After Monday’s loss to Vegas Dave Tippett was very blunt about his team’s performance, or lack there of.
“Our execution is so poor in a lot of different situations,” said Tippett. “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.”
Yesterday was their first practice in weeks due to two stretches of three games in four nights and travel back to Edmonton for one game in between. It allowed Tippett time to hammer home the details the Oilers need to fix, if they want to stop relying solely on Mikko Koskinen to win them games.
1. Tippett and the Oilers players aren’t happy with how they are playing, but picking up five points during the past four games allows the teaching moments to be more upbeat. Everyone playing, or watching, the past four games knows the Oilers need to be much better in front of their goalies if they expect to win consistently. However, wins trump playing well and losing. Edmonton needs wins, not moral victories. Playing well and losing is a much worse alternative than winning ugly. Of course they need to tighten things up, and they will. When is the question. Can one practice clean up the all their messes?
2. I asked Tippett about cleaning up their play and how he will use video and practice time in unison. “You need all of the above,” said Tippett. “When your team doesn’t get a lot of practice time there is video almost every day, but you need to get on the ice. Sometimes it is just the ability to go on the ice and do it. Be in the right position. Stop in the right spot. Get the puck in the right spot rather than just look at it on video. We tried to work on those things today.
“We are just too disconnected. Swinging all over the place, feeling like we want to get going and do something positive, but it ends up being just a mess out there. Hopefully we got rid of some messes and moving in the right direction.”
3. Being a former player, Tippett knows full well the challenges of removing bad habits. Ultimately it is up to the players to do it on the ice, but the coaches are there to try and help them see the errors so they can fix them.
“They flush themselves out,” said Tippett. “It is a combination of everything. The coaching staff is always tweaking and trying to fix things, whether it be individual play or team play, that is a daily occurrence. You go through different stages where your team is playing a little better, a little more connected, or a little sharper than other times. When you are sharp you want to try to keep it as sharp as you can for as long as you can. And when you are not sharp you want to try and get out of it as quick as you can.”
4. Tippett added there might be a positive to the recent struggles.
“Sometimes there are games, there are times when you almost have to bottom out a bit and hopefully start building it back. Those are the ebbs and flows of the season. I wish we could play 82 really sharp games, but it is not a reality. These last three or four we’ve had some that haven’t been very good. It has given us a lot of pause to say we have to improve. We want to build the right way going into the final stretch and hopefully into the playoffs.
5. The reality is once the playoffs start, how you were playing down the stretch doesn’t guarantee you success in the post-season. It is a completely different beast. You aren’t playing different teams every day. You play the same team every second day. You drill down into their tendencies and they do the same to you. Tampa Bay was 11-3 in their final 14 games last year and outscored their opponents 62-43. Then they got swept four straight by Columbus in the first round and were outscored 17-8. They scored three goals in the first period of game one, but then only five in the remaining 11 periods.
6. Being concerned about how the Oilers are playing today is valid, but trying to connect their play today to how they will perform in the playoffs is a waste of energy. Playoffs start four weeks from today. A lot will change in that time, and we don’t know how they, or any team, will react once the playoffs begin. That is what makes the postseason so entertaining. Edmonton has shown they can play well for long stretches, as well as having stretches of poor play. In December they looked brutal, and their recent play mirrors that. Except the play of their goaltender. And that is a big positive.
7. I love watching the human dynamics on display during sports. If Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl score five points or if they have a stretch where they average 2.5 points over four or five games, Oilersnation is thrilled. And rightfully so. It is exciting to watch. But when Koskinen stands on his head for four games and stops 142 of 147 shots there is more angst about the play of the team than excitement about how well he has played. I understand why, because in order for him to play that well, he needs to face a lot of shots, which means the skaters in front of him are getting manhandled. But don’t overlook how well Koskinen has played. He’s proven he can steal you games, and in the playoffs you need that.
8. I can’t recall a team who hasn’t had a their goalie win them a few games on the road to a Stanley Cup Championship, or even winning a round. It is vital, and this recent stretch proved Koskinen is capable of stealing games. As James Neal joked yesterday, “We are just getting him ready for the playoffs.” He quickly pointed out how the team needs to tighten up in front of him, but there was some truth to what Neal was saying. Your goalie will need to be great some nights in the playoffs, so Koskinen doing it in three consecutive starts will help his confidence. Can he do it in the playoffs? Only time will tell.
9. Of all the potential first round matchups I think Winnipeg would be the toughest opponent for the Oilers. Connor Hellebuyck is the leader for the Vezina trophy. They are battled tested due to all the injuries they’ve played through and they are very deep up front. This will be a real challenge tonight for the Oilers. Edmonton is trying to find their game, while the Jets have been excellent defensively the past 10 games, allowing only 19 goals.
10. The Jets special teams have been really good as well. Their PK is 91.3% (21 of 23) and their PP is 26.7% (seven of 26). The Oilers PP has been lights out over their past 10 games as well clicking along at 35% (7 of 20), but they have no PP goals in their last three games and have only had two powerplays. Much of that is due to them not having the puck very often in those games, and a blatant missed hand-on-puck call against Vegas, but the Oilers will need to clean up some of the messes Tippett spoke about if they want to compete against the surging Jets.
11. Here is the Oilers’ scoring last year compared to this season, though 70 games, as well as the Jets’ scoring.
|TEAM||TOP-5 FORWARDS||REST OF FORWARDS||DEFENCE|
12. Winnipeg is one of the few teams where their top-five goals scorers have more goals than the Oilers top-five. However, the Oilers’ depth has scored more and Edmonton’s forwards have 197 goals to the Jets 188.
The boys are in the mix and we’re looking ahead to April. Please, Hockey Gords, make it so. Competitive games in February! Exclusively at NationGear.ca.
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