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Three Thoughts: Next Year is Here

After taking two much-needed points in a 6-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens, the Edmonton Oilers played well enough to get two more against the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday, but ended up losing 1-0 in a game they should have – there is no “deserved” in hockey – won. All told, it was a very good performance that didn’t yield even a single point. At this juncture, that’s pretty cold consolation.

I don’t know about you, but I liked most of what I saw from the Oilers against the Maple Leafs at ACC, aside from the power play (more on that later). They carried the play and outshot the Maple Leafs 41-23, but Curtis McElhinney, a career back-up goaltender, almost single-handedly stiffed the Oilers, just as he always does. McElhinney is 6-0 in his career vs. Edmonton.

At 12-16-2 for 26 points after 30 games, the problem is solid efforts that don’t get two points don’t matter. A dozen games in? Sure. In the middle of a six-game winning streak? Yes. Playing better builds confidence and matters in the big picture. In the playoff picture as it stands now, not even a little bit. If the Oilers weren’t out of the post-season race before they jetted out for games in Montreal, Toronto and Columbus, they almost certainly are today because just can’t string wins together, let alone produce a long enough winning streak to crawl back into the race.

The Oilers have managed to win two games-in-a-row exactly twice this season. Twice. This, from a team that put together two-or-more wins-in-a-row nine times last season AFTER the 30-game mark, including four three-gamers, two four-gamers and one five-game streak. Down the stretch, the Oilers won 12 of their final 14 games to finish with 103 points. They’ll need a run like that again just to get a sniff off a wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Let’s say 90 points makes the cutline this season. They’ll need 64 points from their final 52 games to get there. No chance. No way.

WHY NOT 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

When a team struggles the way the Oilers have, armchair coaches and GMs come out of the woodwork. That’s to be expected. It’s fair ball when a team that, in the eyes of many, was supposed to build on last season and be a Stanley Cup contender. One question that jumped out at me last night: why didn’t coach Todd McLellan see fit to give Jesse Puljujarvi even one second of playing time on the power play?

I’m not saying Puljujarvi is the answer, but on a night when the Oilers went 0-for-4 with the man-advantage, including a full two minutes of 5-on-3, I’m surprised McLellan didn’t even ask the question and give the big Finn a look as a shooter off the wall. It’s not like McLellan would be messing with success – the Oilers scored twice in six attempts in Montreal but that’s the only two goals the PP has managed in the last 24 attempts.

Through 13 games, Puljujarvi is averaging just 19 seconds of PP time per game. From where I sit, it looks like McLellan is being stubborn on this one – specifically, sticking with Mark Letestu on the PP. Letestu got almost six PP minutes last night. As good as Letestu was on the PP last season, he’s not producing enough now that Puljujarvi, a right shot, should be stapled to the pine when the Oilers go on the man-advantage. Give the kid a look.

HE’S BACK

Nov 30, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen Matt Hunwick (2) tries to check Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) during the third periodat Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Connor McDavid was nothing less than magnificent against the Maple Leafs, a force almost every shift. While it might not have been McDavid’s best game as an Oiler, it was likely his best outing that didn’t produce a point. McDavid had four shots, which isn’t an indication of how much of a threat he was. McDavid is clearly over the illness that weakened and slowed him. He looked as quick as he’s even been.

At the 30-game mark, McDavid is sitting in ninth place in NHL scoring with 11-24-35. He’s seven points back of Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who leads with 12-30-42. I don’t know if McDavid has enough in the tank to grab the Art Ross Trophy for the second straight year, but I’ll settle for seeing him play like he did in Toronto every night.

DARE TO DREAM

Erik Karlsson is on record as saying he wants to stay in Ottawa with the Senators (although not at a hometown discount). That might not matter if the Senators have already decided they can’t afford to keep him – speculation is management has asked him for a list of teams he won’t go to under his NTC. If I’m Pete Chiarelli I’m picking up the phone and finding out if Karlsson is actually available and if Edmonton is on the no-go list.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

  • oil.99.97.11

    Not playing Jesse on the PP, sticking with Letestu no matter what…it’s all you need to know about the Oilers coaching staff. The long-suffering “Holier Than Thou” attitude by this organization’s coaches and management has done nothing but make this team “Oilier Than Thou”. And that just plain stinks.

  • Heschultzhescores

    We have a shooter in JP, but we stay with a guy who got a few goals on the PP last year, like last year counts. Also the only year Letestu scored any significant number of PP goals. I’m sure many were gifts from McD. McDavid makes so many average guys look good. We can throw anyone on that PP and get the same results. If we actually want better results we need to get a sniper there, and JP looks like he’s got that kind of shot.

    • OilersGM

      I agree but my observation of McLellan and woodchuck oops I mean Woodcroft is they are little bit slow in seeing what everyone else does and it takes them a while to process it like 2/3 of the year or maybe even f**** longer. Same goes for Chiarelli slow in the head.

  • ScottV

    How PC and McL couldn’t see that Puljujarvi needed to be in the line up from day 1 is beyond me.
    You should be able to see beyond a bit of a slow start and who cares that a 145 lb kid makes a bit of a splash at training camp?
    One of several examples of failing to take the task at hand seriously from the get go.

    • LAKID

      The thing is last year PJ was not ready and in the past the Oilers have ruined their prospects by rushing them, that said there is no reason not to play him full out now. Puljujarvi might save Mac”s job if he plays him more, nothing now to lose!

    • ed from edmonton

      JP had a “meh” training camp and I guarantee you there would have been plenty of angst on this site about “gifting” a spot whilst Yamamoto earned it in training camp.

  • Flint

    I don’t even think 64 points would make it. There is an extra team in the Division this year, which make things even more complex. I think they need 69pts – for 95. All of LA, Vegas, StL, Nash, Wpg are predicted to get ~100pts by Sportsclubstats highest probability. SJ 98. Chi and Minn 94. – That’s 8 teams. Even if one falters CGY and Van are predicted to get 90, in 9th and 10th but likely more if one of the above craters.

    I’d love to know how to find statistical history on it, but I think if you don’t have 32 pts by game 30, it’s impossible. Edmonton is 6 points behind that! Let’s say they go 8-1-1 in their next 10… maybe you talk slim hope. But they lose even 3 of these next 10 in regulation and the best they can be is .500 at mid-point, if they go 7-3-0.

  • bazmagoo

    I agree with Robin, what’s the deal with Letestu being given such a long leash on the 1st PP? Ok he had a career year last year, but he’s a career 4th line center and is likely prone to slumps. A head scratcher for sure.

  • Roberto

    I mentioned Drai, Jones and a 1st for Karlsson as a possible conversation starter about 5 days ago and I was torn apart in the comment section. As soon as Kypreos or Friedmen mentions a Karlson trade possibility, it gets serious traction. If such a trade were to actually happen, I’m cooking up some crow.

  • Oilman99

    The problem is,a deal for Karlson puts the team in a world of hurt with the salary cap with twenty-five mil commmitted to two guys.”lm not sure his best years aren’t behind him. He’s not the same player since the injury last year.

    • Clayton

      Agreed…with Connor and Drai set to consume $21M of cap space next year it is hard to see how the Oilers would fit in a nearly double digit contract for Karlson…unless the swap includes Lucic and Russell! Maybe Chia should offer up Lucic, Russell, 1st Rounder and any 2 players not named Connor!

  • Connor McFly

    Mclellan has got in the way of individual players development and team success. The man’s stubborness is mind- boggling. He won’t use Pulujarvi on the PP with McDavid. He opts for Letestu who is slow and useless. The coach is a blockhead.

  • Rusty Patenaude

    Was Letestu “slow and useless” when he outscored McDavid during the playoffs? Was he slow and useless when he scored 11 pp goals last season (1 fewer than team leader Milan Lucic?) Is it “slow and useless” Mark Letestu’s fault that the pp is struggling? It is the fault of a player tied for the team lead in pp goals (3)? Letestu has 6 powerplay points 2nd only to McDavid and HE’S the problem? Do you “experts” even bother to consider that Puljujarvi would be replacing the best faceoff guy on the team? The only one of the 3 dependable faceoff guys who is a righty? You do know that winning offensive zone faceoffs on the powerplay is important, right?

  • Dr. Merkwurdigliebe

    Odds are slim they’ll make the playoffs, but they’d better not give up!

    Jesse on the power play. This is what frustrates me about our coach. Jesse is okay to be on the wing on the top line but is not fit for the struggling power play? This is why I feel that our coach is not getting the most out of the lineup.

  • Gordie Wayne

    Hmmmm…why do we need Erik Karlsson when the “next Erik Karlsson” can likely be had with our upcoming first overall pick. I keed, I keed (or do I???)…sigh. As a fan, I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick that football again.

    • ET

      Hope you feel better after taking your shot at Edmonton, some folks need to put down others in order to feel better about themselves and you seem like one. It’s one thing to have fun bashing each others sports teams but quite another to start bashing cities. Have you even been to Edmonton? We welcome even low self esteem people like you to visit so please come here and see what a great city we actually do have. Winnipeg is also beautiful by the way in case you are bashing them too without ever having visited. Have a nice life.

  • deferoiler

    I get why TMac is sticking with Letestu since it worked well last year. But you would think the way our pp and pk has struggled mightly he might switch it up. Im all for giving pulijarvi a chance. I believe in TMac as a coach but boy does woodcroft need to go asap

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Whatever the odds I’d rather they go for it and still try and make the playoffs than play for a good draft pick.

    And even if we miss by a point or two I’m big enough to say that I hope the Flames win an opportunity to pick in the lottery.

  • ed from edmonton

    No way the Oil can afford McD and Karlson’s contract. Karlson a UFA at the prime of his career who has gone on record that he is not interested in any home town discount. Factor is a 80M cap or more and Karlson will surpass McD as highest paid player in the league.

  • Anton CP

    Again, the Oilers are not a contender yet but because of the overachieved performance of last year that suddenly everyone think the Oilers as Vegas suggested is a cup team. And surely the team has been largely underachieving this season but in reality that the Oilers is only a fringe team that should only be on the bubble to make playoffs.

    Think about it, goalie is not a seasonal vets that has only been a starter for less than 3 seasons (just barely over 200 games). The entire blueline as for now are very young (with only Russell at 30 and over years old) because the most experienced Sekera still on shelf. The team have the youngest captain in the league and with only 7 players that have played more than 200 games that the inexperience is everywhere on the roster. The team is simply not ready yet, no matter how do you view last year’s performance because Talbot stole a lot of games for this team. I was worried after last season due to the stellar performance of Talbot that it hid many potential weaknesses of the team and unfortunately are exposed for this season.

    So, this is within the range of how this team is supposedly be. Be patient and the team will be better, maybe not this season but they will be better (this is not another cool-aid talk because I’ve never believed during the DoD). The current top standing teams like Lightning, Kings, Jets, and Devils were all missed playoffs last season (Vegas is a new expansion team) so it is not unusual for teams have a down year. It hits the Oilers fans harder because of PTSD from DoD. Relax, this is not the same as DoD, they boys need to learn how to weather the storm because it is never going to be easy.

  • MessyEH!

    If the Oilers win 5 out of every 8 they make the playoffs. There is still a chance. It’s getting slimmer and Slimmer. If they win at a 62% rate for the remainder of the season they finish at 94 pts.

    It can happen. If any team is due for a hot streak it’s Edmonton.

  • the reasonable person

    I was sort of beginning to wonder when someone with some influence would come out and say it… Just looking at the standings now, to get in via 3rd in the Pacific, Oilers would need to jump over Ducks, Canucks, Flames, and Sharks, NINE points deficit on San Jose and they have a game in hand.

    To get in via wild card, would need to pass the Flames as it stands right now, who have 8 more points than us (and we’ve already beaten them twice), and would have to pass them by more than any of the Ducks, Canucks, Avs, Blackhawks, or Wild are able to.

    Apparently 5 out of 8 on average for the rest of the year gets them 94 points, the minimum it took last year for playoffs. They need to win 33 out of 52 to MAYBE get to the dance, and the competition for wildcards looks more fierce than last year to me.

    They need to win almost all the remaining games they play against other teams mentioned in this post.

    No rational man would bet on this happening and no reasonable fan would think this is going to happen.

    But this team is not the decade of darkness teams. Can one still hope, as a fan, that this is some kind of Hollywood thriller about to play out?

    • the reasonable person

      They’d actually need to win 34 out of 52 to get to 94 points. Or get 68 out of a possible 104 points. Keeping in mind the need to gain on and pass several other division and/or conference adversaries.

  • camdog

    It’s still too early to write season off. From a numbers perspective Oilers have a 3.9% probability. The only teams with 0% chance right now are Arizona and Buffalo.

  • Consultant

    Just wanted to put in for the record that I don’t think the Oilers are done this year.
    February schedule is easy peasy. I see this team capable of a great second half, led of course by McDavid and a healthy blue line. I think they still make the playoffs.

      • MessyEH!

        I see I am wearing you down Brownlee. The Oilers have been a .500 team over the last 10 games. They might even collect some loser points.

        Welcome back on the bandwagon Robin. We can pretend you never left.