Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
It’s all about how you bounce back
1 year ago
The Oilers’ loss to the Calgary Flames over the weekend was one of their worst performances of the season and it was certainly the sloppiest they’ve played under Head Coach Jay Woodcroft. It was ugly and even though they managed to score five goals on a team that’s considered one of the better defensive teams in the league, there weren’t many positives to pull from that game.
I mean, if I wanted to be incredibly optimistic I would sit here and tell you that I believe that we’d be talking about that game very differently if @Jacob Markstrom doesn’t rob @Evander Kane early in the third period, but you don’t really want to hear that.
Did that loss to their provincial rivals actually expose the Oilers in any meaningful way? Or was it simply a blip on the radar?
Well, I don’t think it really told us anything we didn’t already know. The Oilers have a pair of average goaltenders, who have the ability to look above average for some stretches, but they certainly aren’t capable of holding the Oilers in games when they’re being badly outplayed at five-on-five. That was the case on Saturday.
Even though some players managed to walk away from the game with a plus rating, there wasn’t anyone in the lineup who I thought had a very good game. That goes for the goaltenders as well. The group of defensemen in front of @Mikko Koskinen and @Mike Smith made some just flat-out terrible mistakes and the forwards struggled to keep track of the Flames players buzzing around the offensive zone. The goalies also didn’t bail the Oilers out with any big stops in the way that Jacob Markstrom did for the Flames in the third period.
That’s not surprising though. The Oilers played poorly and got the result they deserved.
Still, I think you have to be at least mildly impressed with how the Oilers bounced back on Monday night against the Arizona Coyotes. They dominated play in the first ten minutes of that game and the Coyotes never really had much of a shot.
Now, I’m sure a lot of you reading are saying to yourselves “yeah, they beat the worst team in the conference, what’s your point?”
That’s fair. But two points against the Coyotes is worth just as much in the standings as two points against the Flames and as the Oilers head down the stretch, the games they play against weaker opponents are absolutely must-wins. They play Anaheim, Columbus, Vancouver, and San Jose (x2). If they can win all five of those, then they will be setting themselves up very nicely to finish the year with not just a playoff spot, but potentially have home-ice advantage in round one.
Yes, you’d love to see them go up against some of the good teams they’ve played recently and walk away with a victory, but it’s not exactly stunning that they’ve lost these games, is it?
This all comes back to the question: did the loss to Calgary expose the Oilers in any way?
I don’t think it did. By this point, we should all be very comfortable with who the Oilers are. They are a team with a very skilled forward group, an average collection of six defensemen, and two goalies who are wildly inconsistent. They are skilled enough to comfortably beat bad teams but just aren’t quite good enough to always beat the best of the best.
That’s what this recent stretch has shown me. When the Oilers play sloppy, mistake-filled hockey against good teams, they will lose. That’s why the result against Calgary didn’t stun me. It made sense.
I also believe it was just a blip on the radar. So far this month, this team has beaten the Tampa Bay Lightning and brought the Colorado Avalanche to overtime. When they’re at their best, they can keep up and compete with anyone. When they don’t have their ‘A’ level game, then they don’t have the goaltending to bail them out against these top teams, just like we saw against Calgary and even against Dallas.
In simple terms: they are what we thought they were.
IS SEVEN D-MEN THE WAY TO GO?
Nov 12, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse (25) makes a pass during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Kris Russell is currently in COVID protocol but when he comes back, should Jay Woodcroft consider going back to seven defensemen for a stretch?
@Darnell Nurse, @Cody Ceci, and @Evan Bouchard have all been struggling as of late and there’s a part of me that thinks this might be the result of some fatigue. Nurse has played a lot of minutes, as has Ceci, and Bouchard might just be hitting a bit of a wall in his rookie season.
I don’t think healthy scratching any of these players is really the slam dunk solution that some fans seem to believe it is, but I do think lessening their workload could really benefit the team and when Russell is healthy, the Oilers can very easily make it work.
If the team wants to have any sort of meaningful success in the playoffs, they’ll need those three defensemen to play important roles and be at their best. I think that the best way to make sure everyone is ready to go for game one of the playoffs is to take away 3-4 minutes a night from each guy over the next 15 games.
Of course, the Oilers are not locked into a playoff spot right now which is why I think they need to wait until Russell is available to do this. I wouldn’t call up Slater Koekoek just for the sake of running seven d-men. Russell was playing some pretty good hockey leading up to the trade deadline though so I think mixing him into the lineup on a regular basis is a good way to lessen the workload on some of the other defensemen while not sacrificing too much in terms of the quality that’s being put onto the ice.
HOW ABOUT DERICK BRASSARD?
Mar 24, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a goal by forward Derick Brassard (16) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
When the Oilers acquired Derick Brassard from the Flyers at the deadline, there was a part of me that thought maybe this was a bit of an unnecessary move. The Oilers appeared to have some decent depth in their bottom-six and bringing in another piece like Brassard felt like it would just complicate things and lead to some players being upset that they’re being healthy scratched.
Well, through three games I’ve been impressed with #16. In his debut against San Jose, he scored and his line with Nugent-Hopkins and Puljujarvi outshot the Sharks 12-4 in 11:55 of 5v5 TOI. Against Calgary, he managed to find the back of the net again and while he did struggle a little bit against Arizona (he was outshot 8-0 at 5v5) I still think the Oilers got a player who can give them some consistent offence in the bottom six.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his numbers cratered when Puljujarvi was taken off his line and replaced with Josh Archibald and it has me thinking that the Oilers should throw Puljujarvi back on the third line for a while.
I understand that Puljujarvi played very well on McDavid’s wing against Arizona but I think it’s incredibly important that the Oilers get three solid scoring lines going before the playoffs and having Puljujarvi on the third line with Nugent-Hopkins and Brassard gives them that.
I believe Puljujarvi is more than capable of driving a line without McDavid or Draisaitl as his centreman. By putting him on the third line, you’re exposing both him and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to easier matchups which will just result in getting more offence from the bottom-six.
I would then move @Ryan McLeod back up to the left-wing spot on the second line with Draisaitl and run Foegele-Ryan-Kassian as the fourth line until Russell is back and Woodcroft can go with the seven defenseman approach.
What are your thoughts? Should Woodcroft keep Puljujarvi on the top line with McDavid? Or should the Oilers look to build three lines that are a little bit more balanced? I’ll discuss this more tomorrow on my weekly show: Oilersnation Live! Streaming at 2pm on The Nation Network YouTube Channel!
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