0

Oilers Must Reduce the Soft Plays

Everyone has a favourite movie or TV show they watch repeatedly. It never gets old. If I need a laugh I watch Seinfeld, The Office or Superbad. If I’m channel surfing and come across Forrest Gump or The Shawshank Redemption, I always watch, regardless of which scene those movies are at. There is something enjoyable, almost cathartic, about getting lost in the comfort of a favourite movie, when you know what is coming.

If you love something and know it is coming you feel joy and comfort, but I sense Oilersnation has the complete opposite range of emotions while watching their hockey team. You know what is coming, but you don’t like it.

The same scene has unfolded time and time again with the Oilers in 2021. It was prevalent in the regular season earlier this year (last season). It was glaringly noticeable in the playoff series loss to the Winnipeg Jets, and it is still infecting the Oilers today.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

They continue to self-implode. They make soft plays at crucial moments and it costs them games.

Edmonton just lost back-to-back games to the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins. They outshot the Wild 39-26 and the Bruins 43-30. The Bruins entered the game with the league’s best SF-SA differential at +7.7, yet Edmonton outshot them by 13., but they lost.

Why?

Because they made two egregious plays that led directly to goals. And the issue is these type of soft, lack-of-focus plays were the exact reason they lost to Winnipeg in the playoffs. How many easy goals do opposing teams gift the Oilers? Not nearly as many as Edmonton allows. It isn’t close, and until they become a harder team at key times in games they will continue to lose games, even when they play well.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Edmonton controlled the game last night just like they did against the Wild on Tuesday. But they can’t stop shooting themselves in the foot with egregious mental and physical mistakes.

The Oilers had 11:54 of offensive zone possession time last night. Boston had 3:58.

On Tuesday v. the Wild Edmonton had 11:33 of O-zone possession compared to 3:48 for Minny.

You shouldn’t lose those games, yet Edmonton lost both. And not because Boston and Minnesota made some incredible Connor McDavid-like individual rush, but because the Oilers are not consistently focused enough.

And it isn’t one or two players. It infects the goalies, the defence and the forwards.

I never underestimate how difficult it is to play in the NHL. It is why I try to avoid stating an NHL player is terrible, because they are all in the top 0.0001% of hockey players in the world. But the difference between winning and losing is razor thin most nights, and the good teams rarely beat themselves. The Oilers haven’t mastered that yet.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Tyson Barrie makes hundreds of great plays with the puck every year, and he will also make some errors. But this play can’t happen if you want to win. It can’t. Make a harder pass the first time, and definitely the second attempt. Edmonton is too nonchalant at times and it costs them.

To their credit, they battled back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game and they pressured the Bruins, but late in the third period of a tie game another soft play cost them.

Evan Bouchard needs to be much more engaged and assertive on this play. That is not how you enter a battle or engage in one. Craig Smith was barely touched and given too much time and space to find a wide open Matt Grzelcyk for the game winner. If you want to win hockey games you need to be much harder on the puck carrier late in games. Ask yourself: How often do teams defend the Oilers with this style of soft play on the wall?

HAVE YET TO LEARN…

It isn’t just Barrie and Bouchard. Far from it.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Look at the Wild game.

Mikko Koskinen doesn’t seal the post, and Darnell Nurse allows Joel Eriksson Ek to hammer home a rebound. Koskinen’s early game lack of focus was on display again.

Colton Sceviour elects to vacate the slot and Kris Russell gets back in the play but doesn’t stay on Marcus Foligno. Easy wide-open net finish for him.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

There are many other examples earlier this season as well, and it dates back to last year’s postseason also.

Edmonton led game three 4-1 after Jujhar Khaira scored four minutes into the third period. Edmonton was in complete control, but then Josh Archibald took a selfish clipping penalty. He got a one-game suspension for it. The Jets scored on the ensuing powerplay and then scored two goals 16 seconds apart in the final five minutes to tie the game.

Their fourth goal came after McDavid just threw the puck up the boards despite having loads of time to make a play.

Morrissey scores 16 seconds later | NHL.com

In game four Edmonton led 3-2 going into the third. They had played well.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Then Ethan Bear, a usually great outlet passer, made a horrendous pass up the middle and the Jets scored.

Scheifele’s second goal | NHL.com

In OT McDavid made a soft dump-in attempt and the Jets transitioned and scored. McDavid making bad decisions with the puck is very rare, yet it happened.

Connor’s series-winner in 3OT | NHL.com

Teams learn hard lessons in the postseason. The Oilers were crushed after that series, because for long stretches in each game the Oilers controlled the play. They outshot and out-chanced the Jets, but too often they made a soft play that led to a Jets goal. They beat themselves as much as, if not more, than the Jets beat them.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

It has been the Oilers weakness for some time. I’m not sure how it gets fixed, other than a commitment to increase focus, execution and attention to detail at key times.

I’m not sure it is a system issue. If it was the Oilers wouldn’t have outshot and out-chanced the Jets those games. Or done the same against Minnesota and Boston this week. But that doesn’t excuse the coaching staff. They have to find a way to ensure this team stops self-destructing.

If it was only one or two players the solution would be easy. Move them out. But it is different players at different times in different games.

The coaches and the players need to recognize this and change it. Words are great, but actions are what impact the outcome of games.

Mistakes will always happen. They are part of the game. However, the Oilers’ glaring errors continue to cost them games. It has been a trend this entire calendar year and as we move to 2022 it needs to change if they hope to have more success.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Until they reduce the soft plays with the puck or against the opposition, they will struggle to be taken seriously.

The coaches and players need to have some tough-love conversations within the dressing room.

Their standard of what is acceptable at key moments in the game needs to improve.

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thank you to Patrick and his amazing bid of $10,000 on the Astoria Lightning package. Awesome.

Day Eight: Pyramid of Giving

We will build a pyramid of giving to help the Holiday Hamper. It is a simple donation.

We will have 15 people donate $100.
Eight people will donate $200.
Four people will donate $500
And two people, or companies, will donate $1000.

And we will raise $7,100 for the Christmas Bureau. (Tax receipt included).

It goes from 2-6 p.m on TSN 1260. You can text the show between 2-6 p.m. at 101260 and include your name and donation
. Thanks in advance.

Recently by Jason Gregor: