Fans of the Edmonton Oilers more than paid their dues in full by filling the rink and watching the team they cheer for stagger around like stumblebums on a bender during a decade of ineptitude and defeat. Last season, the Oilers, at long last, finally started to get things right with 103 points. It was about time, already.
It’s no surprise to me, then, that the same fans have been sour as hell with the way this season has started – more than started, we’re 27 games into the 2017-18 schedule. On any given night, the Oilers can look like the team that was ready to take another step toward Stanley Cup contention. On others, it appears like they’ve never played the game before – that’s overstatement, of course, but the swings in performance have been ridiculous and frustrating.
It’s been a bit like that old line by Mama Gump – “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” We saw more of that in Saturday’s 7-5 win over the Calgary Flames as the Oilers blew a 6-1 lead and managed to let the Flames make a game of it before they escaped with a much-needed two points. It goes without saying that’s not how any NHL coaches draw it up and it’s no way to put together anything resembling long-term success. Winning and losing can’t be a roll of the dice, like it is right now.
That said, I’d much rather be critiquing wins like Saturday than sifting through the rubble of another loss looking for a silver lining or a consolation prize. How many times were you left doing that over the last decade? Too many. What the Oilers need now until they can pull their heads out of their backsides and get their stuff together – I still think that’s possible, flaws and all – is wins and points to stay in contention, to make a run.
Warts and all, there’s been a subtle turn in that regard. The Oilers, playing right now without Cam Talbot and Adam Larsson and with the holes in their game duly noted, have won four of their last six games and sit 11-14-2 overall. As bad as they’ve been, the Oilers aren’t out of the playoff race in the Western Conference yet. At this juncture how many points they get matters more than how they get them – unless consolation prizes are your thing. I wrote much the same thing here back on Nov. 23 and I still believe it to be true. My three takeaways after the win in Cowtown . . .
With Talbot on IR, Laurent Brossoit has been presented with the opportunity to step into the crease and show that he’s got enough game to be the back-up here. So far, Brossoit has failed to seize the moment. He gave up four goals, three of them softies, on 13 shots in the third period against the Flames. He’s allowed 10 goals on 69 shots in his two starts since Talbot went out. In his last four games, Brossoit’s save-percentage has been .853, .857, .933 and .838.
Simply put, Brossoit has looked very good at times and awful at others in the eight games he’s played. Coaches don’t like that box of chocolates bit in the blue paint. When it comes to the crease, they’ll take a long run of good and steady – OK works fine — over big swings between great and Andre Racicot every day. So far, my guess is Brossoit has left GM Pete Chiarelli with enough doubt that he’s working the phones to check on veteran stoppers – somebody he can count on to spell off Talbot the rest of the way.
From where I sit, and knowing full well one of the easiest ways to make yourself sound like a fool is to offer advice to a goaltender who is good enough to make it to the NHL, it looks like Brossoit plays too deep in his crease. Too often, he makes himself small rather than big and that leaves him prone to giving up goals on the short side and high. Just my two cents.
MEN IN THE MIDDLE
The Oilers are 3-1 since coach Todd McLellan decided to change things up and play with Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle. That’s a short stretch for sure, but I’m old school in many ways and I like the idea of depth and of strength down the middle rather than loading up one line.
We know what McDavid and Draisaitl can do when they’re together, and that’s always an option if a push is needed in any given game, but going three-deep with guys capable of driving a line presents opposing coaches with match-up questions if they’ve only got one true shutdown pairing. No big numbers to back that up yet – McDavid has 1-3-4, Draisaitl is 1-1-2 and RNH is 2-0-2 in those four games – but I think it’s worth a look.
I’ve got to admit that when sophomore Jesse Puljujarvi got a couple of early goals against the Flames, I was hoping he’d get the hat-trick just to see what he’s come up with for a goal celebration – has a player ever licked his own eyebrows to celebrate a hat-trick? The big kid goes to the right areas and he’s looked right at home alongside McDavid so far. Three goals in his last four games.
AND . . .
I really like the pick-up of Brandon Davidson on waivers from the Montreal Canadiens by the Oilers today. Davidson, 26, dealt to Montreal for David Desharnais last season, returns for a second stint here after managing one assist in 13 games with the Habs this season. He was a spare part in Montreal and was offered up for trade with no takers. Looks like a good third-pairing option to me.