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?
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.
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.