The Edmonton Oilers had a sluggish start to the season. Their first eight weeks of the season were a combination of subpar goaltending, too many defensive breakdowns, a lack of depth scoring and inconsistency was rampant throughout the lineup. Frustration mounted in Oilersnation and many theories were discussed, but for me the root of the Oilers issues wasn’t anything more than a team underperforming. It isn’t a “Hot Take,” and while the Oilers definitely have areas they need to improve before the trade deadline, even during their rough start I never felt they were as bad as their place in the standings showed.
Last year they proved they could play smart, disciplined hockey, be solid in their own zone, have steady goaltending and have balanced scoring. They struggled to find their footing early this season. They had no consistency. They could look great one game, but then look like a Decade of Darkness team over the next three games. Their swagger was lost for eight weeks, but after a pathetic effort in Buffalo on November 24th the Oilers are playing up to their potential.
Of course they still have some issues, special teams, and we’ve discussed that at length. We’ll have a lot more time to discuss it in subsequent articles.
Since November 26th the Oilers accumulated the 10th most points in the NHL, 18, had the 6th most wins, nine and have averaged the second-most goals at 3.64/game, trailing only Washington’s 3.84.
Last night in the third period the Oilers resembled the confident and competent 2017 club. They didn’t wilt when St.Louis went up 1-0 and 2-1. They battled back and Drake Caggiula scored the winner with less than 50 seconds remaining. Their start was not good, but they got better as the game went on, hit five goal posts, and unlike earlier this season they didn’t let the game get away from them.
Cam Talbot has found his groove again. In his first 19 starts he was 7-10-1 with a .900sv% and 3.19 GAA. His EV Sv% was .912. In his last six starts, three prior to his injury and three after, he is 6-0 with a .922sv% and 2.14 GAA. His even strength SV% is .939, and Laurent Brossoit’s was .917 in eight starts. Talbot is playing better in the crease and so are the Oilers in their defensive zone.
Their offence has picked up, and it isn’t just Connor McDavid.
In their first 21 games, McDavid had 26 points, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had 17, Leon Draisaitl had 16 (in 17 games), Milan Lucic had 13, Patrick Maroon had 12, Ryan Strome had eight, Mark Letestu had six and Drake Caggiula had five (in 13 games). On defence, Kris Russell had seven while Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom had six. The Oilers had scored 53 goals, 5th lowest in the NHL.
In their last 14 games, when they’ve won more, McDavid has 15 points, Lucic 12 while Letestu and Draisaitl 10, Ten other players have five or more points. In this stretch, they have scored the 2nd most and McDavid’s points-per-game are lower than the first 21 games. The Oilers supporting cast has stepped up. Mark Letestu and Zack Kassian have made their fourth line just as productive, as their second and third lines.
Early in the season, a lot of talk surrounding the Oilers was that they were slow. I didn’t agree with that then and don’t know. No one called the Oilers slow last season, and this year’s roster was virtually the same except for Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot and Tyler Pitlick/David Desharnais. I don’t believe Ryan Strome, Jujhar Khaira and Jussi Jokinen/Mike Cammalleri are noticeably slower than the trio they replaced.
The fact was the Oilers were playing slow. They aren’t now and no one is talking about their team speed, despite them having the same forward group. The Oilers have a few average skaters, but they have many really good skaters, and when the Oilers are moving the puck quickly their speed is apparent.
The Oilers have a long climb up the standings to get back in a playoff spot, and I don’t expect them to be there until February to be honest. This morning they are five points out of the wildcard, but that could be seven again by tomorrow. The Oilers need to gain two points/month in January, February and March and another two points split between December and April. It won’t be a fast climb, and looking at the standings every day will be nerve-wracking and probably frustrating for many in Oilersnation. There is no quick fix for the Oilers, but they have found their game and you should expect to see the Oilers in the top-ten in points accumulated over the next month.
HERE AND THERE…
— Congratulations to Ken Hitchcock on becoming only the third head coach in NHL history to win 800 games. He trails Joel Quenneville, 868, and Scotty Bowman with an amazing 1244. Hitchcock has 296 wins with Dallas, while he had 248 with St.Louis, 131 in Philadelphia and 125 with Columbus. His coaching record is 800-488-88 (ties)-114 OTL. He should be a lock to make the Hockey Hall of Fame.
— Carey Price will start for the Montreal Canadiens in Calgary tonight. Maybe they play him back-to-back, but with it being a 5 p.m. start tomorrow, I doubt he does. The other factor is the Oilers, despite their struggles during the majority of Price’s career, have lit up Price. He is 2-7-1 with a 3.73 GAA and a .859sv% in ten career starts vs. the Oilers. That is his worst sv% and GAA against any NHL franchise. His career average is 2.43 GAA and .919sv%. The Oilers likely will face Antti Niemi tomorrow.
— I think Drake Caggiula will be a good NHL player. I like his quickness, his shot, he can be physical and he has better offensive instincts than some think. He’s only played 84 NHL games. He is still adapting to the league, and learning to be consistent. “I have faith in my abilities. I have a lot of confidence in what I can bring to this team. Sometimes it is good to get a different perspective (pressbox for a few games). It happened last year and I was able to bounce back from it, so I’m looking to play my game more consistently,” Caggiula told me after scoring the game winner last night. He has had two solid game since coming out of the press box, and with more experience he will learn how to noticed more regularly. The Oilers need to be patient with him, because I think he will reward them and be a solid complementary player who can play in various situations.
— Nikita Kucherov has heated up again with nine points in his last five games. He leads the NHL with 50 points, five ahead of John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. He is nine ahead of McDavid as McDavid tries to become the first player to win consecutive league scoring titles since Jaromir Jagr won four in a row between 1998-2001. If the Oilers powerplay could wake up he’ll have a chance to catch Kucherov. Kucherov has 31 EV points to McDavid’s 30, but Kucherov has ten more PP points 19-9 thus far.
— The Oilers haven’t scored a home PP goal in six games. The early four-minute powerplay last night was dreadful. “We just weren’t sharp. We didn’t win any battles. We didn’t start with the puck off of faceoffs, and that always takes some momentum away. We need to be better,” said Leon Draisailt. They were better on their only other powerplay of the game in the third period, when they actually shot the puck and showed some urgency. The fact the special teams continue to be an issue, yet the Oilers are winning shows me how good of an even strength team they are. They have scored the second most goals in the NHL since November 22nd, and they’ve only scored four powerplay goals in that span.
MONTH OF GIVING
Thank you to Steve for his great bid on the Vivo Ristorante dinner with Ryan Smyth and Mark Letestu. And to the 20 listeners who participated in our Pyramid of Giving and raised $6,250 for Adopt-A-Teen. AWESOME.
FINAL DAY, Package #1: Dinner with the MOP at Sorrentino’s
- You and three friends will have a 4-course dinner with beverages (wine included) at either Sorrentino’s Downtown or Bistecca Italian Steakhouse. Their Executive Chefs Alberto Alboreggia (Downtown) and Sonny Sung (Bistecca) will prepare the meals.
- You will be joined by Edmonton Eskimos Mike Reilly, CFL Most Outstanding Player, (maybe his special hat) and All-star receiver Adarius Bowman and special guest Jason Strudwick.
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Alberta MS Society
Package #2: Hockey and Dinner at Grand Villa Casino
- You and three friends will have a five-course meal at Atlas Steak House in Grand Villa Casino. All wine pairings and beverages included
- Four tickets in a suite to the Oilers/Ducks game on March 25th (just in time for a playoff race).
Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau