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Rock bottom?

“Some times for some reason we don’t get up for games,” said Connor McDavid last night.

He’s bang on. Last night was another game they weren’t ready for.

Last night’s 5-0 loss was the worst display of execution I have seen from an Oilers team in 20 years. During the Decade of Darkness, the Oilers didn’t have a lot of talent. They were overmatched most nights. This edition of the Oilers, while far from perfect, has talent, but last night they were outclassed in every aspect of hockey.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the management and coaching wondering what the CEO of Oilers Entertainment Group Bob Nicholson would do. I’m not giving the management and coaches a free pass, far from it, but last night’s performance by the players was so uninspired it must be discussed.

They lost 5-0 to the 30th place Buffalo Sabres who had played the previous night. The Sabres dominated the game from start to finish. How does that happen?

It is very concerning how this group of players can play that poorly so often on home ice.

In their last ten home games, they have been shutout four times.

They lost 4-0 to Nashville and 5-0 to Winnipeg, Los Angeles and Buffalo. In 40% of their last ten home games they didn’t show up. I don’t care who is coaching or GMing, this group’s inability to play consistently needs to be addressed.

Their attention to detail and execution at home compared to on the road is night and day.

We can all question the PK system, which is worthy of being questioned, but how can they have the best road penalty kill in the NHL at 86.6%, and the worst in NHL history on home ice at 54.2%?

It can’t just be the system. It is the same system at home and on the road, but the results are vastly different.

In 24 road games, the Oilers have been shorthanded 82 times and allowed 11 goals.
In 24 home games, the Oilers have been shorthanded 72 times and allowed 33 goals.
That’s three times more goals allowed on ten fewer penalties. There is something wrong. It isn’t just an anomaly.

It is the same group of players on the road and at home, but their mental focus and attention to detail is not remotely close to how they perform on the road.

Why is that? Their top-six defenders are the same six as last year. Their top-two lines are virtually the same, except for Jordan Eberle. Last year the Oilers had 103 points. They didn’t wilt in games as often as they have this year. If they got down early they battled back.

The Oilers have played with much more determination on the road. Their PP to PK chances on the road is -24 (58-82), but they remain competitive and battle.

Too often on home ice this group hasn’t shown the same resiliency.

I’ve questioned the coaching staff for the last month, and I thought fairly so. Their powerplay has shown no creativity or urgency for months, and I haven’t seen many systematic adjustments from the coaches. But I think is unfair to just give the players a free pass.

This group isn’t a Stanley Cup contender, but they have enough talent to be better than 26th overall in the NHL. I’ve seen bad hockey teams up close for a decade and this team isn’t that bad.

LAST NIGHT

Jan 23, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Buffalo Sabres forward Jack Eichel (15) wins a face-off against Edmonton Oilers forward Ryan Strome (18) during the third period at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Every team will have an off night, and if last night was the first time I’d seen the Oilers play uninspired I wouldn’t be concerned. Even the elite teams have off nights, but last night wasn’t a one-off. It was just the worst of what has become a trend for this year’s team.

At Todd McLellan’s opening press conference in May of 2015 he said the Oilers were a mentally fragile team. Their strategy in San Jose was if you got up on them early they wouldn’t recover. It was an accurate assessment. Last season the Oilers shed that label. Players around the league noticed a distinct difference in the Oilers. They didn’t fold easily. The battled. Yes, they had more skill, but they were no longer a push over.

And this is virtually the same group as last season. Confidence is a factor, no question, but they don’t have the same swagger as last year. Last year they seemed to feed off the notion they were sick of losing and wanted to end the drought. They were rarely out of games. But this year they have been a fragile team, especially on home ice.

Last season over 82 games the Oilers lost seven games by 3+ goals. They had two four-goal losses and five three-goal defeats. They were rarely out of games.

This year, in only 48 games, they’ve lost by 3+ goals 14 times already.

Six times by three goals.
Three times by four goals.
Five times by five goals.

In 30% of their games, they have been dominated. I understand coaching and management is a factor, but you can’t overlook the players on the ice. Virtually the same group is struggling to match the competitiveness of their opposition.

Cam Talbot needs to be better.

Their defencemen need to play smarter.

Their forwards need to be more consistent.

Compare this lineup to the teams of 2010-2015. You’ve seen overmatched rosters. This edition of the Oilers should not be overwhelmed by their opponents as often as they have this season.

The 2011/2012 Oilers lost by 3+ goals 15 times. Their blueline consisted of the following players.

Ladislav Smid: 78 games played, 20:54/game.
Jeff Petry: 73 games played, 21:45/game.
Corey Potter: 62 GP, 19:56/game.
Theo Peckham: 54 GP, 16:52/game.
Andy Sutton: 53 GP, 16:41.game.
Ryan Whitney: 51 GP, 20:57/game.
Tom Gilbert: 47 GP, 22:48/game.
Cam Barker: 25 GP, 18:21/game.
Colten Tuebert: 24 GP, 12:38/game.
Nick Schultz: 20 GP, 20:03/game.

Do you think the aforementioned group is as skilled as this year’s group?

The entire team’s defensive zone coverage has been well below how they played last year. From the goalie to the D-men to the forwards, they have allowed far too many “easy” goals this year with essentially the same group.

Something is amiss. To lose 30% of your games by 3+ goals suggests their determination level isn’t where it needs to be.

We’ve discussed the bad moves by management, and the questionable coaching decisions, but I think last night showed this group needs to look in the mirror, be honest with themselves and realize they are not playing up to their potential.

Nine times in 24 homes games they have lost by 3+ goals.

Why are they more competitive on the road? Why is their mental preparation better?

If they don’t want to answer publicly, they at least need to answer to one another.

The best teams hold their teammates accountable. They need to rediscover the pride and determination they displayed last year.

This year is essentially over, if the playoffs was the goal, but I don’t believe you can just flip a switch and find a winning attitude in the summer.

The truth is, whether there is a change in management or coaching in the off-season, the majority of this roster will return next year.

If last night had been a one-off, there wouldn’t be much concern, but it wasn’t. It has been a season long issue, and since December 14th that type of performance has been on display far too often on home ice for the Edmonton Oilers.

The players need to figure out why they are a much different team on home ice compared to the road.

I’ve watched many bad games over the years, but last night was the worst I’ve seen, when you consider the talent level of this year’s team.

They have to find a way to be consistent. We’ve seen them play well this season. Their focus, execution and desire in divisional games is much better.

Consistency wins in the NHL and the Oilers need to find theirs again.

Regardless of who is the GM or on the coaching staff next year, the majority of this roster will return and they need to rediscover their mental focus.

As McDavid said, they need to get up for more games.

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  • crabman

    It is fair to lay some of the blame on the players, they play the game. And when the team is playing this bad and so far bellow expectations there is plenty of blame to go around.
    But for me it is a matter of accountability and complacency.
    Players get too comfortable in their lives and their roles that they think just showing up will be enough. The lack of hunger and determination isn’t there. That shows a real lack of character and leadership in the dressing room. And I also think it shows that the coaching staff have lost the room. As professionals you would hope the players would show up ready to play and be motivated to win on their own. But they are just people. Some have an inner drive that is always on and others need to be pushed. Part of the coach’s job is to put a system in place that maximizes his players and puts them in a position to succeed. He is also a teacher. Show a player what they are doing wrong and how to correct it. And they are also motivators. Not a rah rah dressing room guy but a guy who can push the right buttons or dangle a carrot and when needed someone who is willing to put his foot up a lazy players a$$. That’s what the coach needs to do. Otherwise why are they there? We have seen it enough times when a talented group of players under performs and once a coaching change is made It’s like night and day.
    I think that time is now. It’s too late for this year but a good finish this year and a change in attitude could go a long way to righting the ship for next year.

    • DannyGallivan

      I agree. They are professionals. This is not a bunch of guys playing shinny with one eye on the beer at the end of the game. Something has caused these guys – the cream of the crop of players that want to play in the NHL – to not care. Matt Hendricks comes to mind. Not the most talented but he had a work ethic. Now for blasphemy. Even CM did not have a fire under his butt last night. Sorry but its true. Season is done. Send Lucic to the minors, bench Russel and maybe Dr. Drai, start Montoya. Blasphemy I know. Something has to be done.

      • crabman

        not blasphemous at all. No one was up for last night’s game including McDavid. I think you start Montoya next game and if he plays well the next one too. sometimes a goalie needs a break. see the game from the bench and get some good time in with the goalie coach as a reset. Lucic can’t be sent to the minors because he has a no move not just a no trade. But he can get put upstairs for a game or two. I think anyone who isn’t playing up to expectations because of what looks like a lack of effort should spend some time riding the pine in game and some.time in the press box. When asked why such and such player isn’t dressing I think it is perfectly acceptable for the coach to tell the world it is because the effort isn’t there. I have no problem with a coach calling out his players as long as it is consistent no matter who the player is.
        I also think it is time for the players who do usually put in an honest effort most nights to start getting in their teammates face when they don’t.

      • MrBung

        Lots of McDavid inflation going on with this team. Drai included. At best a 6 million per year player. 2.5 overpay on him. Those kind of deals will kill the Oil.

    • Hemmercules

      Sadly, they are stuck with him until the end of that contract unless they retain salary on a trade. RNH will likely be the cap casualty which sucks. If they could be rid of Looch and keep Nuge they would probably be happy but this is the real world. I dont even think they could trade Drai if they wanted to either. No one is paying 8.5 for that unless the Oilers are taking some major garbage back.

      • The Future Never Comes

        The average well informed fan knew Klefbom was worth 7 mill tops, that’s a minimum 1.5 mill overpay. Russell I don’t hate as much as the next guy, because he actually tries every game (yeah I know it’s sad that trying is my rating metric for a professional sports team) was over payed by 1 mill. Looch plays like a 2 million dollar player at this stage in his career. McD is making 12.5, and I don’t want to start demonizing a star of the league, but he has 15 goals for that price tag. That’s a 40 goal 100+ plus points price tag. You make that much, I don’t want to here any single excuse why your are not producing at that rate. Yearly.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    Huge props to you Jason, for hanging in there & writing compelling content (for the most part) for all these years… I’ll bet, last year was the easiest of your tenure here as an Oiler Scribe… It must be draining… Keep at it, it doesn’t go un-appreciated… It’s draining for all of us, but somehow you power through it… THANKS…

  • Dr Dragon

    Lucic slow Maroon slow Rienhardt slow Larsson slow Jokinon slow Gryba slow Cammalleri slow Strome slow… Get my drift these are all Chiarelli’s Acquisitions the NHL is getting faster and this clown is making the Oilers slower. This team cant keep up with the pace this year