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G56 Game Notes: Oilers Leaking too many chances defensively

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
1 month ago
The Edmonton Oilers will not win a Stanley Cup until they commit to playing consistent defensive hockey. Over the past few seasons, they’ve had stretches of 20 to 30 games that proved they can play good defence, but it has never lasted. In the final 21 games last season, they had the eighth-lowest GAA at 2.67, while scoring the most goals at 4.43/game. For Kris Knoblauch’s first 32 games this season, they had the second-lowest GA/GP at 2.28, but since returning from the All-Star break, they are leaking goals and scoring chances galore. Again.
— Offence isn’t the issue. I don’t care that Connor McDavid has 21 consecutive assists without a goal. It is a unique stat, no question, but it isn’t impacting the Oilers negatively. Scoring goals isn’t a problem. It hasn’t been for years, yet too often, it becomes the focus. Since the break, the Oilers are fifth in goals for/game at 3.70. They are actually averaging 4.00 GF/GP in their last nine games, and McDavid doesn’t have one goal. Offence isn’t the issue.
Stuart Skinner needs to play better, and every Oilers skater needs to commit to being solid defensively. They’ve been way too passive lately. How many times have you watched an opposing team control the puck in the offensive zone for 30 seconds while too many Oilers are stationary? They were aggressive and attacking defensively early under Knoblauch, and teams rarely had extended possessions, but in February, the Oilers got hemmed in their zone for long stretches.
— The Oilers’ top players have been on the ice for a lot of goals offensively and defensively at 5×5. McDavid has been on for 14 goals against in 170 minutes at 5×5. Evan Bouchard (12 in 178), Darnell Nurse (10 in 176), Mattias Ekholm (10 in 167), Corey Perry (10 in 122), Zach Hyman (8 in 155), Cody Ceci (8 in 172), Leon Draisaitl (7 in 160) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (7 in 121).
McDavid has been on the ice for 17 goals followed by Hyman (13), Ekholm (12) and Draisaitl (10), but they’ve been leaking goals.
— I understand Skinner and Pickard’s save percentages haven’t been good in February, and they need to play better, but the skaters are leaking far too many high dangers chances lately. It is similar to early in the season with Jay Woodcroft.
— Until this group commits to playing, smart defensive hockey the same issue will keep appearing. We’ve seen this movie for the past three seasons: play well for a long stretch, then revert to cheating offensively and not paying attention to the small details defensively. I don’t understand it, considering how well they played for three months. You’d think they’d realize the road to success begins with smart, committed, defensive hockey. And the frustrating part is when they play good defence, their offence doesn’t struggle.
— The Oilers either can’t start a game on time, like they did Saturday vs. Calgary and found themselves trailing 3-0, or they have a good first period, and then sleepwalk through the second period. That isn’t coaching. It isn’t the system. It is on the players. It is 100% on the players.
— I love unique stats and seeing McDavid tally 21 assists without a goal is an odd one. The NHL record for most assists between goals in one season is 41, set by Borje Salming.
SeasonPlayerPOSGPassistsFirst goalNext goal
1980-81Borje SalmingD494112/3/19804/5/1981
2017-18Henrik SedinC563811/14/20173/22/2018
2002-03Doug WeightC293012/5/2002 2/08/2003
1985-86Wayne GretzkyC10261/25/19862/16/1986
1996-97Wayne GretzkyC222312/30/19962/21/1997
2007-08Nicklas BackstromC21231/17/20083/3/2008
1969-70Alex DelvecchioC302210/11/196912/31/1969
1980-81Terry RuskowskiC272212/20/19802/22/1981
1982-83Guy ChouinardC24221/20/19833/19/1983
1990-91Wayne GretzkyC10223/7/19913/26/1991
2000-01Scott GomezC222111/25/20001/18/2001
2013-14Martin EratR502110/1/20132/8/2014
2023-24Connor McDavidC9212/6/2024??
2023-24Aleksander BarkovC192112/16/20232/10/2024
There are way more D-men with 20+ assists between goals, so I excluded them and only included forwards. Henrik Sedin owns the longest assist-streak between goals at 38. However, he played 56 games without a goal. It was late in his career, and I guarantee he wasn’t excited going 56 games without a goal. To me, 21 assists in nine games is impressive. Wayne Gretzky did it twice, but then scored a goal in his 10th game. He had 26 assists between goals in 1986.
— McDavid has factored in on 21 of the Oilers’ 36 goals over the past nine games, which is 58.3%. He’s been on the ice for 28 of the 36 goals. Yes, he isn’t scoring goals, but it isn’t hurting the team. Yes, he has passed up a few good looks from the slot, and you’d like him to shoot more, but, again, offence isn’t the Oilers’ issue. They are giving up way too many goals.
— The Oilers franchise record, spanning over multiple seasons, is 36 consecutive assists without a goal. I will give the answer in the GDB later today.
— Since the break, Edmonton ranks 30th in GA/GP at 4.20. It is worse in their last nine at 4.33/game. That should be their first, second, third, fourth and fifth points of emphasis right now. Everything else is secondary.
— Their recent skid, combined with the LA Kings going 6-2 in eight games under new interim head coach Jim Hiller, means both teams are suddenly tied with 68 points. Edmonton has one game in hand, and currently sits third in the Pacific division. A loss tonight would drop the Oilers into the first Wildcard spot. Edmonton and LA are three points back of second-place Vegas with three and two games in hand respectively, but they are also only two points ahead of eighth-place Nashville, although they have four and three games in hand on the Predators.
The Oilers need to get back on track right away, otherwise their great stretch of 24-3 that put them in a spot to compete for home ice advantage will be wasted.

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