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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

GDB 40.0: King Size Challenge (7:30pm MST, SNW)

The Edmonton Oilers begin 2018 in the unenviable 13th position in the Western Conference. They are seven points back of Anaheim, with a game in hand, for the final wildcard position. Minnesota, Chicago, Calgary and Colorado are also ahead of them in the race for eighth place in the west.

The Oilers were brutal against Winnipeg on Sunday. But lack of effort isn’t the main concern with this team. Their special teams are killing them. Every other topic is simply white noise or a distraction from the root of their problems.

The penalty kill is horawful. Yes, it is so bad you need to combine words and make up a new one to accurately describe the ineptitude of their penalty kill. It has been bad all season.

And for the past 19 games, the power play has decided to challenge the penalty kill for biggest weakness on the team. The PP is 12% over the past 19 games — six goals in 50 chances — and the first PP unit has two PP goals in the past ten games.

Special teams are killing the Oilers. Much of it is coaching. Yes, the players need to be better, but seeing no improvement on a dreadful penalty kill and now a powerplay plummeting down the rankings is the recipe for no playoffs, and it could cost the coaching staff their jobs.

The NHL is a tough business. The Oilers have enough skill to be better than 13th overall. Their 5×5 play is very competitive, but they are losing games due to the powerplay and penalty kill.

The Oilers have scored a power play goal in only 13 of 39 games. They’ve allowed a powerplay goal in 24 of 29 and in nine of those games they’ve allowed two or three powerplay goals.

What concerns me about the powerplay is the lack of options once they are set up in the offensive zone. Their zone entries, for the most part, are good, but when they get set up they generate very little.

Using Draisaitl in the bumper spot when McDavid is on the half wall limits both of them. Rarely can Draisaitl one-time the puck or get off a quick shot when the puck comes from the right boards, and because of that, they look for the high tip, which should never be the first option. Either set up McDavid on the left boards, which isn’t ideal, so Draisailt can shoot the puck from the slot/bumper, or put a right shot in the middle, like they did last year with Letestu, and have Draisaitl swing over to the left side. Have more motion in the powerplay, where Letestu can sometimes slide out from the bumper and be open for a one-timer.

Many powerplay coaches and players have told me when they watch opposing powerplays they like to see what the plan is once they are set up. Do the Oilers have a plan? Their set up is limiting their two most skilled players, so to me, the plan isn’t defined enough. It can’t just be, “Let Connor weave his magic.” The best players in the world love to be challenged and are always striving to learn. I have no doubt McDavid can adapt to anything the coaches put in front of him, but this year I’ve seen very few noticeable options. Yes, McDavid’s unwillingness to shoot is a small issue, but he wasn’t a shoot-first thinker last year and the PP was fine. Teams have adjusted to what the Oilers did last year, and I believe it is the coach’s job to adjust to what the PK is doing and find ways to exploit it.

Outside of not scoring very much on the PP, recently I haven’t seen a lot of quality chances produced. If they generate enough quality chances, eventually they will go in, but we aren’t seeing that and that is the main reason the production has plummeted. The powerplay has enough skill to be better and it is up to the coaching staff to put that skill in positions to succeed.

The PK also has to wake up.

The penalty kill system, or lack thereof, is the main factor without question. Whatever the coaches are seeing on video, they haven’t been able to communicate it properly to the group. The PK can’t get out of their own way. A competitive PK is 82%, but the Oilers haven’t been able to improve at all in the past six weeks. The overall numbers won’t improve much the rest of the year, but considering how shitty the PK has been it shouldn’t be difficult to ask it to be better than 70 freaking percent.

There have been zero improvements in the past 21 games, and in fact, it has gotten worse. In the last 14 games, the PK is 69%. The coaches need to try a different message. Changing players is one option, but if you put new players on the ice and the message is the same, I don’t see why it will improve. It is just adjusting the chairs on a sinking ship.

Make no mistake: the Oilers’ quest for the playoffs begins and ends with their special teams. Their 5×5 play is good enough, although limiting a few more goals would be nice, but they are still outscoring teams at 5×5.

Fix both special teams and the Oilers can make a run. If they don’t, then we could see changes throughout the organization.

LINEUP..

Maroon-McDavid-Puljujarvi
Cammalleri-Draisaitl-Caggiula
Lucic-RNH-Strome
Auvitu-Letestu-Slepyshev

Nurse-Larsson
Sekera-Russell
Klefbom-Davidson

Talbot

The Oilers had an optional skate this morning, but the above lines were used yesterday. It would be a big shakeup to sit Khaira and Kassian. Matt Benning had a tough night versus the Jets, so I can see why Davidson would draw in. Kassian might be out for his four-minute minor, but the game was over, 4-0, when he took that penalty. The coach might be sending a message that they need to be disciplined for all 60 minutes, regardless of the score. I’ll be a bit surprised if Khaira is out. I thought he’s played quite well in December. He didn’t do much versus Chicago and like the rest of the team did very little versus Winnipeg, but I still like his game. If I was guessing though Slepyshev would come out and Cammelleri in up front. Davidson will play for Benning.

Earlier this year when Caggiula, Khaira and Cammalleri were healthy scratches they played very well in their first games out of the press box. Anton Slepyshev, when coming out of the press box, has done very little. He was used on the PK and wasn’t scored on, so that might be why he is still in. Regardless of who plays tonight, their effort must be better than Sunday’s, but even that might not be enough if their PK and PP plan isn’t improved.

Kings

Pearson-Kopitar-Brown
Gaborik-Kempe-Toffoli
Clifford-Shore-Lewis
Iafallo-Mitchell-Jokinen

Muzzin-Doughty
MacDermid-Martinez
Forbort-Gravel

Quick

The Kings are 8-3-2 in their last 13 games. They are showing no sign of slowing down. Drew Doughty has been excellent the past month producing 11 points, along with being +12 while averaging 27 minutes/game. He plays the toughest competition most nights and I love his attitude and skill. He relishes playing against the best players, and if they get the better of him he doesn’t wilt. At the midway point of the season, he would #1 on my list for the Norris trophy. He is having another excellent season.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers have dominated the Pacific division since the start of the 2016/2017 season. They are 25-7-3. But the Kings are playing well. It goes to OT. Oilers lose 3-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid gets a point. In his career he has never gone pointless in three consecutive games. The streak remains intact tonight.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Kings allow a PP goal. The Kings have allowed a league-low 17 PP goals. The 2nd unit scores the PP goal for the Oilers.

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Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 01/02/2018 – 1:30pm MST