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Three Thoughts: How Many?

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 . . .

SLIP-SLIDING AWAY

Feb 21, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Edmonton Oilers goalie Laurent Brossoit (1) makes a save against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second period at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

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

Nov 28, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) celebrates his overtime goal against the Arizona Coyotes at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

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.

JESSE

Nov 24, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Edmonton Oilers right wing Jesse Puljujarvi (98) looks for the puck during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

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.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • Cain

    The final score should have been 7-2 last night. Unfortunately, the ghost of Ben Scrivens Past showed up and made way closer than it should have been.
    I was really hoping we were past having to live,and lose, with horrible goaltending. Now we need to find a capable goalie mid-season, which is of course extremely difficult.

      • Dan 1919

        He let in two softies against Toronto too, which everyone chose to ignore and say it was the team’s fault. Given these two games, I don’t think you can go back to him. The coaches know him best and maybe it’s just rookie nerves, but unfortunately he seems to have blown this opportunity and will have to wait for another one. Gambling on him again would be putting the season in the hands of a goalie that has already proven he can’t do it right now. The Oilers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, they can’t afford to “hope” that Broissoit comes around.

    • Dwayne Roloson 35

      The final score is the final score. The Oilers could have scored more and they could have allowed less but goalies make saves, players shoot wide, and teams break down. We won though.

  • D

    A lot of fans wanted the coach to run three lines with McDavid, Drai and RNH from earlier in the season. The coach was really stuck on McDavid and Drai playing together on the same line. Have three #1 middlemen on the team is a luxury that should not be squandered.

  • Johnny Zylon

    Just my own gut feeling but I am starting to believe the team’s worst days of this season are behind them. That flu bug was a real detriment . The Russell own-goal may be a defining moment in the character of this team as a rallying point. Plus IMO coach TMac has line combos that make sense. Oiler domination to follow!

  • Big Jacks Meat

    Fingers crossed Talbot heals quick , the improved desire and with him even at 90% that game last night is 7-3 at best. I don’t believe we have much to lose by starting Ellis against Philly. Stranger things have happened. [ Andrew Hammond’s run] Keep it rolling Oilers. Davidson !! yeah baby , better than Gryba or Auvitu.

  • Rama Lama

    Love the pick up on Davidson…….the guy is another warrior like Russel. Also I’m not counting my chickens yet, but it’s nice to see JP on the first line getting some points. I say that given some time he will adjust to McDavid’s speed and only get better.

    I’m not sure that Lucic is the right fit on that line, although he is playing well lately………a creative speed demon would be nice say like a Hall type player…….does anyone know of such a player that is available?

    • Dan 1919

      Yeah I agree, Lucic has never quite clicked with McDavid. Although he is playing better with him now(still not great) than at any point in the past, imo. Maybe it is just taking Lucic this long to figure it out, and in another 10-15 games they’ll start to excel together, hopefully. Either way, with the lack of depth on the wings I think Lucic will continue to line up next to McDavid, so at least we’ll know for sure in another month or two if Lucic/McDavid is ever going to work.
      Seems to me that Lucic is almost overcomplicating his game too much, trying to make plays and giving the puck away. His strength is as a powerforward, head to the net and make space, that’s basically all Maroon did and it was effective..

    • BlueHairedApe

      It’s funny Hall and Davidson get brought up. It was Davidson that told a friend of mine that Taylor Hall was a cancer in the locker room and was happy when they got rid of him. It never surprises me to see his former teammates taking cheap shots at him whenever they play against him.

    • Frank Rizza

      I said this last week but I absolutely love Lucic on Mcdavids wing. I just feel safe. I know Maroon does a great job of sticking up for teammates but there’s something about Lucic’s ability to make NHL players so focused on their own skate laces when he looks at them that makes his contract worth every penny.
      I remember for at least 5 years before Milan signed how teams would facewash and bully guys like Hall and Nuge and everyone else and that just simply doesn’t happen anywhere near as often. #wortheverypenny

      • Big Nuggets

        I’m not too disappointed with Lucic so far. He’s playing about how you’d expect. It’d be nice if he went into beast-mode for a couple games remind us what he’s capable of but all-in-all he is a decent winger with good size. Just hope he ages well.

  • #97TRAIN

    The thing I liked about Puljujarvi is when he went to the paint he was in the mix after every play battling. That’s something that this team sorely needs.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    If Jesse continues to produce on McDavid’s wing, and Yams adds some strength over the summer, Chia might have fixed the predicament at RW via the draft. Imagine that.

  • nuge2drai

    “Life was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”

    The line has actually been changed, from is to was.

    Its the Mandella Effect.

    • Serious Gord

      It’s the Mandela effect. And you aren’t quite correct. The box of chocolates is mentioned twice when Forrest’s mama says it it’s

      “ Life’s a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Which is closer to the most common rendition.

  • slats-west

    Ruben nice reference on “Red Light”Racicot!

    Agree on The goalie positioning comment -was at the game last night and several times he was standing in the goal line with shooters winding up outside the has marks -that style worked well when there was lots of traffic in first period but he needs to challenge shooters a lot more and play Larger.

    I hope Davidson helps with moving the puck quicker as the Oilers looked unstoppable last night going up 6-1 calgary had no answer and they had 3 strong lines coming at them in waves.

  • Svart kaffe

    “it looks like Brossoit plays too deep in his crease. Too often, he makes himself small rather than big”

    That’s true, but he’s not quick enough left to right to play further out.

    That said what he did wrong against Calgary was assume he had it wrapped up after two periods and a big lead. I’ll bet that was a lesson for him and that he’s dying to get out there again and play all 60 minutes.

    As good as I think Ellis will be down the line they should show some confidence in LB and let him start while Talbot is gone.

  • Roberto

    “Tonight is Pool Party’s coming out Party. 3 Pts for the Jasper Ave Joker. 3 pts for McDavid, and 2 for the hunchback of Rogers place.”

    Looks like Roberto was one game off on the prediction…

  • Serious Gord

    Brossoit is not the answer. A rebound machine most nights and just not that Quick. There’s a reason why Talbot was played as often as he was last season and he was on track to play as much this season

    JP is unformed hockey clay at this point. Clearly has huge potential. We shouldn’t count on him for much this season. ( that chia may have is a mark against him)

    Davidson is inconsequential for this season and seasons to come. A depth player at best. Sekera is what this team needs. Pronto.

    • Big Nuggets

      I’ll let Davidson to write his own script thanks.
      It is not inconsequential if he is better than Gryba and Auvitu. Also he’s still an RFA, if he comes in and plays well he could be used as a pot sweetener for a deadline deal as well.

  • RJ

    I have to say, with most players they talk about a 300 game mark to know what kind of player you’re going to get.

    I have to say, Brossoit played well at lower levels but I’m not seeing it yet at the NHL level. For the player, you hope he figures it out but that seems like a gamble the team shouldn’t have taken.

    As for JP, he’s been given an opportunity to play with the best and so far he’s delivered. I wouldn’t rely on it continuing indefinitely. He needs to keep improving if he wants that spot long-term.

    Davidson: liked his story, seems like a great guy, but he is a third pairing defender so no one should expect the team to suddenly take leaps and bounds.