You’d like to think that Tuesday night’s 5-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings marked a new low for the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers, but really, it’s just more of the same.
As of writing this, the Oilers are 6th in their division and 13th in the Conference, nine points out of a wildcard spot. According to Dom Luszczyszyn, their playoff hopes rest at a lowly seven percent. It’s going to take about 94 points to make the show and to do that the Oilers are going to have to play .700-plus hockey.
How did the Oilers get to this point? We’ve covered a lot of the reasons, and they are legion. Mostly, they’re self-inflicted wounds.
In Tuesday night’s loss, as in many before it, it was the penalty kill that reared its ugly head. The game was relatively close going into the third. The Oilers were down one to the Kings and playing a tight hockey game at five-on-five.
Patrick Maroon isn't making any friends in LA with this dirty hit on Drew Doughty pic.twitter.com/pLbo3xZrCF
— Yahoo Canada Sports (@YahooCASports) January 3, 2018
Then Patrick Maroon threw a high, headshot on Kings defenceman Drew Doughty near the end of the second period, and suffered an ejection and a five-minute major. By the time that major had expired in the third frame, the Oilers had surrendered three power play goals (Maroon has since been suspended for two games).
The game was over. It’s one that everyone involved surely wants to put behind them as soon as possible, but Milan Lucic’s comments in the wake of that most recent loss, and even Maroon’s suspension, means it’s all the talk of the town a day later.
Speaking to Sportsnet’s Mark Spector on Tuesday night, Lucic said of his team’s penalty kill unit (which he’s not a part of) that “We’re in it, all game long, get a five-minute penalty against, and they get three out of it.”
“Too many games this year we’ve talked about or PK not getting it done. I’m not here callin’ out the PK, but that’s the reality of what happened tonight.”
That’s a really funny way of not being out here “callin’ out” the penalty kill. It’s an odd comment that’s made especially more confusing when one considers the source. Has Lucic not built a mythology around his career about accountability? When he qualifies his comments about the penalty kill by saying he’s not calling out his penalty kill, is he not asking for a get out of jail free card? Sure, I’ve got something to say, but hold my own words against me and the like.
The hypocrisy doesn’t end there, though. As many were quick to point out on Twitter, Lucic is second on the team in penalty minutes with 49 to his credit. In first place? Maroon, who has 53 after Tuesday’s major. Of course, it wasn’t Maroon — you know, the player who forced the five-minute penalty kill on his teammates — who Lucic went after though (an issue consistent with the NHLPA and the players that make it prioritizing the earnings of their members ahead of their safety, so really, it’s par for the course).
And perhaps you let Lucic’s comments slide given the heat of the moment, but a part of what made him such an attractive option in free agency to Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli all those years ago was his qualities as a leader. Certainly, you want to see that if you’re the Oilers, paying him $6-million annually for production and a two-way profile that doesn’t register as close to commensurate with the cost. Those intangibles, and so on.
Could the Oilers penalty kill be better? Without a doubt. Some of that is on the players. When Edmonton goes on the kill, they’re surrendering the second highest rate of expected goals against per hour of any team in the NHL. They’re not giving up a tonne of shots (second-best shot attempt rate against in the league), but they’re giving up enough high-quality ones that it doesn’t quite matter.
Only compounding matters is the Oilers inability to get a save when they’re down a man. Neither Laurent Brossoit or Cam Talbot have held up their end of the bargain. The Oilers have a league-worst save percentage of 79.1% on the penalty kill.
Everyone shares a certain amount of blame. But for an Oilers forward who’s played barely 30 seconds on the penalty kill and is responsible for a significant portion of their workload, it’s an odd bit of finger pointing that should be out of character for someone with his reputation. Perhaps, try starting with the man in the mirror.
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