Watching the Edmonton Oilers pick up points lately has been like driving around with the “change oil” light on in your car. You can look the other way and keep going because the damn thing is still running, but sooner or later you have to know the engine is going to seize up and leave you on the side of the road. That’s not how to get where you want to go.
After watching his Oilers squeeze another few clicks out of their goaltending Monday with a loser’s point in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Vegas Golden Knights despite being outshot 48-24 thanks to Mikko Koskinen, coach Dave Tippett isn’t looking the other way anymore. His team is on the road to the playoffs, but they’re closer to the ditch than the fast lane with the way they’re playing.
The Oilers are 37-24-9 for 83 points and look like a lock for a playoff spot with a dozen games to play, including 4-1-1 in their last six games. But in the last four games of that stretch they’ve been handily outplayed too often and they’ve been outshot 168-99. That’s meant too much Koskinen and Mike Smith and not nearly enough of everybody else. The coach has seen enough.
“We’re just not playing very well as a group right now,” Tippett said. “I thought we addressed those things this morning, but there’s still lots to work on. Our execution is so poor in a lot of different situations. Some of it is just guys being on their own page, thinking they can vary from the game plan.
“This is as disconnected as we have been for a long time. It is not just tonight’s game I’m talking about. It’s been a number of games here. We have our first practice in a long time tomorrow and hopefully we can fix some of those issues, but we can’t continue to play like that and feel like we are a good team.”
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
Points being the bottom line, Tippett isn’t about to give back any the Oilers have pilfered in the last half-dozen games, but there’s no getting past how flawed his team has been – loose defensively, unable to sustain an attack when they actually do have the puck. In short, their goaltending has saved their backsides.
They got outshot 46-24 in a 4-1 win over Columbus. They were outshot 31-24 in a 4-3 loss to Chicago. They stole two points with a 2-1 overtime win against Dallas despite being outshot by a margin of 43-27. Last night, the Golden Knights outshot them 15-3 in the first period. The Oilers, playing without Connor McDavid, had just four shots after 30 minutes.
“It’s something that we have to fix right away,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who scored his fourth goal in the last six games to put the Oilers ahead 2-1 early in the third period. “We went through a little stretch like this in December and found a way to get ourselves out of it . . . obviously, without goaltending like we’ve had the last little while, it would probably be a different story.”
Yes, it would. “We’ve been able to get points because of our two goalies, but going down the stretch, you can’t rely on them to make 40 or 50 saves a night,” said Alex Chiasson, who opened the scoring nine minutes into a hideous first period. “We have to find a way for our group to create some momentum. There’s a disconnection in our game right now.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
At the bottom line, Oilers’ fans would rather have their team playing like it is now, skulking out the back door in balaclavas with two points in the bag, than playing really well and losing. A spot in the playoffs hangs in the balance, and that’s what it’s all about. Playing this way might get them in, but it won’t get them far.
What Tippett and his staff have to figure out, starting at practice today, is how to put this stretch behind them, get back in sync and win some games without relying on out-of-this-world goaltending to do it. To re-connect. With a dozen games left to play, there’s still time to figure it out. It’s well past the point of looking the other way.