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G19 Game Notes: Oilers Need Awareness

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
3 months ago
One play rarely accurately captures the struggles of a team, but Martin Necas’ goal on Wednesday perfectly depicts what is wrong with the Edmonton Oilers.
And until the players choose to address and commit to it, they won’t win consistently. Not now, not ever.
— This goal is a perfect example of why the Edmonton Oilers are struggling. They can’t make basic, simple defensive zone reads.
This goal should never happen. Necas can’t be left wide open, never mind get off one shot and then bang home the rebound untouched. It simply can’t happen.
— All Leon Draisaitl had to do was shoulder check at the top of the circle and he could have glided to the slot and picked up Necas. Instead, he never took his eyes off the puck, glided back towards the net and did nothing. This isn’t a systemic issue. It is a team issue, that is deeply engrained in the players.
— I keep hearing the players “hold each other accountable,” but to what standard? If your second-best player chooses not to make a simple defensive read, then who will? Where is the accountability? The problem is: Who can hold them accountable? Who is their consistent defensive stalwart who can stand up in the room and call out teammates? Challenge them to commit defensively? They don’t have anyone who can, because they all take turns making ghastly defensive reads.
— We’ve seen it in the past, but never to this extent. Just look at the goals allowed last game.
First goal: Oilers lose a battle on the wall. Puck goes around to the other side, back to the point and Edmonton has no forwards in the shooting lane, and it gets to Carolina players before Fast bangs home the rebound.
This is the Oilers’ formation as the puck is pushed back to the point. Now look at the goal.
Draisaitl doesn’t go at the blueliner, instead he slides past the shooting lane to the right thinking the defender might pass to his partner. It allows a wide-open shot from the point. Some will say it is bad luck, because it ricochets off two Canes’ players before Fast banged the puck home, but having no one in the shooting lane makes it an easy point shot to start the play.
— The Canes’ second goal results from an unforced error in the offensive zone.
Mattias Ekholm, has complete control of the puck, but then loses control/tries a spin move, and the Hurricanes end up with a two-on-one from their blueline. Did Connor Brown have to press up so high in the zone knowing Ekholm was leading the rush? No. Ice awareness.
— Look at the third goal.
It is a two-on-two and Canes dump it in. It becomes essentially a three-on-three down low, and the Oilers lose multiple puck battles before Teravainen scores. Ryan McLeod, Cody Ceci and Philip Broberg need to battle much harder for loose pucks.
— The Canes’ fourth goal is another result of a lack of awareness. Granted, I do think the Oilers have a legit beef that no tripping penalty was called on McDavid in the offensive zone. But again, this play through the neutral zone should never result in that shot off the wing.
Vincent Desharnais simply can’t let Jarvis get behind him. The game is fast, but Desharnais had ample time to read and react. And the other question I have is why is Desharnais playing LD while Kulak is RD on this play? The puck was in the offensive zone, and both defenders remained on their wrong sides. Why? Small details matter. If Kulak is playing LD, like he should be, then his stick is to the outside and the pass is harder to complete. Smart play by the Canes to realize Desharnais’ stick was in the middle of the ice. The small details are constantly killing the Oilers.
— And the Necas fifth goal early in the second period, as I outlined above, was another easy one for Carolina and it was game over. Carolina is good, and even when Edmonton plays well, they could lose, but did Edmonton make them work their asses off for any of those goals? It was far too easy, and gifting easy goals is the Oilers’ identity. They can argue it isn’t, but the results in games prove it is.
— There is no easy fix. This is a deeply ingrained issue within the dressing room. They have no one who can stand up and demand defensive accountability, because they don’t have a Patrice Bergeron or an Alex Pietrangelo or any other leader who makes the right defensive read 90% of the time,or makes it difficult on the opposition to score. The Oilers’ core leadership group doesn’t have it. They’ve never had it. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse have never had a strong, veteran leader to show them how to play, to demand they play that way, and now this core doesn’t know what their foundation is. Many good teams will talk about how, when things are reeling, just revert back to your safe foundation. We can weather the storm and come back on future shifts.
Edmonton doesn’t have that, and so far, this group of players hasn’t shown a willingness to learn and commit to better team defence.
— Mattias Ekholm outlined the path after the playoffs. He reiterated it again to start the season, but it has fallen on deaf ears. They simply don’t choose to play sound, committed hockey all over the ice. The don’t battle hard enough for loose pucks. They don’t protect the puck often enough in the offensive zone to ensure they don’t give up odd-man rushes the other way. The don’t shoulder check and pick up the high guy in the defensive zone.
— Doing it for a few games means nothing. It is difficult to win in the NHL, but it is impossible to win if you don’t commit to playing smart, sound hockey. Every person in the organization is responsible.
Ownership didn’t hire the right people to guide the team a decade ago. Management has made some bad signings and hasn’t committed to bringing in enough defensively responsible players. The players continually choose chaos and risky plays over the smart, safe play.
It is a vicious cycle, and one trade won’t magically fix it.
This group must commit to winning, admit they cheat too often in important areas of the ice, and to a man, decide to change it, or they will waste this season, and likely future ones because they refuse to admit their internal standard isn’t good enough.

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