This is the most disappointing season in Edmonton Oilers history, which is saying a lot considering their recent lack of success. If you have another candidate for the title, let me know.
The Oilers are in 27th place and guaranteed another bottom-ten finish, but after last year’s 103-point season there is no reason the team should be this bad. If you felt they’d take a step back and battle for the Wildcard, I can see the reasoning in that argument, but falling back to the basement of the NHL standings is unacceptable.
This has been an awful season, but the focus should remain on the biggest areas of concern, and lately, I find much of the discussion surrounding what is wrong with the Oilers is missing the mark.
I keep reading and hearing about wingers, and the Oilers need for better ones. Yes, it would be great if they had a few more experienced ones, and I’ll avoid beating the dead horse that is prior trades, but the truth is right now a scoring winger isn’t even in the top-five priorities the Oilers need to become competitive.
The Oilers are tied for 10th in 5×5 goals. They have 130 5×5 goals in 66 games (1.97 goals/game). Last year the Oilers were tied for eighth in 5×5 goals for with 166 in 82 games (2.0 goals/game). They are basically scoring at the same rate despite Milan Lucic not scoring for 29 games, Oscar Klefbom going 33 without a goal and losing Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who was their leading goal scorer when he was injured on January 13th, for 18 games. The Oilers have 109 5×5 goals from their top-nine forward goal scorers (McDavid, Draisaitl and RNH have 52), while the Pittsburgh Penguins have 102 5×5 goals from their top-nine forward goals scorers (Malkin, Kessel and Crosby have 56 goals).
The Oilers are very competitive scoring goals at 5×5, and it definitely wouldn’t hurt to improve their wing position, but right now it isn’t the main reason they are losing. I’d like to see Todd McLellan move Nugent-Hopkins to the wing, and run Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl as their top-two centres. The move can happen now, or next season, but when it does, it still isn’t in my top-five areas of need.
The Oilers team defence at 5×5 and their special teams have derailed their season, and we haven’t seen much improvement in any area. The powerplay started well, going 21.4% in their first 20 games, but since then it’s been a mess. The PK was terrible for the final 68 games last season, 78%, and got even worst this season. They stumbled out of the gate, allowing seven PP goals in the first five games (7 on 22 kills) and have remained under 75% the entire season.
The PK has improved lately, going 84.2% in their last 14 games (32 of 38) and they’ve scored two shorthanded goals. It is a small sample, but at least they are finally showing some progress and players like Jujhar Khaira, Ryan Strome and Leon Draisaitl are getting more PK time lately, and looking more comfortable. But when your PK has been 76.1% over the past 134 games and worst in the NHL, it is a major area of concern.
The PP is going the opposite direction. It was great last season, started well through 20 games (21.4%), but it has crashed into the ditch since. In their past 46 games, the PP is 10.8% (12 of 111) and since January 1st it is only 9.8% (6 of 61). The Oilers PP has McDavid and Draisaitl on it, and they are first and seventh in EV points respectively, yet the PP inexplicably shoots blanks.
I understand they have an abnormally low SH% on the PP, but I don’t buy it is just bad luck. Are their shots producing rebounds? Are the consistently forcing the penalty killers out of position? I’m not seeing that and the lack of success backs it up. The Oilers don’t attack the net consistently (more on their shots later).
PP SHOTS… TRY SOME
In their last 14 games, McDavid has one PP point. Same with Draisaitl. Strome has one point, as does Nugent-Hopkins (only two games) and Jesse Puljujarvi. The PP minutes in those 14 games are: McDavid (35:45), Draisaitl (34:46), Oscar Klefbom (33:14), Strome (29:45), Lucic (28:38) Darnell Nurse (8:10), Puljujarvi (7:57), Caggiula (7:48), Cammalleri (6:58), Khaira (5:41), Slepyshev (3:35), Aberg (3:08, four games), Sekera (3:03, seven games), Nugent-Hopkins (2:49, two games), Ethan Bear (2:31, three games) and Matt Benning (1:05).
In those 14 games, Klefbom has ten shots, Draisaitl has seven, McDavid has five, Cammalleri, Nurse, Lucic, Puljujarvi have three, Caggiula and Strome have two while Aberg, Sekera, Bear and RNH have one. Strome is the only right shot on the first PP unit and he has one shot on goal. I’d say it is fairly predictable where the shots are coming from. Now, Draisaitl does have ten missed shots, and he’s had some good looks where he has missed on his one timer, but scoring on a few of those wouldn’t make things all better.
The first unit PP has scored one goal in the past 14 games. One. Would it hurt to consider two right shots on the first unit? At this point, why not try Benning or Bear as a second right shot option up high, or even Puljujarvi, Slepyshev or Aberg up front? The Oilers have used four left shots virtually all season on the first unit and it hasn’t had success. I realize they had success last year with four lefties, but that was a long time ago. The PP has eroded all season and it isn’t improving.
It needs to be fixed in the offseason. The coaching strategy must be re-evaluated, as should the personnel.
And of course the 5×5 team defence is a concern. Last season they allowed 140 goals at 5×5, ninth fewest in the NHL, but this year they are 27th. They’ve already allowed 141. Cam Talbot hasn’t been as sharp, but the defensive zone breakdowns have been more noticeable this year. The Oilers have reverted back to being a trainwreck in their own end — too many errant passes, too many wrong reads, and turning the puck over too often.
Their 5×5 defensive woes need more than just a few paragraphs to outline their struggles, but their D-zone play and special teams should be the main areas the Oilers need to improve.
It is fair to wonder about depth on the wings, but in another lost season, winger depth and production don’t crack my top-five areas of concerns.
**Again, this doesn’t mean their wingers don’t need to be improved.***