Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Is it time to worry?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Feb 18, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche center Tyson Jost (17) defends against Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) in the third period at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    I’m not worried about the divisional games. 36-17-5 vs the Pacific in the past 2 seasons, combined. We’re fine. Team is still getting things figured out. Once a
    Talbot and Koskinen sort thing sort things out, look out.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I think if we get rid of Dustin Scwartz and hire a real goalie coach it will only help them both, if the Oilers dont I expect Talbots going down and staying there too long and Koskinen picking up bad habits from Schwartz,

      The Oilers need a proven goalie coach, to help the goalie fix the weak spots in their game, Schwartz isnt the guy for that

      • Oilman99

        Every team has the book on Talbot that the top corners are open, he needs somebody to help him with the problem, or his career as a starter will be over.

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            Think about it, when Chabot was the Oilers goalie coach and I cant recall what teams it was in the media scrum after the game, the coahc was asked baout all the goals Dubnyk let in and the coach flat out said ” Dubnyk has picked up some very bad habits but we are going to work with him to change them”

            I dont know what Goalie coach Dubnyk had but he totally changed Dubnyk’s style of play and Dubnyk has had great success in Mn the last how many years.

            If the Oilers got a proven NHL goalie coach, I think it would pay off, because Schwartz doesnt seem to be able to recognize a problem and work with teh goalie on fixing it, Talbot and his going down to early and staying there too long has been going on since last year, and nothing has changed, Schwartz needs to go,

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          Burke is a scout for the Canadians, but I wouldnt mind seeing him as the Oilers goalie coach unless the Oilers could hire the guy who worked with Dubnyk or hire Ranford, he has been the Kings goalie coach since 2006 working with their goalies in the organisation, dont think he’d leave the Kings thou

  • Rufio Barcoli

    Talbot is not reliable. Fans know this and so do his teammates.

    Every team in the league is top heavy and counts on it’s Top 6. Boston is a one line team along with few others and it working fine for them.

    Nurse had a pair of rough games? Did you only watch two games this season?

    Strome’s linemates have been players that shouldn’t be in the league, but yeah-let’s single him out.

    It’s the coach that needs to be changed, plain and simple.
    If you can’t see or admit that. Tell us why not.

  • Oilman99

    They put a right handed good one time shooter in for Lucic, and then put him in front of the net, I don’t get the reasoning. Latestu scored a lot of goals from the right side two years ago.

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    While there are signs of encouragement that the Oilers have been playing better, there are also signs that things still need work. TM seems intent on sticking with his 5 lefties on the PP, and that isnt working, and last year we saw the PP and PK that was a total mess not working and a refusal to change it until there were a handful of games left in the season.

    The Oilers have to get their PK straightened out, this lets play statues and just stand there, no active sticks no pressuring the defender isnt working, all that is doing is giving the other team ample time to decide to shoot , pass and nothing but time with those options and no active sticks and just standing still? talk about making it easy to get a shot thru. Strome needs to come off the PK, he isnt good on faceoffs and his foot speed is a problem on the PK especially if you are trying to stay with your man and your chasing him, that isnt a good situation.

    The PP that 5 lefties isnt working, I like Nuge but he isnt a one timer guy, he has a habit of stopping the puck and then taking a shot, but by that time the goalie is set so chances are he is stopping it, Draisaitl and Chaisson are good on the one timers, I would like to see the Oilers put Chaisson on the 1st unit and have the Oilers move Nuge to the 2nd unit, the other things is the oil need to shoot more, it seems like they are looking to pass more than shoot , we all get your not going to get shots off all the time with coverage and guys blocking the lane, but they need to get some shots at the net.

    The other things is zone breakouts, the skating ahead and then dropping it back all the time, isnt not working, they need to change it up the opposition is picking it off or plugging up the neutral zone. When they were winning games and even some they lost they were using the boards to chip it by defenders , to get out of the zone, using some passes and the drop backs but they were using several methods and they seem to have gotten away for mixing it up now it seems like the drop back is they way it is, I dont understand why they made that change, especially when the opposition is all over that method and stymieing it.

    The West is always a race and usually fairly tight, it doesnt take much to go from 2 to 12 with a few loses, especially if other teams are putting together a few wins. Christ LA had only a couple of wins and they are threatening to climb out of the cellar.

    The Oilers need to play 60 minutes and they need to be more situationally aware in their zone, the puck watching and letting the opposing team skate in the zone and push you back towards the goalie is killing us, the Oilers have got into this habit again and last year it killed us and after the first few games of the season I had flashbacks to lat year, then they were starting to push back and not let teams do that and pressuring them when they tried to get over the blueline and then they got away from that , I cant fathom why.

    The biggest issue I have is I see old habits creeping their way in again and TM refusing to sit vets who aren’t performing. The organisation hired new coaches and they said they were going to change the way the Oilers played hockey, but why the hell would you blender the formula that was working were they were seeing success and improve on it? Why the hell throw it all in the blender and change it to something that isnt and even stick with the PP and PK that isnt working…like c’mon go to the damn basics if you cant figure a system out.

    I know TKM said the assistants will have a lot of say, but man I dont know about that , this seems like TM calling all the shots

    • slats-west

      Agreed lets not have the “Letestu paralysis of last year”. Move Nuge to #2 unit Chiasson on one side and/or Rattie and keep Chiasson in front of net. Shoot the puck hard from the point crash from both wings. Need some garbage PP goals.

      As for the “bad habits” look no further to the classic Oilers breakout of hard pass to a winger standing still near opposition blue line for tip into offensive zone and then no forecheck. Last 10 years they do that play. Its absolutely brutal and is essentially a turnover to the other team to come out of their zone with speed. Absolute DISASTER in coaching and execution.

      • Heschultzhescores

        Agreed. I see us with possession of the puck and just flip it into the O-zone and wait for the counter attack. Drives me insane! You need the puck to score FYI. It’s like here you go, maybe you guys can do something more with this annoying biscuit than I can.

  • KennyG

    The Oilers have more points than the Pens and same amounts as Caps. So at this point all good. Ultimately the games in the Pacific will either make or break the season. Anyone thinking that there past record in the division means anything this season has already counted the chickens before they’ve hatched.

    • MrBung

      Agreed. The Pacific – Flames, Canucks and Sharks are going to prove to be a real challenge for the Oil. I also don’t have a lot of confidence in their ability to do much with the Ducks and Yotes. Oil might have a winning record against the Knights.

    • Leichs

      Agreed. People look at our past record against the pacific and think its all roses and wont be a problem. Well what was our record against Flordida on the road? We wont 12 straight or something right? Howd that play out this year? 4-1 shlackin. Van and Calgary look like legitimate threats this year. Both teams seem to score at will right now which the Oilers cannot. The Canucks put up 8 against the Bruins with their best sniper Boeser not even in the line up. Petersson looks like he is going to become (already is) the star that Yak/Nuge/Pulu/Pajarvi/Gagner should have been. Ahhh so many top 10 forward picks and so little to show for it. Sharks, Kings and Ducks are always going to be tough battles no matter where they are in the standings. Arizona has allowed only 34 goals against so far this year, good for second best in the league behind the Preds. A couple more awful streches like the one we had this week and things could get ugly real fast.

  • slats-west

    Worry? Maybe for Todd Mc he should start…….

    Lot of rumours about you and Quennvelle so maybe McL should try and go back to some coaching basics for this team and the Avs game.

    1. Disconnect the blender. You’ve done it for 4 years and it doesn’t work. Keep the pairs or lines together – if the one line doesn’t play well decrease their minutes and play those that are playing well. If McDavid is playing best with Drai then keep them together 100% of the time! Like really you always go to to that combo when we are down so why then not keep them together always. Like holy crap how easy is that!

    2. On home ice rather than go “power vs power” which he has done in the past how about with the advantage of the last change you let McDavid always go over the boards vs the 4 th line (like 90% of teams do to us)? I know we as fans certainly go “oh $hit here comes Pasternak- Bergeron- Marchand” – how do you think the Avs Kamenov – Jost – Dano feel seeing McDavid-Drai?

    3. How about a “pure” checking line to shut down the 2nd best line the NHL?
    How did Backstrom in Wash do against McDavid in Washington game? Pretty good heh – for the entire game he shadowed McRockets and did not leave his side. For one of the best/hottest lines in hockey with the Avs you need to do something different – Landeskog is a beast (Jujhar), Mackinnon is super fast (Nuge), and Rantenan sneaky and shifty (Reider). I know it breaks up MCDavid line but Nuge is your best two-way defender and he should have this assignment. And NHL players do very well when you give them just ONE thing to focus on, especially young players (hello Jujar)for entire game. It will keep the puck out of net and take the pressure off our Dman – as they all focus on defence first. It also makes sure the whole bench/team is cognizant of what the other team is doing and keeps players engaged from the drop of the puck. That also means Larsson and Klefbom 100% of the time against this line.

    So instead of “the outsmarting the other coach in the other room” how about get down to basics? Otherwise McL should start to worry and we may see Quennvelle very soon!

  • Leichs

    People wont like it because of the whole “development” thing but that top line is playing solid in Bakersfield. If the train does derail at some point up here, I am all for throwing out a third line of Benson, McLeod/Marody and Pulu/Yam. They loooked solid together all preseason (most nights they were the best line) and have carried that momentum into the AHL. Jones also has almost a PPG on the blueline. Todays NHL is about youth, speed and skill and guys like McLeod and Jones have a ton. If guys Petersson and Kotkaniemi can step in the league and play now, why cant our young guys? Everyone was saying how Kotkaniemi was guaranteed to get sent down. What makes him any more physically ready than Mcleod? We have no one that can skate like Jones on the blueline other than Klefbom. Jones can come in and probably replace Benning immidiately on the third pairing. Yeah his defensive game might be a tiny bit worse right now but his offensive side is much greater than what Benning can provide and its not like Benning is a huge stud in his own zone right now anyway.. He can skate, he can pass, he put up points at the AHL level, perfect compliment to our forwards. At this point. Strome, Luc, Jujar, Brodziack and Kassian are all minus players and dont bring much so its not like replacing a few of them with some kids could hinder the team anymore than those guys already have. The only team that would get hurt is the Condors but really I could care less about them if the big club is putting up points.

    • Heschultzhescores

      I agree. They are missing the point that these young kids ARE coming in ready to play at 19. The coaches are the ones not ready in our organization. Show confidence from the get go and watch them go. Ya mistakes will be made, and they will improve from them if they are not punished at every turn.

      • slats-west

        the Oilers are the 4th youngest team in the NHL. A youth movement is not the problem. Its getting them playing a system and using this incredible talent against other teams is the issue.

  • CMG30

    Standings wise, the oil are in fine shape. This recent downturn should serve as a reminder of how far this team is away from being a true powerhouse. When the top line is going and the goalie is on his game we’ve got a good shot. Other than that things are sparce. That’s a failure of the GM. When you look at the talent he’s shipped out to fill holes that are still holes…

    • Natejax97

      We have traded #16, #33 picks, Taylor Hall, and signed 9.5 million in defensemen in order to fix our defense and today we are still looking for a solution on defense…and we have created holes in other areas.

      • btrain

        And Eberle who is what he is but easily would be the best RW on the team today. Schultz would easily be the second best RHD on this team today and brings incredible value to a threatless PP from the point. Pouliot is probably as useful as 6 mill Lucic is today and we are still paying Pouliot 1.3mill this year and next for the buyout.
        It’s actually incredible how much value has been stripped away from this team and how many holes remain. It’s actually quite admirable how well the Oilers are pulling it together sp far this year despite their incompetent GM. Every Nut that blind squirrel of a GM finds goes right to his head! No ability/willingness to acknowledge his mistakes and therefore evolve.

        • Niurou

          Are you seriously? Justin Schultz and Jordan were both pushed out of the team by the fans. I don’t like some of the trades that chia made, but those 2 were not his fault.

        • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

          Funny. Populist doesn’t have an NHL contract, and over the past 2 seasons, has scored 33 points. By comparison, Lucic HAS a NHL contract and has scored 34 points. Schultz is injured (fat load of good he’d do), and Eberle? Soft as bread

        • GK1980

          This is the reality. The GM doesn’t know how to GM and the team is what it is. Boys just need to figure out a way to win as a team. Organization doesn’t have any other options. No trade or savior will make this team a contender overnight, too many issues still.

  • GK1980

    The way they play this year is much better then last year. They seem to be more engaged and have been in most games until the end. We all expected a tough October but then we all assumed as long as they got through October alive they would be fine.

    Not so, lots of hockey left and they aren’t a team you can just assume can just beat the “weaker” clubs. It will be a dog fight until April.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    I think the divisional games are going to be a lot tougher than some guys on here think. I remember a few years ago (Before McDavid) they didn’t win a divisional game until January. However, they showed us this year how they can play, they just need to get back to the hard work and effort. If they do that they should be alright.

  • Heschultzhescores

    I’m sure I am not the only one that waits for McD to get on the ice to make something happen. Is it possible a lot of the Oilers do the same? I mean how else do you account for virtually no scoring from guys who used contribute regularly. Is the McD effect also working against us? Everyone wants to play on his line and there is pouting when they aren’t. Another problem with using that damn blender. Make some lines so guys know this is where they will play and stick with it. No you are not playing with McD next shift or next game.

  • Oiler Al

    Mcdavid aside, this is a slow team. Even if they skate with speed, they play a slow game.Always dicking around with the puck., especially the defense men I suppose it has to do with talent? Watching the Leaf game last night, its scary how they play “giddy up and go” hockey.PS there is no stud D-men on their team either.Oilers always dilling around dusting pucks.Wake up Todd.. game has chamged.!!

  • Oiler Al

    No surprise.#97 is the only one that carries the play with authority on his breakouts because he carries the pucj out, most other breakouts rely on defense dicking around with the puck ,dusting it up the boards to a dead standing winger who looses the puck, or chips it in ,without much chase.
    And, its coming right back.
    Watch teams like Leafs play “giddy-up and go” hockey. There is more to fast hockey than just fast skating.

  • Fireball

    Oilers 19th place with 17 points this morning. 4 other teams have 17 points. 2 teams with 16 right behind them .. 6 teams with 15 points .. and only 4 teams behind them.. The Oilers might be in 27th place by tomorrow night. Every team has skids. Unfortunately the Oilers have been on a skid since game 2 of last year. We can all pretend that the last 3 games aren’t really a big deal. They were against eastern teams. But it’s a really big deal because they looked Just like they did last year. The oilers are 3rd in the wild card and the Avs are a Western team that’s tied in points. A loss tomorrow would be a crippling blow. The race for the playoffs Started in October and every game matters. Anyone who is comfortable with where they are at today is likely feeling a lot better than the Players, Coaches, Management, and owner I’m sure

  • Oiler Al

    Twice now comments cited as posted and are not on the board?Come on you guys are better than that! Wile Iam at it wonder why this is the only site that creates weird spams etc. for my computer?

    • Heschultzhescores

      Warning. Your computer bla bla bla. Like really guys, can you not correct this or is there money in it for your site to allow it? Almost more annoying than missing the playoffs every year.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Good luck emailing anyone at the link that has or see’s issue or bug or something not working on the site, I emailed that guy weeks ago, never ever got a reply.

  • GRC

    This team looked gassed in the last couple of games. 10 games in 17 days with extensive travel will do that. Worst schedule in the NHL so far this season.
    To be 8-7-1 after that horrific string of games is far above what anybody’s expectation before the start of the season but yet we are supposed to be concerned? Doesn’t make a lick of sense IMO.
    Perspective is a wonderful thing.

    Lets see how the team does now that the schedule has settled down before we start “worrying”.

  • Bills Bills

    Play as a 5 man unit in every area. Without commitment to positional play both offensively and defensively, this team will fail. They don’t have a deep enough talent pool to overcome weak positional play.