When the Oilers embarked on their four game road trip, they were in a very great spot. They had won four of their last five and were in a position to take over the top spot in the Pacific Division if they could win their games in hand.
The four game trip had two very winnable games against Detroit and Florida with a pair of very tough matchups against Washington and Tampa Bay sandwiched in between them. The realistic expectation was that the Oilers should win two at least two games on the trip. As we all know, they did not. It’s a disappointing result, but this three game slide is far from the end of the world. It’s not worth panicking about.
With the exception of the league’s elite, every team will go through a three-game losing streak at some point. If you thought there wouldn’t be peaks and valleys throughout this season, you’re kidding yourself.
The fact that the Oilers have gone through two of their toughest road trips of the season and are currently sitting above .500 is something I would consider a massive victory.
There are also some positives that we can take from this three-game slide, believe it or not. The first is that they actually played pretty well against Tampa Bay and Washington. A couple of breaks in either game and they could have come away with at least a point. In the game against the Capitals, the Oilers had a 58% Corsi for. That’s good.
The other positive I pull from this is that they lost to Eastern Conference teams. I would rather have them go through a slump against teams from the other conference instead of dropping a string of games to the teams they’re directly competing with for a playoff spot.
To go with those positives, there are some things that I found concerning.
THE FIRST GOAL: It’s become a cliche in hockey, but the first goal is crucial. In the Oilers previous four wins, they scored the first goal of the game. During their three game losing streak… you guessed it… they surrendered the first goal every single time.
In the Washington and Florida games, they had some good looks early, but couldn’t find the back of the net. So I wouldn’t say it’s a matter of them starting slow, but they need to find a way to get on the board first.
FATIGUED CORE: The Oilers don’t have a lot of players who can be counted on to give them solid minutes. Their third line can’t score, their fourth line has been inconsistent, and their third pairing is just straight up not that good. The result of the top heavy lineup is that Todd McLellan needs to rely on his stars to play significantly more minutes than what would be considered ideal.
Over the winning streak, that was fine, but I think we saw the downside of it during this recent road trip. Their stars looked fatigued during the final two games. Connor McDavid still had his dazzling moments and Leon Draisaitl has had a few good looks as well, but they aren’t producing chances and dominating play at the same level they were when the team was beating good teams.
That’s not a knock on them, the Oilers simply need to have stretches where their bottom six does more to help them win.
On the backend, I’ve seen a pair of rough games from the likes of Adam Larsson, Oscar Klefbom, and Darnell Nurse. I think that’s a result of them being overworked.
The Oilers either need more from their support players or they need to bring in some help for their stars.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Over the losing streak, the Oilers powerplay has gone 2/11. One of those goals was a pretty weak goal (McDavid’s shot vs Pheonix Copley). They aren’t getting results and they aren’t even getting scoring chances at an acceptable rate when their top unit is on the ice. When that top unit goes off the ice, they’re stunningly awful.
Todd McLellan finally took Milan Lucic off the top unit, but no one else has really stepped up and done well in his spot. Something needs to change with this unit.
Their penalty kill has allowed three goals on 12 attempts. They’re running at 75%, which isn’t an awful number given the small sample size, but I have a problem with the goals they’ve given up.
Ryan Strome made an awful play on the Jonathan Huberdeau powerplay goal, allowing a perfect seam pass to go through the slot. Against Washington, they surrendered a powerplay goal less than a minute after Leon Draisaitl made it a one goal game. Poor discipline gave Washington a shot to grab back momentum, and the Oilers powerplay couldn’t bail them out.
LOSING MOMENTUM: Against Florida, Leon Draisaitl made it a one goal game quickly in third, it took just over three minutes for Florida to regain a two-goal lead. In the second period against Tampa, Ryan Strome scored a goal to bring the Oil within one and the Lightning responded 47 seconds later. Down 3-1 to Washington, Leon Draisaitl scored to bring the team within one and then Ovechkin scored under three minutes later.
They struggled to gain any momentum and when it looked like they had a sniff of it, they immediately let the other team break their backs.
I said off the top that this slump isn’t anything to panic about, which I know is a little contradictory considering I just laid out a laundry list of things that I didn’t like about their play, but I think they can overcome a lot of those problems. They’ll need to figure quickly though.
After taking on the Avalanche tomorrow and the Habs early next week, the Oilers embark on one of the most crucial stretches of their season.
Between November 17th and 29th, they will play seven games, six of them against Pacific Division opponents. It should come as no surprise that teams that don’t do well against their own division rarely make the playoffs.
We’re also getting close to American Thanksgiving, which is regularly used as a barometer to determine which teams have a realistic chance at making the playoffs. Since 2011, between 75-80% of teams that hold a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving make the playoffs. Between 3-4 teams a year will overcome those odds.
taring down a string of divisional games, or ‘four-point swings’ as some call them, at a crucial time of the season, the Oilers need to go into ‘playoff mode’. Things aren’t going great for them right now and they’ll need to turn it around and start playing some desperate hockey quickly if they want to stay in the postseason hunt.