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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.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • 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.

  • Mcjesus97

    My uncle who is here visiting from over seas went to his first game last night not understanding what hockey is all about. I been hype ing the oilers up to him saying we will win buffalo sucks and it will be a good game. He came home after the game and was laughing saying “this is your team that you enjoy watching” lol fml and to top it off his millionaire friend who took him to the game won the 50/50 lucky bastard.

  • VK63

    Lets hear it for the mental skills coach!!
    Money well spent Mr. Katz……. money well spent.

    Fragile doesn’t even begin to describe these clowns, zero pride, zero adrenaline, zero GAF. Get up for a game….. pfffft, what are they a diesel engine that needs to come up to temp.?
    How about lets start small. Make some measure of an offering to the “professional” that is attributed to being a pro hockey player, it’s your damn job ffs.

    Honestly I hope they offer up act 2 on Thursday night. Put a bullet in this dead dog already, because if there is one thing this pit of Nepotism agrees on, its that Calgary is a measuring stick.

  • DaNangVet65/66

    I have had issue with pinning this on TMac and Chia all year, watching the players last night eroded where I stand today.
    Go ahead and fire them tomorrow, be best for them.

    But…

    Who gets the blame after that?
    Everyone including McDavid better pull their collective heads out of their asses. This is squarely on the goddamn players. Paid too much money, entitled attitudes. Bad combo.
    And as good as McDavid is, that kid isn’t Gretzky. Maybe it’s time to stop pinning the franchise’s future on him. Until he actually shows more than a few goals, assists and speed, take the C off of him. Someday he may well be captain material, but not now. His canned responses last night pissed me off more than the score.
    And Draisaital, get rid of him ASAP. Idiot feels pressures of making $8.5 mil a season? Tough luck jam tart! Thank your goddamn agent Leon!
    If it was possible, I’d skid every damn player to the AHL. I’m sick of hearing the blame landing on the management, but they aren’t the ones pretending to be professional hockey players.
    The players deserve to feel the blast as fairly as the coach and GM. Even McDavid.

  • 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…

  • Primo

    Just had a look at the Oilers payroll, contract terms and age of some of the players holding long term contracts….not good. This is exactly where Boston was going until they canned PC….

  • Oiler Al

    Here is you wingers scoring in the last 10 games… Lucic, Strome,Letesu,Kassian Camelleri- 0 goals JP Khaira,Drake 1 goal Maroon 4 goals, How is the team build Pete?No wonder they get shut out as often as they do.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    This organization continues to redefine the term rock bottom. Every time I think things can only get better, they go out of their way to prove me wrong. The Edmonton Oilers are broken.

  • Odanada

    I admire the hell out of Wayne Gretzky the player, but as a “management”, he has never been able to infuse his teams with the spirit of winning.
    Reuniting the 80’s Oilers under the “management” banner is not the answer. The Habs have been milking that cow forever and the milk is all gone. Why does Nicholson think it will work here?
    Respectfully, I think that McL has to go. I don’t entirely blame him for this mess, but there must be a change for change’s sake or the rot will sink in further and cause real long term damage. Pick someone outside the 80’s Oilers camp and see what they can salvage.

    • wayne overland

      Close but not quite. Arnot was not capitain, in Edmonton or anywhere else and what he said was “I just couldn’t get into it tonight”. That quote was a a couple of years before he was traded and didn’t play into it.

  • Oil_drum

    This article.
    You can go through the rotations of GM and coach, and at the end of the day the results have been the same. What do you expect when you proverbially give the keys to the city and millions of dollars to kids of whom most are not even old enough to graduate college? We would gawk at that idea if these weren’t professional athletes, but because they are, somehow ‘accountability’ does not have the same meaning to it. For their whole lives most of these players have been told they are the ‘best’ and have had people flock to them. There is no need to compete with a chip or edge, or any desire to go out and play with fire. They are individualists playing for the zeros on a paycheque. We see it time and time again in college sports, or even just look at the southern states’ fanaticism of highschool football as an example. The singular athlete is bigger than the collective team. The meaning ‘for the love of the game’ has been lost. Expectation breeds entitlement. Somebody needs to be held accountable, and unfortunately I do not think axing the coach will be the difference. It just tells the players that they are safe. By no means would I trade the current Oilers for the blue collar ones of the early 2000’s, but part of me wonders how this team would look different if they had the character of some of those guys.

  • Dwayne Roloson 35

    I think the team has given up, especially on our fans. There were times in the DOD where the team wouldn’t be able to go outside because of our relentless fans.

    That could explain why they don’t give a damn when they play at home.

    I’m just gonna watch this ship sink and hope they can figure it out next year.

    Dahlin would be nice.

  • D'oh-ilers

    If they play a hard 60 minutes but come up short, I can respect the effort. The lack of consistency drives me nuts.

    I pin the blame squarely on the GM. He had tons of cap space and didn’t address any of the team’s needs in the offseason at all. He subtracted Eberle, Pitlick, Pouliot, Hendricks, and Desharnais and added Auvitu, Jokinen, and Strome. You aren’t going to win squat if you replace NHL depth with inexperience and ineptitude.

    If Chia isn’t fired, he needs his leash cinched tight enough to strangle him so he can’t make the same moronic mistakes this offseason, and for God’s sake, someone keep him away from a checkbook.

    • D'oh-ilers

      Every other player making that kind of money have multiple cups or Vezinas, Norris trophies or consistent 50 goal / 100 point seasons. Unless he quickly blossoms into an elite superstar, that contract’s going to be an untradable boat anchor for the next 7 seasons. Good work, Chia!

  • MrBung

    “I’ve seen bad hockey teams up close for a decade and this team isn’t that bad.” – Gregor

    Sorry dude. A team is their record regardless of the excuse.

    • wayne overland

      You have a point, Gregor more accuractely should have stated ” I have seen “Oiler teams without much talent” and this team “has more talent than those” but are just as bad or worse. I will repeat my comments from previously today, CMcD made a captain too soon, coaches cannot be left off the hook for this.

      PS I recall a long time ago (like the 60s) the Habs would make their player stay in a hotel when in Montreal during the playoffs. To make sure they were not distracted by family or other things. I’m sure its against the CBA to make the players do something like that, but it might send a message. Maybe a Dallas Eakins 8 am practice. Now I’m getting desparate.

    • nijames

      I totally agree, this team without Connor McDavid is not a good team. With Connor McDavid he can win games by himself when on. Last year way to many guys had career years and that will not happen again. Our defense now is not better than the 2011/12 Oilers team that Gregor refers to, at least Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry had offensive abilities and the rest of the11/12 group had a whole lot more “give a F_ _ks” than this edition of the Oilers. This team is a team with a whole lot of holes, they have a $6 million player that is way to slow to play in the NHL they got fleeced in both the Eberle trade and the Hall trade. Larson is a decent defenseman but for Hall you had to get more return.

  • CMG30

    Good article. The players are where the rubber meets the road and frankly they don’t have the mental makeup to come to work day in and day out and give it their best effort. They are prone to taking shortcuts on the ice and they’ve given up on the season. Last year was different because they started strong and knew they could make the playoffs. This year they’ve been behind the 8 ball basically from the 2nd game of the season and they just don’t actually care.

    I don’t blame the Coaching staff because over the past half decade we’ve had what, 5 different coaches? You cannot coach drive no matter what Hollywood likes to show in the movies.

    This is on the players to figure out. Lucic, Russell and all these guys who are supposed to be ‘good in the room’ clearly are not. Until the players take it upon themselves to simply find performances like last night unacceptable between themselves and not just when they’re talking to the media this will continue.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      That’s just it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this team comes out and shuts out the Flames 3-0, playing like a Stanley Cup contender. They just can’t keep a sustained amount of effort.

  • MLega97

    This year is a write off. Remember a few years ago when the Pens fired their coach in December, then went on a tear and won the Stanley Cup. This is what Crosby said: “When there’s a coaching change, especially as a captain you take a lot of responsibility on your shoulders and you expect more,” Crosby said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I started, and I think he just put me in situations and gave me opportunities to try to work my way back into things. He was just good holding everyone accountable, myself included, and making sure that I got better.”

    • Odanada

      I do think it was a poor managerial decision to make Connor the captain. I’m sure he will make a fine captain one day, but to saddle him with it at such a young age was misguided. Note that the Leafs don’t have a captain, just 3 alternates. The thinking is that Matthews will be captain one day, but they wanted him to develop without the added pressure before making the move.

      • Kneedroptalbot

        Matt Hendricks was the perfect choice for a couple of years till Connor was ready. Matt Henricks was the captain of team USA at the world championships, and more importantly worked hard every game regardless of the score. A true professional.

  • Oiler Al

    The roster and depth of this team is very lame.Up front the only top six players are 97,93 and 29. All centers which is good, but there is not one top six winger on the roster.Lucic and Maroon on a good team are 3 liners at best.Every one else is bottom six or AHL.This is not a solid team. They at this point don’t have top two defense men! 25 and 6 maybe one day, but not yet.But having said all this, is Vegas ,on paper, a better roster?

  • Coiltown Soilers

    It’s honestly pretty sweet to see Katz and his cronies suffer this shame and embarrassment. They’ve hoarded draft welfare and corporate welfare for years and it is refreshing to see them get the karma they deserve. As long as Katz and the Boys on the Bus are still around this team will never succeed. Enjoy the fruits of this hapless bunch of fools!

  • overdue

    Not sure if you can teach it but motivation ( lack thereof ) seems to be the main issue with this team. A repeat performance by management of overpaying young players has led to the same result. Now PC has handcuffed future moves with some big, long term contracts that don’t look good. Where would they be if they could ‘get up’ for games consistently, the way Vegas does? Hard to say but I can remember commenting last season that as long as McD played like the best player in the game and Talbot played like the best goalie, they won, Otherwise the lineup was pretty thin. The players not being motivated has to be at least partially on the coaching staff. Looks like they have tuned them out and there must be a reason for that, we can only speculate!

  • slats-west

    I think Gregor has done a good job in this piece of summarizing all the rants of what us fans are thinking with some very pointed constructive criticisms of many aspects of what’s wrong with this team.

    I do believe you should take a few steps this year (and IMMEDIATELY) which may help them going forward:
    1. You MUST change special teams coach – it may be the exact same system on road vs home but the message is lost somewhere. You need a new Messenger.
    2. Go with the goalie who’s hot from now until end of season. You win you play. Tell them that.
    3. Rotate in the practice squad players in every game for the weakest performance eg on D time for Benning to take a seat and give Sekera a night off once in a while as I think his knee is not 100% and his confidence and reaction time are off. Have him sit a game next to Paul Coffey and watch from Press Box. All the sitting D should do that.
    4. Letestu off the PP – in fact he needs to sit. He’s too slow and he hasn’t had a point on PP in 15 games. He’s just not good. Sorry playing him isn’t going to “fool” any GM that he’s worth something more at the trade deadline than he’s worth – sorry but it’s true. Time to develop others.
    5. We need to identify and develop two players who are always going to be aggressive on your #1 PK unit. I would bring in a recently retired PK specialist who played with heart every game, maybe Cup winner (Dan Cleary comes to mind) to solely work with these two forwards – EVERY EFFIN DAY!
    6. I would designate Drai’s line to become a checking line for every game going forward. The guy is in a complete funk so I would give him one thing to focus on. You are going to play against the other team’s Top Line and your only purpose is to shadow and keep them off the scoreboard. I think they will learn accountability and responsibility. They won’t fly zone like they are. They will hit – because they aren’t doing that now and chances are they will create turnovers leading to offence but they will always think DEFENCE first.

    That’s what I would do as you have to work with these players because as Greger says they are here next year.

  • Randaman

    Shake it up by trading Draisaitl to Arizona for OEL. We need a stud on the back end that can add offence, move the puck and man the PP. This is obviously a move for summer. Trade deadline – Letestu & Maroon can be moved for picks. If you can move Russell & Benning, DO IT!