Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Quick Strikes are Sinking the Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers are 6-2 in their previous eight games. Since January 30th they’ve averaged 4.25 goals/game, second best only to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lighting. They’ve scored 23 goals at 5×5, and Connor McDavid doesn’t have one. They are getting balanced scoring with 13 players scoring a 5×5 goal in the previous eight games, and 19 have at least one point. That is great offensive balance.

But defending is still a concern, and allowing goals in quick succession is costing them games. It has been an issue all season, and despite playing well for the majority of the previous eight games, the Oilers still make it too difficult on themselves with glaring defensive gaffes.

Last night they controlled and dominated much of the game. They outshot the Jets 45-24, including 36-21 at 5×5, but they were outscored 5-4 at 5×5. Mike Smith would have liked the Mason Appleton goal back, but he didn’t have a chance on the other three and the Oilers had three clear giveaways by forwards that led directly to Winnipeg goals. It cost them the game.

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And once again, they allowed two goals in under a two minutes. It has happened eight times this season, twice in one game — although they still defeated Ottawa 8-5 that night — but too often goals allowed in quick succession has resulted in losses. They are 2-5 in games when allowing two goals in under a 120 seconds.

January 13th v. Vancouver. Tied at two they allow two goals in 1:51 and lose 5-3.

January 16th v. Montreal. Trailing 2-1 allowed two goals in 1:50, and the second was a shorthanded tally. Lose 5-1.

January 24th at Winnipeg. Leading 2-1, allow two goals in 1:13, but come back to win 4-3 when Leon Draisaitl scores with one second remaining.

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January 26th at Winnipeg. Tied at three they allow two goals in 1:20. They actually led 3-2, before allowing three goals in 3:27. Lose the game 6-4.

January 31st v. Ottawa. Leading 5-1 they allow two goals in 1:32 and then in third period when leading 8-3 they allow two goals in :47 seconds. Win the game 8-5.

February 6th at Calgary. Leading 2-1 they allow two goals in 1:54 and lose 6-4.

February 15th v. Winnipeg. Trailing 2-1 they give up two goals in 1:42 and end up losing 6-5.

Despite playing much better since January 30th, they’ve yet to find away to reduce quick goals by the opposition. It will happen now and then, but it has occurred in 41.7% of their games.

In their recent hot streak they have outscored teams 23-20 at 5×5, but 10 of those goals came in their two losses. They’ve only allowed 10 5×5 goals in the other six games, which is a step in the right direction. I see more positives than negatives in their play as of late, and I expect that to continue, but their biggest weakness is still goals against at 5×5 and refocusing after giving up a goal.

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Nov 23, 2019; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) is pictured during warm ups before a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ethan Bear is close to returning, and even if William Lagesson is out for a few games, the Oilers depth on the blueline hasn’t been this deep in years. When Lagesson left the game, we saw Evan Bouchard move over and take some shifts on the left side. When Bear is back in the lineup, I expect we will see Bouchard move to the left side. Which means one of Caleb Jones, Kris Russell, Slater Koekkoek and Lagesson will battle for the remaining left slot.

Those four have different styles, as well as strengths and weaknesses. Jones has good possession numbers, but with Bouchard and Barrie in lineup he needs to be on the PK. I think he can be better than he was, and that seems the main reason he has missed six of the previous eight games. His early season turnovers were concerning, but he reduced those a lot in the past two games he played.

Russell and Koekkoek are PK guys and better shot blockers. I understand why some feel that isn’t enough to play ahead of Jones. Lagesson has been steady since he came in and was more reliable at 5×5 than Russell or Koekkoek.

Bouchard was paired with Bear in practice on Sunday, but now that Lagesson might be out we could see Bouchard play with Larsson. They played almost 10 minutes together at 5×5 last night after Lagesson left and Bouchard didn’t look out of place.

So that means one of Jones, Russell or Koekkoek will skate with Bear. Bear and Jones played together in the American Hockey League, and have familiarity with each other. Koekkoek is bigger, and more defensive-minded than Jones. It will be curious to see who Dave Tippett runs in practice later today.

I’d give Jones another look and, assuming Lagesson is out and Bear is ready to play, I’d go with:

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*I could see Barrie and Bear switching after Bear gets back up to speed.**

Which pairings would you like to see for tomorrow’s game?

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