When you know you need more from your line-up top to bottom but the post-game video shows you a tired team, which is exactly what Edmonton Oilers’ coach Dave Tippett saw after a 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, you have to walk a fine line to extract the reaction and result you’re looking for.
So it goes for Tippett and the Oilers as the Minnesota Wild come calling tonight. After two straight losses, the Oilers sit at 16-7-0 despite having played most of the season without Mike Smith and a good chunk of it without the left side of their defence. That’s the good news. The bad news, the reality, is the Oilers have not been nearly as good as their overall record for a while (7-6-0 in the last 13 games). Familiar problems remain.
The Oilers have started slowly and played from behind far too often this season. The five-on-five play hasn’t been what it needs to be. And, despite new personnel, Tippett isn’t getting the kind of production and contributions he needs from his bottom-six group of forwards. All this we know. Patience comes more easily when you’re off to a 9-1-0 start. Today? Not so much.
“You can do all the talking you want, but you’ve got to do it on the ice,” Tippett said after the Oilers’ morning skate today. “We’ve had lots of conversations, lots of areas we feel want to improve. There’s some things we’re doing well, but ultimately you’ve got to go on the ice and get it done.”
With the record the Oilers have, they’ve built in some margin to lean on while waiting for Warren Foegele and Zack Kassian et al to provide Tippett’s top-six forwards the offensive bump and support they looked capable of providing early on. Likewise, there’s still time to figure out how to put all of these sloth-like starts behind and stop chasing games. That said, better sooner than later.
There’s really no need to get filled in by the Wild, coming in on a six-game win streak, at Rogers Place tonight to understand what needs to be done, is there?
GET IT DONE
Tippett can’t ask for a whole lot more from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl than they’ve provided. Is there anybody who hasn’t been impressed with Zach Hyman? He’s so much better and brings more dimensions than I realized. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has been just fine and Jesse Puljujarvi continues to develop before our eyes. Hyman and Puljujarvi will flank McDavid tonight while RNH and Kailer Yamamoto play with Draisaitl in the middle.
Other than the top six, the rest of the forwards haven’t given Tippett enough to work with. It’ll be Foegele, who has gone 16 games without a goal, and Kassian, occasionally engaged but too often disinterested, playing with Ryan McLeod tonight. Foegele had a couple of goals in his first seven games. While he wasn’t going to score at that rate all season, he hasn’t been bringing the energy and physicality you need from your third line. Ditto for Kassian. He’s provided zero edge far too many nights.
With Darnell Nurse back for his second game tonight after returning from a broken finger and Cody Ceci expected to return from COVID protocol this week, the blueline is getting healthy – what remains is to get Duncan Keith back in the line-up. Overall, the back end hasn’t been the disaster it might have been thanks to rookies Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen and crusty, old Kris Russell.
Likewise, the goaltending has held up well despite the prolonged absence of Smith, who is battling through a stubborn ankle injury. Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner might have looked even better with a lead to work with more often, but that’s just a guess on my part. They haven’t been the problem.
“The sky is not falling,” McDavid said after Tippett called off Monday’s on-ice session in favor of studying videotape. “It’s a good chance for us to reset. We had a good video session and we didn’t skate, so I think there’s a good chance to get a little bit of energy back. We don’t want to dismiss how we’ve played of late and need to get back to playing our game.”
Yes. Tonight is as good a time as any.