has played 38:19 and has two points. The first unit has been the main culprit early on, and switching up the units makes sense. McDavid should be able to generate more than two points in 38 PP minutes. He has only been on the ice for two PP goals this year, which is tied for 175th in the NHL. The PP runs through McDavid and when he amps up his game I suspect the PP goals will follow.

5. Our second annual Oilers/Flames road trip extravaganza goes Saturday, December 2nd. We only have 20 seats remaining. Jason Strudwick and I will be hosting the bus. It was a blast last year. Oilers fans were loving it, especially when the Oilers crushed the Phlegms 7-4. All the details for the trip are here. Call Heather to reserve your seat. We encourage Fun Sponges to not sign up.

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  • OriginalPouzar

    Klef struggled at times last year as well. He is still only 24 (I believe) and still developing as a top pairing d-men. Consistency is something that hopefully he develops over the next little bit.

    He is a sublime player and will continue to get more consistent as he gets used to a first pairing role.

    Posts/opinions re: trading him and his $4.1M cap hit are crazy, in my opinion. In my opinion, there is no world where a team will trade Oscar Klefbom and keep Kris Russell with almost identical cap hits (NMC for Russell or not).

    I’m not a Russell hater, he is what he is and, right now, he’s necessary on this team, but he is not Oscar Klefbom, not even close (let alone 6 years older) and their cap hits are essentially the same.

    Go Oscar

    Go Russell

    Go Oilers

    • puckle-head

      I cannot for the life of me understand why Chia gave Russell a NMC. He already had a built in one by nature of being Kris Russell. Did Chia forget that 29 other teams looked at him last summer and said, “ummmm pass.”

      • Dwayne Roloson 35

        Well it’s actually a modified no trade clause that doesn’t kick in until the 19-20 season so he can be traded and i think they passed because they thought he was asking too much.

        • puckle-head

          Well he definitely was asking too much, but fortunately for him Chia has never met a “character guy” he didn’t want to overpay and sign too long. The contract in general just makes no sense. In 2016/17 He was unemployed up until October 8. Every other GM had no interest. One below-average season later he has so much clout he can demand 4×4 AND a NMC? And I know he can be moved in 2 years, but why is a team that didn’t want a 30 year old Kris Russell going to want a 32 year old Kris Russell? This contract looks like a buy-out candidate in a couple years to me.

  • Ed De Hod

    It time to start put the blame where the blame is due: coaching.

    This team is not prepared or up for the game most nights. The line shuffling is on par with pre-season.

    If something was to happen to McDavid-Letestu would be Oilers 2C.

    Slepyshev with Drai and Lucic was one of the better lines in the post season. Where is Slepyshev and his spot in the Top 6 this year?

    Why are they wasting time with Kailer? The kid is not a top 6 forward atm and it killing the team and lines trying to force so.

    In all his time and line juggling he hasn’t been able to find one line that works or to stick with. Outside of the line of McDavid and Drai that is saving his job.

    If your going to waste time and try things-it should be Drai on 2C and work from there.
    Anyone can look like they know what their doing when McDavid and Drai are going and the team is winning.

  • OriginalPouzar

    The PP sure does “run through McDavid”, however, last year, when the PP was tops in the league for the last third of the season, it was Drai that drove the PP.

    In my opinion, one thing for McDavid to work on over the next few years, is becoming elite on the PP as, frankly, although he’s always dangerous, he isn’t elite at running a PP from the half boards.

    Drai drove that PP1 last year – it meets the eye test and is confirmed in the numbers.

    Go Oilers.

    Go PP

    Go McDavid

    Go Drai

  • Rama Lama

    I’m starting to think that the constant line juggling ( by a desperate coach) is part of the problem…….it’s good to move guys around once in a while but constantly changing up lines in the middle of the game has NOT produced any positive results.

    This team was not ready to start the season because none of the current line up got to play with each other in the pre-season. Most good teams send guys down a lot quicker and let their opening night roster play together late in the pre-season…….not TM.

    He did not have the team ready to play, and the slow start is on him!

    • Osmosis_jones

      Disagree. The team was ready in the home opener and became complacent. I’ll trust McLellan’s track record before I even consider the horrible options to replace him. TMac ain’t going nowhere.

      Mixing lines until something works is always a good option. Players are out of sync and lack chemistry right now. Standing pat with the lines isn’t gonna change anything and doing the same thing over and over expecting the same result is defined as insanity.

  • ponokanocker

    Klefbom made a decent amount of poor mistakes last year as well. This year, maybe a little more, but not by much. The main difference to me is that Talbot has not been bailing him out near as much, and Brossoit even less so, compared to last year. Mistakes are much more noticeable when the puck ends up in the back of your net.

  • yahsper

    Not blaming the coach for a lack of hustle. I’m not panicking yet. Little puck luck and some deeper contributions and we will coast through the year and into the playoffs! Yay! Is it wednesday yet?

  • madjam

    A dual power play now without Russell and without Yamamoto ? Kris has most points on defence for PP and now plays 3rd fiddle to Oscar and Benning . Kailer plays 4th fiddle to Cagguila , Strome and Letestu . The PK is in worst shambles . Are we deliberately trying to lose and/or teach the offence right out of team ? I used to think it was a joke , but now I question such moves . Swiss army solutions not working , how about letting talent be your guide and let them work thru it . We need Letestu to anchor PK ( a bigger concern) more than PP .

  • Oilers70

    Well, any one really surprised.

    Lowe still here…. Check
    Mac T still here… Check
    Howson still here…. Check
    Green still here…. Check
    Scouting staff still here…. Check
    Katz still here…. Check

    Same Group, same results, same storey…. Check

    Sounds like everyone from the culture of losing is still present except for Big Nic and Chia, who probably have their hands tied.

    Same old Same old … Check
    Won’t change until this organization gets rid of the above players and starts fresh…..

    The only way to make real change is an organizational

  • Osmosis_jones

    I’m in the ‘chill out everyone’ camp. This roster is weaker than last year for sure, but let’s not forget who the guys that got replaced are. Eberle out, Poulliot out up front. Incoming is Strome and Jokinen. Sekera out with injury, incoming…….no one. Jokinen is signed to a nothing contract same as Strome. The franchise players are signed forever. The coach has been around long enough to know how to run a team properly, none of which any of the commenters here can say (I think). Yamamoto has one or 2 games left before getting sent down so giving him a chance to pay tomorrow is ok. Lucic will pot his 20 goals and right wing can be solved with a trade that doesn’t gut the roster or farm. Low cost options like Kreider, Grabner, Vrbata or zero cost like Iginla are out there. Team speed is one thing, but finish around the net is another. I take a flyer on Iginla to play right side if Strome or Slepyshev get moved. Call up JP too.

  • OnDaWagon

    When does McDAVID play a soft team again? i assume he’ll get a goal then. 2 goals in past 9 games, Someone should let him know NHL hockey is a mans game. After all, he is supposed to be the leader, right? Maybe that’s why this group can’t play like an NHL team, the anointed leader is actually not a leader.
    I’m not giving him a pass. He needs to quit playing with that new iphone..

    I see a lot of people found a new bucket to kick…Strome. Don’t be so silly, Strome is here simply because Ebs laid an egg in the playoffs, and the Oilers needed to clear cap space. So far the Islanders have done very well from this management. Time to quit picking from the hat with no rabbits.

    Now you see how good the coaching staff is without McDavid, Drai and Talbot playing at their best.

  • Reinman

    Yay for RNH, he still gets to play with Lucic and a rookie. That will get him rolling offensively. /sigh. At this point, I think Drai should carry Lucic and Kass. Caguila, RNH and Stome. Then Maroon, Mcdavid and Shlep/Yama Caggiula. Let RNH play with someone aside from Lucic, please?

    • Reinman

      Actually, Lucic, Drai and Yama might be good too. Drai seem to show some chemistry with Yama. ANd the 2 big men, might open up some space so Yama can use his speed and quickness.

    • Spydyr

      The issue with the Nuge is he has so much respect from his coach he gets stuck with weaker player. The coach know he will cover for them. It is also stopping him from getting a look see on McDavid’s wing. The coach wants him centring his own line. IMO both things are a mistake on the coaches part.

  • Freddie the fog

    The Oilers don’t have the horses to be an elite team yet. I put the blame on Peter Chiarelli and some terrible personnel decisions since day one. In fairness he has made a couple solid moves but looking at the whole body of work…its just not good enough. We should b further ahead. Reinhart being waived through the entire league while Barzal is looking like a good young player was the last straw for me. I wanted to believe in Chia , but he just hasn’t done enough in any and all capacities.

  • Serious Gord

    Gotta hope he is not dion phaneuf 2.0. Here’s hoping he settles down before sekera is back – if he doesn’t then the season may be hooped. NExt to mcd and the goalie he is the bellweather of this team.

  • Heschultzhescores

    The question I have is….how do you have a TEAM of strugglers? That’s what we have. There is something poisoning them, but what is it? Is there some infighting in the dressing room? Something is not right. The guys are in place to win, but they’re not performing…none of them!

  • Sammy p

    I’m not knowledgeable enough to suggest any curative changes but I do know one thing ,those ugly orange jerseys have to go,it’s hard for players to play with pride and confidence while wearing those ridiculous hideously coloured outfits……BURN THEM.

  • Connor McFly

    Is Klef on a poor streak right now or is he just plain uncoachable? I suggest the latter be ause he keeps making the same mistakes and lacks any kind of positive consistent play.