66

GDB Game Notes Sabres @ Oilers: Can They Improve?

Last week I was speaking with a client. Her husband is a die-hard Oilers fan and she said, “It is hard being the spouse of an Oilers fan. His mood changes depending on how they are doing and lately he seems more frustrated than ever,” she said.

I spoke to a few of my friends who are diehard fans and they admitted that their mood in the evening of games is noticeably different. It has been a tough 13-year stretch, but from texts to my radio show and on twitter the frustration level in Oilersnation is at an all-time high right now. Many teenagers and adults suffer severe mood swings due to hormone changes, but now Oilers-itis is one of the leading causes of increased anger and disappointment in Northern Alberta. If you are frustrated you might want to skip over the first few points today.

1. Over the past month, the Oilers and Anaheim Ducks have been the two worst teams in the NHL. Since December 14th the Oilers are 4-9-0 while the Ducks are 2-7-4, and each have picked up only eight points in 13 games. The Colorado Avalanche are 3-8-3 (nine points) in 14 games. The Oilers’ month long struggle would have knocked them out of a playoff race most years, but the Ducks, Avalanche and Minnesota Wild have also struggled, allowing Edmonton to remain within striking distance.

2. The scary part for the Oilers is how few shots they have generated. They have 312 shots in 13 games, fewest over that span by a significant margin. LA is 30th with 362 and Toronto is 29th with 382 (12 games). It is ridiculous how few shots the Oilers are generating. Darnell Nurse leads the team with 36, followed by Connor McDavid (35) and Leon Draisaitl (29). The lack of depth scoring has been discussed numerous times, and I don’t need to rehash the numbers, but it isn’t just that they can’t score — lately they aren’t even generating many shots on goal.

3. The scary thing for me is Peter Chiarelli and Ken Hitchcock believe the Oilers have to play better team defence. Sure, that is a concern, but Edmonton is middle of the pack in SA over the past month. They give up too many quality chances, but the fact they rarely have an extended O zone time puts even more pressure on them to defend. It is a losing combination and unless some players magically discover their offence, I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

4. The lack of offensive support is, in my eyes, the biggest issue on the team. The Oilers defence will improve with the return of Oscar Klefbom, but there is no productive, complementary forward injured. There is no help coming there unless it comes from within, and right no depth forward is showing any signs of being able to score goals consistently.

5. Hitchcock needs to play Ty Rattie consistenly in the top-six and play him 15 minutes a night and see what happens. Rattie has four assists in nine games during the past month. He was healthy scratched four times, but only McDavid, Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Alex Chiasson have produced more points. Rattie isn’t going to win the Selke anytime soon, but none of the other Oilers depth forwards are either and at least Rattie is chipping in offensively. He might not the long-term answer, but he is the best short-term answer on the roster. So play him.

6.The other issue is the Oilers were outworked by an injury-depleted Arizona Coyotes roster on Saturday. That is inexcusable for me. If the depth players aren’t producing at the very least they should match the work ethic of the opposition. The Flames destroyed the Coyotes 7-1 last night and it illustrates the gap between the two Alberta teams right now. Brad Treliving has done a significanly better job of GMing than Peter Chiarelli has. It isn’t close, to be honest.

7. The Buffalo Sabres won ten consecutive games in November. On December first they were tied with Nashville for third overall in the NHL with 37 points in 27 games. Since then they are 6-10-4 and now sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point back of the Montreal Canadiens and two back of the New York Islanders in the wildcard race.  The Sabres skate into Edmonton with similar struggles as the Oilers. They are tied for 25th in goals over the past month (33 each) and like the Oilers their forward depth hasn’t done much lately.

8. Jeff Skinner continues to light up the NHL. He has eight goals in the last 13 games and sits second in the NHL with 30 goals this year. Sam Reinhart has been excellent as of late producing 15 points in 13 games, while rookie defender Rasmus Dahlin and Jack Eichel (10 GP) have 10 points each. The next best forward only has four points. The Sabres top line of Skinner, Eichel and Reinhart are carrying them offensively, but like the Oilers the scoring depth is very thin. Defender Rasmus Ristolainen is fourth in team scoring with 27 points and Dahlin is fifth with 22. The Sabres would love veterans like Kyle Okposo, Jason Pominville and Connor Sheary to chip in a bit more.

9. Some quick updates on Oilers prospects. Kirill Maksimov continues to produce and in 38 games he has 28-29-57 for Niagara. Evan Bouchard has 5-17-22 in 17 games with London. He had a solid showing at the WJC and should have a long playoff run with London. Ryan McLeod was traded to Saginaw a few weeks ago, and the Spirit loaded up for what they hope is a long playoff drive. McLeod has 14-30-44 in 37 OHL games.

10. There is a lot of chatter about the Oilers trading their first round pick, but they still need more scoring depth in the organization. I wouldn’t trade it for a short-term fix. They need more skilled forwards and unless they get on a tear before the trade deadline there is no guarantee the Oilers will make the playoffs. They can’t risk trading away a top pick. To quote the late Pat Quinn, I know it sucks the hind banana to even consider the Oilers will get another top-ten pick, but that is the reality today and I wouldn’t want Chiarelli trading that pick away in hopes the team makes the playoffs this year. Unless some team grossly overpays, which I doubt, I believe the Oilers should hold on to that pick. I know the player won’t help them right away, or at least he shouldn’t, unless the Oilers repeat the error of rushing young players, but the big picture still has to be at the forefront of management’s mind right now.

GAME NOTES BROUGHT TO YOU BY ATB FINANCIAL

From peewee to the pros, Albertans loves the atmosphere, energy, and life lessons that take place at rinks across the province. And where there’s an arena, you’ll find an ATB branch nearby—with our team members cheering and fundraising along with you. See more information at ATB.com.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/14/2019 – 10:30 am MST