“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.
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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