If you’ve checked the comments section of any Edmonton Oilers fan site over the last week or so, you’ve seen the angst growing day by day as the Oilers have frittered away the 7-1-0 start that finally had a lot of people feeling pretty good about their team. Is it any wonder? Well, no.
It’s no surprise given what the last 13 seasons have looked like that a 2-4-1 streak over the last seven games, most recently a 6-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, has fans thinking Lucy van Pelt is about to pull the football away again and that the ever-gullible Charlie Brown is about to end up flat on his ass one more time. Aaugh!
I’m not convinced it’ll play out like that, but I certainly understand the fear and loathing. Despite an 18-11-4 record for 40 points after 33 games, a regulation loss to the Minnesota Wild tonight will leave the Oilers just one point ahead of their pace last year through 34 games – they were 18-13-3 for 39 points – when they missed the playoffs yet again.
Edmonton’s goaltending, nothing less than stellar to start the season, has been leaky of late. Their even-strength scoring is mediocre, 14th with 62 goals, the PK is coming off a tough night against Carolina and Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid have cooled off without enough support scoring to pick up the slack. Now, the Oilers play a stretch that sees them face Minnesota, Toronto, Dallas, St. Louis and Pittsburgh the next five games.
TALKING THE TALK
Despite recent struggles, the Oilers have so far avoided the kind of losing spiral that crushes post-season hopes – they’re the only team in the NHL not to have lost three games in a row. They have been resilient if nothing else since their 5-0 start (13-11-4), but that’s going to be tested over the next five games. As consternation grows with the fan base, the players are saying the right things.
“Obviously, the results haven’t been there lately,” Adam Larsson said after the loss to Carolina. “But I wouldn’t say we’re worried. We know we can’t go on a losing streak. You don’t want to dig yourself a hole, but sometimes there are games during a season where certain things don’t work out.”
“Our penalty-kill got bit and so did our goaltending, two things that have been so good for us this season,” coach Dave Tippett said. “Give them credit for their execution on their power play, and the one with four seconds left, our goalie would probably like back. There were parts of our game I didn’t mind but we chased the game and you can’t give up six and make the mistakes we did and expect to win.”
The Oilers weren’t terrible against Carolina, but they obviously weren’t good enough. Falling behind 3-0 isn’t a game plan. The PK allowed three goals, Mikko Koskinen had a bad night, one in which he gave up a goal to Dougie Hamilton from centre ice. Add it up and you get a 1-2-1 homestand. It’s a one-and-out in St. Paul before the Maple Leafs come calling Saturday.
THE WAY I SEE IT
For all of the duly noted gaps in their game, the Oilers still have a share of top spot in the Pacific Division with the Arizona Coyotes. The Calgary Flames, rolling under interim coach Geoff Ward, have won six straight and sit two points back. It goes without saying the next five games could swing things significantly. Which way it will go, well, I can’t get a read on it.
What is obvious is that the Oilers have to get more done at even strength from top to bottom, starting with McDavid and Draisaitl. Koskinen and Smith have to at least split the difference between what we saw from them early and what they’ve done lately. My sense is that’s do-able with this group. Then again, what do I know? I picked this team to miss the playoffs, then backed off that and became a believer when they bolted out of the blocks. Now, doubt creeps in again.
Looking at you, Lucy.