We knew going into the season the Edmonton Oilers didn’t have enough proven scoring depth beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. We knew there would be stretches like we’ve seen over the last two games – back-to-back shutout losses to the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild. So did coach Dave Tippett.
It was easier to downplay it, or at least wait and hope the bottom six would chip in, when McDavid and Draisaitl were rolling hot and James Neal was filling the net as the Oilers jumped to a 5-0 start. Less so now after a 1-0 shootout loss and a 3-0 loss to the Wild, a stretch that’s seen the Oilers go 152:28 without a goal.
Now, with McDavid having gone three games without a point and Draisaitl and Neal having cooled off with him, it’s understandable fans are looking for answers. Might recently called up Sam Gagner help jump-start things? Maybe. How about calling up Tyler Benson or Kailer Yamamoto from Bakersfield? To that, I’d say no and no.
Unless I’ve got a bad read on Tippett and the way he does things, we’re going to see more of the line-juggling we saw against the Wild and the insertion of Gagner before he starts yanking people up from the minors. With the Oilers 7-2-1 even after this little skid, the immediate answer to this dry spell is going to have to come from within. We saw it coming.
Not much from the go-to guys for the Oilers through 40 minutes. McDavid, Draisaitl and Neal have combined for just two shots. Oilers scoreless streak now sits at 132:38.
— Robin Brownlee (@Robin_Brownlee) October 23, 2019
While McDavid and Draisaitl are off to the best starts of their careers with 17 and 16 points respectively and Neal’s nine goals are two better than he scored all of last season with Calgary, the bottom six has been an even blacker hole than many thought it would be through 10 games.
Tomas Jurco, Alex Chiasson, Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund, Jujhar Khaira, Patrick Russell and Riley Sheahan have combined for zero goals, zippo, bupkis. Solid work on the PK and holding your own 5-on-5 matters, but there has to be more. A goal here. A goal there. Not big numbers, but some numbers. McDavid and Draisaitl have their names circled on the whiteboard of every team they play. Nothing from anybody else makes the game plan easy.
“We can’t rely on those guys every game,” said Chiasson, who scored 22 goals last season but has just nine shots on goal at the 10-game mark. “They’ve been carrying the load, playing 20, 25 minutes a night. I’ll be the first one to admit, I have to help the group. The bottom six has to help the group. That’s just how you win in this league.”
“We need to give our top guys some relief,” Sheahan said. “I don’t know what we do, maybe take the puck to the net a bit more and try to score some dirty ones and things like that, but we definitely need to help out. It’s one thing to get into the o-zone, it’s another getting on the scoresheet.”
“It’s the first bit that’s got us,” Tippett said. “We seemed like we were a little low on energy in the last couple of days, but there are things you can do to compensate for some of that. We didn’t do them very well tonight, so it’s time to regroup.”
THE WAY I SEE IT
That regrouping starts Thursday against the Washington Capitals and continues Sunday against the Florida Panthers. The 7-2-1 start doesn’t mean Tippett can simply whistle Don’t Worry, Be Happy and ignore the obvious shortcoming, and he won’t. What it does do is buy him a little time to see if the group he’s assembled can get its act together.
That doesn’t mean pissing away what’s been an unexpected start to the season, it means taking a long look at the lineup over the next handful of games. What the Oilers don’t need, and what Tippett and GM Ken Holland won’t do, is rush to judgment. Teams end up doing goofy things like trading away guys like Ryan Strome when that happens.
We’ll see Gagner inserted in the lineup. We’ll see some tinkering with lines if the lull continues. If that doesn’t work, if Chiasson and Sheahan and the rest don’t get something going, then there will be decisions to be made, but that’s down the road. For now, the answers will have to come from within. As it should be.