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Without McDavid: What now?

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
1 month ago
As always, there are opinions at opposite ends of the spectrum as to how the Edmonton Oilers might fare without Connor McDavid in the line-up with the injury that took him out of Saturday’s 3-2 OT loss to the Winnipeg Jets in the final five minutes of regulation time.
At 1-3-1 after five games, the Oilers haven’t been good enough with McDavid in the line-up, so the schadenfreude among other fan bases is heavy, as you’d expect. Whether he’s out one week, which is three games, or two weeks, five games, they say the Oilers are in big trouble. Stanley Cup contenders, my eye. Might as well pack it in now. You know the drill.
In the substantially smaller true believer camp at the opposite end of the fan base spectrum here in Oil Country, the party line is that this is no big deal. The Oilers are still better than your team with one hand tied behind their back – playing without McDavid. I’m not sure how many people actually believe that, but it’s part of the back-and-forth that’s out there.
As always, there’s a middle ground. That’s where most fans and pundits sit. They believe having to get along without McDavid in the short-term might provide the Oilers a kick in the pants the team needs after too many so-so performances to this point. The Oilers got along OK (3-2-1) without McDavid the last time he was out for any length of time – he missed six games in February 2020. Jason Gregor took a thorough look at that Sunday.

WHAT NOW?

Having written that the Oilers will win the Stanley Cup just two weeks ago, I was accused by some of being a member of the true believer camp coming into the season. Not so. Today, I’m sitting in the same place as I was then – the middle ground. Losing McDavid doesn’t help matters, but it’s not a devastating blow, especially if we’re talking three or maybe five games.
The Oilers weren’t playing up to par before McDavid was injured and that has to change, with or without him. From where I sit, this looks like a deeper more talented team than the one from 2020 that Gregor outlined in his item – this is a group more capable of taking up the slack with him out. Wishful thinking on my part?
Up front, we still haven’t seen much from Evander Kane or Connor Brown. That isn’t meant as a knock because they’re both coming off difficult seasons injury wise, but it’s a reality. They can be better. So can Evan Bouchard and Mattias Ekholm, who is still knocking off the rust after missing camp and pre-season with an injury. The power play is clicking, but the penalty killing has been awful. Stuart Skinner is still trying to get his game locked in.
If none of that changes and then you add the loss of McDavid to the pile, it’s bad news for however long he’s out. If Kane, Brown, Bouchard, Ekholm and Skinner – or even two or three of them – raise their games, mitigating McDavid’s loss isn’t too much to ask if the time frame is what has been projected. We’ll see how that might look against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday.

THE BOTTOM LINE

“We are just too up and down,” Leon Draisaitl said after the OT loss to the Jets. “Not consistent enough right now. It feels like every mistake we make ends up in the back of our net. We have lots of things to fix.”
True enough — McDavid or no McDavid. Get on with it.

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