The Oilers host the last-place Arizona Coyotes tonight as their quest for the illusive consecutive regulation wins continues. It is game 25 and the Oilers have yet to win back-to-back games in regulation. Heck, they’ve only won consecutive games once, both in overtime, and their inability to play smart, execute and play fast on consecutive nights is derailing their season quicker than anyone expected.
They simply can’t continue to look like a legitimate NHL team one night and then a guaranteed draft lottery team the next. The truth is there is no reason for it. Of course the players don’t want it to happen, but it has through 24 games and until they all realize what they do well, and how to continually do it, their disappointing season will continue.
It has to start sometime, and it might as well be tonight against the worst team in the NHL.
This is a must-win game. That isn’t being overdramatic, simply truthful. The Oilers are six points being San Jose for the second wild card spot, and they have to pass Anaheim, Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas to get there. A must-win game in November seems ridiculous to write, but it is the truth. To lose at home to the 31st place team who is without their starting goalie, would be inexcusable. It can’t happen.
Here are some issues I see plaguing the Oilers thus far.
A) Lack of a consistent PP. It started poorly, trended well for a few weeks, and is now dropping again. Leon Draisaitl had 27 PP points last season. He has none and only six shots in 20 games this year. The group needs to get him more involved, and he needs to be a bit more selfish. I asked veteran Mark Letestu about the PP and if he encourages Draisaitl to be more selfish, and take some more shots.
“The numbers you mentioned indicate that he should be (more selfish), and he is aware of it, but at times being the middle guy on the powerplay doesn’t tend to get you as many looks. He knows he has to shoot the puck more and for us to be successful I want him to be selfish. Five-on-five we see the shot he has from that side, a pretty good one-timer and a good finish ability. We need to be selfish, but that includes everyone on our unit. When we get some looks we need to start shooting pucks, have the go in off somebody maybe, or let Milan (Lucic) bang some home. He led our team in PP goals last year and I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job getting pucks on net so he can bang them home using his size and strength,” explained Letestu.
Here is what Draisaitl had to say about his surprisingly scoreless powerplay time.
“I’ve had some chances to score and set guys up, but it doesn’t seem to be going my way on the powerplay so far. I need to be better. We haven’t been sharp enough as a unit. We haven’t been sharp enough around the net, and last year we turned it around on the powerplay around this time and hopefully it happens again. I need to shoot more
I asked McLellan what has changed, if anything, regarding Draisaitl’s involvement and success on the powerplay.
“A lot Leon’s success last year came off of rebounds and high tips. Teams have done a good job of taking away the high tip, but when the high tip is taken away usually the top is open for a shot and we haven’t done a good job of when one closes using the secondary one (high shot). A lot of Leon’s goals came from rebounds, so the shot has to get to the pads if the high tip isn’t there. He has to make a few more decisions, sometimes selfish ones of shooting the puck, but that can be said for our entire group. One thing that doesn’t happen for our team is we don’t get many opportunities,” McLellan said.
The Oilers have had a league-low 63 powerplay opportunities. Arizona has the 4th most with 90. I’d like to dig into why that is. It can’t simply be the refs don’t like the Oilers, and I don’t buy it is because “they are slow.” Columbus was dead last in the NHL last season with 211 opportunities and they are 30th this year with only 67. I wonder if it is how they attack or where they attack. Edmonton was 17th in PP chances last season.
B) They need to be smarter moving the puck in all three zones, and they have to be less methodical in how they forecheck or attack. For instance, on a powerplay when players are dusting it off before you pass or shoot you play slow and look slow. The Oilers do not have inability to skate, but when they get stopped at the blueline continually on zone entries, or try to be too cute and go east to west through the neutral zone you will, without question, look slower. But compare the Oilers games in Detroit and Boston to games in Buffalo and St.Louis. Are the Blues and Sabres that much faster? Of course not, but the Oilers played methodical and stubborn, and without any urgency in St. Louis, so they looked much slower.
When the Oilers have committed to playing a hard, north-south game on the forecheck, they look fast. Stop being cute through the neutral zone and they will be perceived as slow.
C) Get a save early. The Oilers have allowed a goal on the first shot of the game four times. They’ve allowed a goal on the second shot of the game three times. They’ve allowed a goal on the 3rd-5th shot five times. That is 12 games where the opposition has scored within the first five shots. In only two of their nine wins have the Oilers scored a goal within the first ten minutes of the first period and within their first five shots.
No line changes for the Oilers. We will see if they reward the coach by playing a solid game on consecutive nights.
Dylan Strome, younger brother of Ryan, will face his older brother for the second time in the NHL tonight. Strome was recalled after scoring 26 points in 15 AHL games. He will skate with Clayton Keller, who leads the Coyotes in scoring with 11 goals and 20 points.
The elder Strome spoke like a very proud older sibling this morning when asked about facing his sibling. “It is pretty surreal. Tough game for my parents, they don’t know who to cheer for, but it is a really cool to experience it with him tonight. Hopefully, he has a good game, but we win 5-1 and he scores a goal.”
“I remember last year when we faced off against each other. I scored a goal, my mom was crying, and he was a minus. It has to be weird for parents. It might be a bit easier for us with them not being here tonight,” said Ryan Strome.
Peter Chiarelli didn’t say anything earth shattering today, but I didn’t expect him to. He wasn’t going to rip his team. He is disappointed like every coach, player and fan. “It has been death by a thousand cuts,” he said. Which is accurate, because there is not one single thing that has the Oilers where they are.
The GM could have been better. The coaches could be better and the Oilers players need to be better. What if Cam Talbot was close to his usual numbers, would the Oilers have two or three more wins? What if Oscar Klefbom didn’t battle confidence issues and struggled on both sides of the puck? What if a trade worked out differently? What if the PK wasn’t a tire fire? What if, what if, what if…
He said he still believes in this group, but then quickly added that doesn’t mean he won’t look to make changes. The following quote stood out for me.
“Part of being a GM is deciding what to fix, but also going with your gut and applying some patience.”
I think that is accurate. In going with your gut, even with all the info you acquire, there is still a final decision based on emotion and believing it will work out. No GM is perfect, but some moves hurt more than others (cough, cough, Reinhart trade).
Chiarelli has made some good trades, some bad ones and some I didn’t like, which I’m sure goes for every fan and media person. His challenge will be winning more than he loses in the future. I’m not certain he can, but that will be the challenge. In my eyes, the worst move he can make at this point is one out of desperation.
Take a moment…
The JCI Holiday Hamper is a great Christmas program. I have done it for many years and I can tell you it makes you appreciate Christmas much more. You sponsor a family, you go shopping for their Christmas food and you buy each member of the family a small gift. Most importantly, you give to someone in need. They are short 125 Christmas Elfs right now. You and your family can sign up here to help out. It is a very rewarding experience.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: They can’t lose to the 30th and 31st place teams in a span of five days, can they? I don’t think so. Oilers win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After much focus on his lack of PP production, Draisaitl ends his powerplay scoring drought.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers score first for only the ninth time this season. And Zack Kassian scores his first goal of the season and first of his career versus the Coyotes.
Recently by Jason Gregor:
- GDB 23.0: Waste not, want not
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- GDB 21.0: Searching for Consistency
- Game Day Quick Hits: Oilers @ Blues
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 11/28/2017 – 1:30pm MST