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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Gravis82

    Uninspired performances happen more often on teams that have been poorly constructed by their GM because they are… a bad team… They have no hope for the playoffs or cup. Losing sucks the life out of you, so this kind of performance is expected. I’m not even upset.

    Want this not to happen? Hire a GM who makes better decisions and can build a better team.

    Blaming the players shifts focus from the real problem…the group that put this team together.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Just as Gregor took pains to mention more than once. It’s essentially the same team as last year minus Eberle (who did zilch in the playoffs) and had 103 points. One could argue with the addition of JP they should be even better.
      So were you a fan last year cheering the team on through the season all the way to game 7? Or were you merely a bandwagon jumper! You can’t have it both ways buddy

      • Dapper Dan 3099

        been a fan for a long time, and endured some painful years…yet here I am. I’m not sure what throwing out some observations of things that ive noticed with this team has with being a fan? So ill try and explain it again, with less words for you…. IF there is a problem with the players, I don’t see much changing next year….. again “IF”

        …and I’ve mentioned in other threads that I’m really hoping this is an off year, like Colorado or Winnipeg had last year, and that they can recover with minimal change just like those teams did….

        …also I’m convinced that having Eberle on this team, this year, would have done sweet f.a. for where we are in the standings considering he obviously checked out on Edmonton last year

          • Dapper Dan 3099

            I’m not trying to sound like an dink, but I’m also kind of getting tired of some people throwing the bandwagon fan remark to anyone who criticises this team this year…

            there are some pretty pathetic suggestions being thrown around, I agree…..”fire everyone”, “bring back ex-oilers that didn’t work out here”, hindsight drafting and trading…..etc….but I think you also have a lot of passionate fans on here that are just beyond frustrated (especially after all of us getting our hopes up after last year)…..

      • champski

        Eberle helped the Oilers get to the playoffs in the first place. Teams come in here and would circle him as a player to watch regardless of playoffs. Who do they circle now.. Caggiula?? Strome?? If you say pool party you’re obviously still drunk off his one good game.

      • nijames

        Last year they had Maroon, Klefbom, Sekera, Talbot, Letestu, Draisaitl, Kassian and a few other who had career years. McDavid had a great year and of the group listed above he is the only one that will get better, the others will not play that well again. They are not a consistant 100+ point team, no way, to many holes. They down graded skill a huge amount with the Eberle/Strome trade and lost speed with Pouliot and some grit with Pitlick. Lucic is way to slow to play this game effectively any more and he has a monster contract for 5 more years after this, imagine him in 3 years wowza very scary. JP has a good game one in every 10 games, not better than Eberle not even close. You were blinded by a career year team wise so hang opnto that band wagon you can have it your way.

    • Dapper Dan 3099

      I have the same concern as Gregor, as in the roster will be almost the same next year (there are some contracts that are next to impossible to get rid of now)…so we change GM, coach, assistants, Joey Moss, whatever else, will that really fix this?

      We’ve tried a coaching revolving door and it was the same crap over and over….to be clear, I am in no way defending the coaching (especially whoever is responsible for the embarrassing special teams this year)….but if the problem is with the players, then u could have the best coach, best GM in history and you will still get nothing but losing…

      you can tell that they don’t play for each other and with the same “swagger” as last year, so what changed in the offseason to get a complete 180?

      At this stage I think you have to hire a new GM, and at the very least get rid of the assistants to show some form of accountability….

      • Gravis82

        Change is not bad. Changing the wrong thing is bad. We kept changing coaches when in reality we just needed better players.

        The only way to improve is to identify what change will actually result in improvement, which first requires you to identify the problem.

        So whats the causal problem with the Oilers? Where along the decision-making pathway, from Katz to ‘player on the PK deciding who to cover’ did it first go wrong.

      • Odanada

        One can only think that the coaches in charge of the special teams have “coached” their way out of the NHL. Who would hire these guys after this train wreck?

  • Jordan88

    I agree with Gregor.

    The talent has always been there, when this team plays well it doesn’t matter if its the Golden Knights or the Coyotes. They clean house, or they play a lights out defensive game.

    Something at home is not right, I am ready to pay for some voodoo witch doctor at this point.

    You watch I am calling it now. Edmonton will WIN by 5 goals Thursday.

  • ubermiguel

    I never understood this need to “get up” for games. Just show up and do your job. I’m also a fan of the Patriots (hey, I’m an Oilers fan, I need to cheer for a winner on occasion) and the contrast between the two organizations and their records is astronomical. Kraft and Belichick have crafted a culture of excellence, but Belichick’s methods are dead simple: prepare and do your job. It’s not rocket science, everyone knows how to do it, but executing it game in and game out it the hard part. And spare me your quips about cheating; no one is that good for that long simply by cheating. Back to the Oilers: they are a culture of losing, and that needs to change and it comes from the top. New players, coaches and GMs over the last decade plus and what’s the constant? Losing and Katz. I thought Nicholson could fix it, but there’s something too deeply rotten at the core of this team.

    • HockeySense

      this is Exactly the difference between winners and losers. How many franchise forwards do the Vegas knights have vs the Oilers?? They show up to work ready to kick arse where as the Oilers find themselves coasting. There is no room for coasting the best hockey league in the world otherwise u get exactly what we saw last night. I wish this city had a team like the Patriots we deserve it.