Stop me if you’ve read this before. The Oilers are once again in the unenviable position to play Spoiler. In case you’ve forgotten, you likely read about it here, or many other places over the past decade.
I won’t get into the painful details of how they got here, and in fact, after reading the previous article from March, 2016, I’m actually going to divert from what I was going to write about, because looking at that roster and the one today illustrates how little progress has been made over the past three seasons.
You might not like this refresher, so feel free to scroll down past the lineup portion if you want to limit your frustration and read an insightful response from Ken Hitchcock on why the Oilers struggle to move the puck quickly out of their zone.
In March of 2016, the Oilers lineup had Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon in their top six. The bottom six comprised of Lauri Korpikoski, Mark Letestu, Nail Yakupov, Adam Cracknell, Anton Lander and Iiro Pakarinen. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Benoit Pouliot and Matt Hendricks were injured. Jujhar Khaira played 15 games.
On the backend, they had Andrej Sekera, Mark Fayne, Griffin Reinhart, Jordan Oesterle, Adam Clendening and Adam Pardy. Oscar Klefbom and Brandon Davidson were injured and Darnell Nurse was suspended for two games. Cam Talbot was in goal.
Tonight the Oilers lineup will have McDavid, Draisaitl, Kassian, Nugent-Hopkins, Milan Lucic and Alex Chiasson in the top six. The bottom six will have Sam Gagner, Colby Cave, Tobias Rieder, Kyle Brodziak, Joseph Gambardella and Josh Currie. On defence Klefbom, Nurse, Sekera, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell and Matt Benning. Mikko Koskinen start in goal.
They downgraded significantly in skill up front with Hall, Eberle and Maroon out and Lucic, Gagner and Rieder in. Their right side defence is better, but without a major offensive or puck moving threat.
Three years and they are only slightly better, and much of that is due to the maturity and improvement of McDavid and Draisaitl. Those two combined for 99 points in 2016. They have 196 so far this season.
The rest of the team isn’t much better top to bottom.
It is a perfect illustration of what ails this organization. They haven’t figured out how to improve their team despite having two elite offensive players.
Will it change this off-season?
It will depend if the new GM, and potential new president of hockey operations, can bring in some of their own people and do a thorough cleansing of the organization. The pro scouting staff need to be completely overhauled. I don’t think I need to explain why. Just look at trades from the past three years.
Daryl Katz needs to realize the Oilers have a losing culture. Pretending otherwise would be lying. The proof is right in front of him. Acknowledge the previous mistakes and ensure you and Bob Nicholson hire the right people and let them do their job.
RNH moves back to the wing. He hasn’t been able to produce on the wing like Draisaitl has. He has been excellent on the PP, but surprisingly hasn’t produced as well as you’d expect when playing with McDavid. RNH has 11 points in 361 minutes with McDavid, while McDavid has 14. Zack Kassian has 11 points in 294 minutes with McDavid, while McDavid has 13. Moving to the wing isn’t as easy as we think. RNH has to get used to starting from a stand still more often. I think he is much better as a centre. He is such a smooth, fluid player and he is more dangerous when he is moving more.
Maybe if the coaches tell him after the season he is going to start the season on the wing next year he could have the entire summer to work on it, but I believe he is most dangerous playing the middle.
The Oilers defenders struggle getting the puck out of their zone. I brought it up with Ken Hitchcock today.
“I don’t see us struggling to move it quickly, I see us struggling to use the middle of the ice,” said Hitchcock. “If you look at any teams who are quick in transition and moving the puck they find the middle of the ice. There is a risk and a dynamic to play that way. You can’t be a quick transition team when you are putting it on the boards. You end up chipping it out and chasing.”
This led me to my next question.
“Further to that, I think it’s safe to say you aren’t coaching them to ring it around the boards. So then do you see it as a lack of confidence to use the middle of the ice, or a lack of ability to use the middle of the ice?” I asked.
“I would say a combination of a lot of things,” said Hitchcock. “Sometimes the support isn’t there quick enough. Sometimes it is a little bit of impatience in the middle of the ice, and sometimes we aren’t looking for that option. Sometimes under pressure the first option is to get it the hell out. If you do that, it is fine, but then you have to win the next battle. And the next battle is your (winger on boards) has to get it out.
“You look at three of the scoring chances for the Blues that weren’t goals in the first period, all three got out to the winger on the boards and none of them got it out. It is a combination of things, but I think the first thing is getting back to position, what we call spots and spacing. You have to get back there with a sense of urgency, and when you don’t have it you are too far away and the D have no options and they put it on the boards,” said Hitchcock.
This is something I am going to monitor closely down the stretch: how often are the forwards in position to receive a pass in the middle or the ice, but the D choose to ring it? Or, how often do the defends have no option but to hammer it around the boards?
Sergei Bobrovsky is “nicked” according to John Tortorella so Korpisalo makes his 20th start of the season. He has a .901sv% and 2.91 GAA.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
The Finnish netminder returned to the NHL this season after a seven year absence and took the starting job from the subsequently-traded Cam Talbot. His .908 save percentage and 2.89 GAA were enough to convince GM Peter Chiarelli to give him a three year contract extension with a $4.5M AAV and 15 team no-trade clause.
Chiarelli was fired the next day.
The Jackets have struggled mightly to score since the trade deadline and tonight’s as good as any to snap out of it.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: In eight of the past ten meetings between these teams one team scores four goals, and six times a team has scored 5+. Fans are treated to some offence tonight. Oilers add to the playoff stress of the Blue Jackets with a 5-3 win.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: McDavid has 15 points in seven career games against the Blue Jackets. He picks up two more tonight.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Joe Gambardella scores his first NHL goal.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 3/21/2019 – 7:00 am MT