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G7 Game Notes: Stop The Insanity

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
6 months ago
The Edmonton Oilers are struggling — mightily — but I don’t buy the notion that a new system is the main reason they are allowing an ugly 4.50 goals against/game. The system has become the new whipping boy for some. However, the system isn’t causing the Oilers to leave opposing players open in the slot, or unattended in front of the net to deflect home goals, or allowing them to create chance after chance after chance after chance off the rush.
The issue is much bigger than a “new system.”
— I’m unsure of what exactly is the standard that Jay Woodcroft keeps referring to, but right now their only standard is inconsistency. We’ve seen wild swings of energy, consistency and determination from period to period and game to game. The only consistent in their game is inconsistency.
—Here’s a breakdown of their even strength play through the first six games. They will bleed chances one game, and then be okay the next. Game one is on the left and game two is on the right. Stats courtesy of SportLogiq.
The disparity is obvious. Vancouver scored eight even strength goals in two games with a combined 6:15 of offensive zone possession time. Edmonton had zero goals in 6:43 of game one.
— Let’s look at games three and four.
Their only victory came in Nashville when Jack Campbell stopped 42 of 43 shots. They still gave up too much, and they followed that up by getting pumped in Philadelphia where they allowed 17 slot shots.
— Their best game of the season was the Winnipeg game, as far as limiting chances and playing solid hockey. They outshot the Jets 32-14 at 5×5, had twice as many high-danger chances, but couldn’t finish.
Game six v. Minnesota was a complete tire fire in regard to allowing quality chances. They gave up 18 high-danger chances at even strength — three times as many as they allowed to Winnipeg. I’m sorry but blaming a system for that large of a discrepancy is misguided.
— The Oilers have allowed the most slot shots/game at 18. They are 6th best in fewest shot attempts allowed and rank 12th in offensive zone possession by the opposition. The opponents aren’t in their end very often, but when they are the Oilers are giving up shots from the slot far too easily and frequently. They rank 23rd in high-danger chances allowed.
— Whatever their internal standard is, they clearly aren’t close to reaching it on a nightly basis. And they need to figure out why. In their last three games, they looked disinterested v. Philly, were engaged and played well v. Winnipeg, and then fell apart in the final 30 minutes v. Minnesota. Jack Campbell made four or five huge stops in the second period or the scoreboard would have looked even worse. He has to stop the Hartman goal that made it 6-4, but he kept the game closer than it should have been in the second half of the middle period. The number of high-quality chances the Wild had was staggering.
— I don’t know any system that wants the team to leave the front of the net and low slot open as often as the Oilers have. Look at how they played v. Winnipeg to Minnesota. The exact same system both nights, but the Oilers got crushed in Minnesota, while they played quite well v. Winnipeg. It can’t just be the system. The players need to be much more consistent than they’ve shown. Their decision making, with and without the puck, and positional play, hasn’t been close to NHL acceptable if you want to win games.
— The Oilers’ focus is clearly an issue. They had three too many on the ice penalties last game. Three. In one game. They tied the NHL record for most in a game by a team, and the first since the 2012 Coyotes. The Coyotes ended up going to Conference Finals that season. Dare to dream Oilers fans, dare to dream.
— I’m not excusing the coaching staff. Jay Woodcroft needs to do more. Warren Foegele has been arguably the most consistent forward all season, but he’s only played more than 12:38 once. That was last game, and he only played 13:38. I don’t care how you do it, find ways to get him on the ice more. Give him a shift in Evander Kane’s spot for one shift on the first unit PP if you have to. Get creative.
— Or how about play Evan Bouchard fewer minutes 5×5? He is crushing it offensively with eight points in six games. That is excellent production, but he’s also -5 at 5×5 and has been on the ice for nine goals against in six games. He’s been great in the offensive zone and struggled mightily without the puck. He can play big minutes on the first unit PP, but also be in the third pairing at 5×5. Play him with Brett Kulak and let Philip Broberg or Vincent Desharnais log time with Mattias Ekholm. You can give Kulak/Bouchard the bulk of O-zone starts, if need be, especially with last change on home ice. Suggestions of benching or trading Bouchard are, no offence, moronic, but you can put him in better position to succeed defensively by playing him fewer minutes and against less skilled competition.
— Less is more sometimes, and pulling back his quality of competition and ice time at 5×5 could help him regain some defensive confidence. It is odd to see a player so confident with the puck in the O-zone, yet mishandle the puck defensively on multiple occasions that have led to goals against. Puck skills are his forte. I don’t expect him to suddenly become Jason Smith or Adam Larsson in front of the net. He might never be great tying up guys in front of the Oilers’ goal, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a big part of the team offensively and be sheltered in the third pairing for the time being. Also, if the system was the issue, Bouchard wouldn’t have been in the right spot on the first goal. The “system” had him in the right place, he just didn’t tie up his man.
— The game in Minnesota proved why Woodcroft was wise to put Mattias Janmark on the top line instead of Dylan Holloway. Janmark had an excellent game. He and Leon Draisaitl were the only Oilers who were on for a goal for, but also didn’t get outscored 5×5. He had great possession numbers. He protected the puck. He battled. He blew by a Minnesota defender to create a breakaway. Holloway might be better in the future, but v. Minnesota he fought the puck and didn’t create as much as Janmark. I understand Holloway has more long-term upside, no question, but Janmark played very well and earned another game on the top line.
— Evander Kane plays much better when he’s emotionally engaged. You don’t want him fighting every game, and he won’t, but the last two games he’s been more engaged, and he’s had a scrap in both games. Against Winnipeg, he started the game on the third line and wasn’t happy about it. But instead of pouting, he decided to get noticed. He fought. He hit and he earned himself more ice time and picked up two points in Minnesota. If you can move Kane down the lineup for a game, I see no reason you can’t with Bouchard in the hopes it helps him — and the team.
— Congratulations to Doug Weight and Charlie Huddy on their well-deserved placements into the Edmonton Oilers Hall of Fame. Their induction ceremony will start tonight at 7 p.m. The Oilers recommend you are in your seat at 6:55 p.m. if you’re going to the game.

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