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Oilers need to start on time

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
1 month ago
If you had a way to solve the problems that the Oilers are having early in hockey games, they would hire you on the spot.
They struggled to start games on time under Todd McLellan, they struggled to start games on time under Dave Tippett, and not surprisingly they’ve struggled to start games under Jay Woodcroft.
This isn’t something that has just started to become a problem over the last few months. This also isn’t something that you can just point to and say “it’s the middle of the season, they’ll find a different level when the games matter more”.
They started poorly consistently in the playoffs. With Rogers Place rocking, with the stakes high, they rarely dominated the opening frame. In 16 playoff games, there were only two instances where they both outscored and outshot the opposition. Brutal.
So what’s the issue?
I’ve long believed that it is not a head coach’s job to motivate players before every game at the NHL level. These guys are professionals and they should not need a coach to give them a big pep talk before all 82 games. Furthermore, if a Head Coach did do that, it would be easy to imagine that he’d lose the room pretty quickly. His message would lose meaning.
It’s on the players in the room to find ways to be better from the jump and honestly, I think it’s on the leaders in the room as well. Why can’t this team generate any sort of energy early in games? They need to find a way to be ready to go right from the initial puck drop. It’s absolutely killing them right now and it’s been a problem all year.
Ryan Rishaug had a tweet with some tremendous numbers from Sport Logiq:
I have very little confidence that this team will magically become a powerhouse in the first period because this group has shown us time and time again that they can’t, but they should be able to at least not be towards the bottom of the league in almost every stat category. Just don’t be terrible, that’s all you need to do. Baby steps.
There are three things I’d like to see from them in the next few games: 
  1. Go out of your way to be more physical on the forecheck early in games. Try to wear down the opposition in the first few minutes and have the other team’s defensemen thinking that every time they go back to retrieve a dump in, they’re going to face some sort of contact.
  2. Throw everything on net. You might get some juicy rebounds from a goalie who’s not fully dialed in early, you might get some lucky bounces, or worst case scenario, you’ll get some offensive zone faceoffs. Those are all fine outcomes.
  3. Stop taking the first penalty. This team has given up the first powerplay of the game in 19 of their 26 games so far this season. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE!? It just zaps all your momentum and considering how terrible their penalty kill is, it’s a big reason why they’ve been trailing early in a lot of games.

OTHER THOUGHTS

Dec 1, 2022; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Edmonton Oilers goaltender Jack Campbell (36) makes a save during the first period against the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
  • I thought the Oilers should have started Jack Campbell tonight against the Coyotes. I was the first one to say that you have to treat Stuart Skinner as the team’s starting goaltender back in October, but I thought this was a great spot to let Campbell try to gain some confidence. The Coyotes are second last in scoring chances for per 60 according to Natural Stat-Trick. They’re also finishing off a crazy road trip and have scored just 13 goals in their last five games. Skinner was in the starter’s net during the morning skate, so he’s likely going to start, but I think Campbell was the smarter play here.
  • Jay Woodcroft should split up McDavid and Draisaitl. Against a team like Arizona, the Oilers’ big guns should be able to generate offence at 5v5 without each other. Considering the injuries that the team is facing, having them play together is not a recipe for long-term success. I actually like Liam Horrobin’s idea of playing all three of McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins on separate lines for the rest of the homestand. Alas, that is not how Jay Woodcroft views things: 
  • I like having Puljujarvi on the third line. He can’t produce with McDavid or Draisaitl and he seems to not play with much confidence when he’s with them. I like the idea of putting him with offensive-minded players in a bottom-six role, where he can be more of a puck carrier and a driver, instead of just always feeling like he needs to find 97 or 29. Put him in spots where he can succeed.

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