Photo Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Drawing Board

For all the complaining in recent days about not getting a square deal from the officials, the real problem for the Edmonton Oilers in back-to-back losses to the Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues has been how ineffective their special teams have been.

After a 4-2 loss to the Canucks, the narrative that Connor McDavid continues to get hooked, held and otherwise interfered with on an ongoing basis took off like a runaway train, bumped by post-game comments from coach Ken Hitchcock. There is plenty of merit to that lament, but it came after the Oilers allowed three power-play goals by the Canucks.

Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blues was marked by debate about a play initially called no-goal for St. Louis by the referee, but ruled a goal upon review. Like most of you, I didn’t see the puck go in initially, but the review showed that it had crossed the line before a scrum, triggering calls of goaltender interference, ensued. The real story is that the Oilers had plenty of calls go their way, but responded with a dismal 0-for-5 effort with the man-advantage.

“The hockey game, for me, we had those three chances just before that. Then, they came down the ice, they got that one chance and that was the ball game,” Hitchcock said of the disputed goal by former Oiler Patrick Maroon that put the Blues ahead 2-1. “I think we lost the game in the second period, we didn’t lose it in the third period. We lost it in the second period. We lost it on special teams on the power play.”

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Nov 27, 2018; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock watches a game against the Dallas Stars from the bench at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In these two losses, the Oilers’ power play, operating without injured Oscar Klefbom, hasn’t managed a goal in six attempts. The PK units, missing injured Kris Russell, have allowed four goals in eight attempts. Hitchcock can’t do anything about the injuries, but he can spend some practice time drawing things up and working things out, which is exactly what he intends to do when the team gets back to work Thursday in preparation for a visit by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Aside from wanting more and quicker movement and less standing around when the Oilers are on the man-advantage, one possibility, reading between the lines of what Hitchcock said post-game, is that rookie Caleb Jones could get a look on the point of the second unit.

“I think our problem is that we’re too slow on the flanks,” said Hitchcock. “We don’t have enough movement on the flanks. We’ll get that changed, but we’re standing still outside the dots and trying to make plays instead of in attack mode. We’re not playing near enough downhill.

“Like I said, we’ll get that fixed over the next couple practices . . . that’s the major thing for me is that our movement across the top is too slow, both with our feet and with our puck movement and it allows teams to recover. We’re in the zone but not much is going on.” Asked about personnel changes, Hitchcock said: “Well, really, the only change we’re going to have to make is on the back end. We haven’t even really had a hockey practice with them yet, so . . .” The full interview is here.

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It’ll take more than the insertion of Jones, who picked up his first NHL point with an assist on Jesse Puljujarvi’s goal to tie the game 1-1, to get the power play (ranked 17th at 19.3 per cent) back on track, but adding the threat of a shot from the point changes what opponents do. Without it, teams simply collapse and let the Oilers pass the puck around the outside. The Oilers generated just three PP shots against the Blues.

As for the PK, there’s no doubt the Oilers are missing having the shot-blocking Russell in the mix, although it’s not as simple as that. Whatever Hitchcock comes up with, the PK is going to get a test Saturday in the final game before the Christmas break. Tampa Bay’s power play is ranked second at 29.5 per cent. Edmonton’s PK is sitting 26th at 76.1 per cent. Going status quo will get the Oilers torched.

Simply put, the Oilers can’t control what is and isn’t called on the ice by the referees or what decisions come via video review. This much we know. Their time is far better spent, and will be in the next couple of practice days before the red-hot Lightning come calling, focusing on what happens after the calls are made.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Leo Tard

    Even though Ken said they were doing ok until the second period, I beg to differ. I will give benefit of doubt due to 10 games in 18 nights, but it was clear that the entire team was lacking in effort. Playing down to teams below them in the standings has become the Oilers gold standard and long running theme seen throughout the decade of darkness. Outside of beating the players, not sure what Hotch can do to change that.

  • Oilman99

    Total PP repair required in the next two days of practice,both groups are a train wreck, lucky to even get in the other teams zone. Too much time at even strength playing on the perimeter with no shots generated. Only being able to score one goal on a team like StLouis is not acceptable.

  • CMG30

    Too much pointless passing around the outside on the pp. It’s the result of having too many skill guys trying to set up the perfect ‘pretty’ play. The temporary solution is to only have one skill guy (McDavid on 1st, RNH on 2nd) and fill out the rest of the unit with 3rd and 4th line bangers who aren’t afraid of the dirty areas and who will just give McDavid the puck and he will feel no obligation to give it back. He’ll just shoot it. Once the notion of how to find success on the pp sinks in, you can start to reintroduce the better players.

    • Ratt McNuge

      There’s some truth to this. I also think too much pressure is being put on the first unit to score because all the best forwards are out there for it. Move RNH to the second unit at least.

  • The drawing board, would be completely starting over with the Edmonton Oilers as a franchise.

    No one, Chiarelli, a new gm can fix the Edmonton Oilers. There is something broken within the structure of the Katz organization. He’s a genius businessman in pharmaceutical, but the Oilers as a hobby or pet project for Mr. Katz is beyond him somehow.

    He was a hang around of the team in the 80’s and somehow the Oilers have become to him like team Foxcatcher. It is like an obsession or condition specific to ultra rich, obsessive billionaires, like Trump and the presidency. They need to own it and control it, make it an extension of themselves.

    The Oilers, beyond the finish product we see on the ice, are this big corporation and at the head of the snake sits Mr. Katz. The Oilers cannot compete with an American sports franchise, in that market, in this way. It would be interesting to see a study done on a properly run NHL team and then compare that to the Edmonton Oilers.

    It’s a shame really, how phase III of the Oilers has been a complete failure under Katz ownership. We had Pocklington, the Ownership Group and now this polished turd. The sad part is, we the fans are the faithful consumers, that continually support and pay for all of these massive salaries.

    • Ratt McNuge

      Picklington sold Gretzky, but at least he got us Gretzky in the first place. The EIG did what they could with limited resources, but the team was at least easy to get behind because they played with heart. Katz has been a disaster. All the energy put in to a shiny new rink and investments. The hockey side of things has been ignored.

      • For Katz it as all about the money. Blew town as soon as he and Mandel conspired to have the taxpayers fund everything. Good deal, we pay for the arena, Katz keeps ALL revenues for 30 years while the taxpayers pick up the tab for maintenance for 30 years. I have said this all along , as long as Lowe, Mac-T , Howson and all the minions are gone, the cycle will just keep on repeating. Hitch cant fix stupid.

  • Becauseoilers

    Back to back turds against a pair of the weakest teams in the West. Now we are back to reality, this team is still unbalanced, everyone not named McDavid should be open for trade, cause they don’t do squat witout him.

  • Goaltender Interference

    Losing two games doesn’t concern me too much. Oilers have already far exceeded my expectations so far this year – especially with the coaching change.

    What concerns me is the continued Jekyll and Hyde persona of the team where they can play lights out against the leagues best but then come out against the bottom-dwellers and leave a brown stain on the ice. Consistency has been their nemesis over the past years and how long will it be before it creeps into even Connor’s play? That would be the real crime.

    The roster is banged up and they’re going to drop a couple games. It’s how they drop them that will be the real story. That all being said, if there are any coaches out there who can drive the consistency train, Hitchcock is one of them. Time will tell here.

  • FutureGM

    I hate the top heavy PP1. There is zero effort on the PP as evidenced by the players being able to stay out for a full 2 minutes. Put Nuge on PP2 and limit the PP1 icetime to 1 minute unless sustained pressure. We need to have an imperative to score, right now it is simply to make the nicest goal of the year