logo

Monday Mailbag – Is it time to reshuffle the Oilers’ defensive pairings?

alt
Photo credit:Tom Kostiuk
baggedmilk
6 months ago
Happy Monday, friendly Internet amigos, and welcome to a fresh edition of the Mailbag to help get your week started and keep you updated on all things Edmonton Oilers. This week, we’re talking about Jay Woodcroft, line combinations, being ready to play, and much more. If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask, email it to me at baggedmilk@oilersnation.com or hit me up on Twitter at @jsbmbaggedmilk , and I’ll get to you as soon as we can.
May 14, 2023; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft looks on from the players bench during the second period against the Vegas Golden Knights in game six of the second round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports
1) Turner asks – Woody has always been seen as a patient, even-keeled players’ coach. After starting with only one inspired game so far this season, does he have the ability to tear a strip off this team? Can one of his leadership group do it? Get up in the face of some underperforming players? Demand accountability in a very passionate manner? If not…what does he say? What does he do?
Jason Gregor:
If players need to be yelled at in game five of the season to perform the issue within the room is much larger. Players ultimately win games. They played quite well for much of Saturday’s game v. Winnipeg, but lost in OT. Another major bad decision, Skinner, led to the tying goal. Yes, Woodcroft would yell if needed, but I’m not sure it would do much longterm. The team’s effort and execution comes from within and the players need to play with more consistent energy and emotion.
Robin Brownlee:
What you describe is a page out of a 1990’s coaching playbook. You don’t get a favorable response by ranting and raving and getting “up in the face” of players. It has to come from the core group of players. Demand? If you demand anything and somebody like McDavid or Draisaitl says, “FU,” then what? What are you going to do?
Tyler Yaremchuk:
I’ve always said that it’s not an NHL Head Coaches job to motivate his players for 82 games. There are times when it’s needed, but he can’t go in a tear a strip off the team everytime something goes mildly wrong. With that being said, it’s concerning that this team always seems to come out flat. I don’t think it’s purely a coaching issue. I think the locker room needs to dig deep right now.
Liam Horrobin:
We don’t know what happens behind closed doors but I am confident that Jay Woodcroft can yell at the team if he needs too.
Baggedmilk:
This question has been asked so many times over the years that the only answer I can give is that it has to be up to the players to motivate themselves. They’re professional athletes and if they can’t get themselves ready to play then we have a whole other list of issues to discuss.
Nov 10, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) talks to center Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Carolina Hurricanes during the second period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
2) James in Peterborough asks – The club often turns to pairing McDavid and Draisaitl when they need a boost. Despite both being left-handed shots, would you ever consider pairing Ekholm and Nurse at 5×5 in an attempt to steady the ship and/or secure leads?
Jason Gregor:
I wouldn’t for most of the game, but we have seen them together at times late in periods or in the game.
Robin Brownlee:
I’d consider anything, but we won’t need to worry about McDavid or a week or two because of his injury. That aside, I don’t see a connection with which way they shoot. Different players and different positions.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
That’s a very interesting idea. I like the duo of Nurse/Ekholm, but I hate the idea of Ceci/Bouchard, so I think I’d prefer if Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson steer clear of it. They need two solid pairings, that’s why they went out and got Ekholm in the first place.
Liam Horrobin:
I don’t think they want to do that often. Since Ekholm arrived, Nurse and he have only played 25:14 together at 5 on 5. Nurse has only played with three other defenceman less and thats Markus Niemelainen, Ryan Murray, and Jason Demers. The team is better when those two are separated much like when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl aren’t together continuously.
Baggedmilk:
I don’t think playing Ekholm and Nurse makes the team better because it leaves less on the other two pairings. Like it or not, those two are our best defencemen and they should be anchoring their own pairings.
Oct 11, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks defenseman Filip Hronek (17) and forward J.T. Miller (9) and forward Phillip Di Giuseppe (34) and forward Brock Boeser (6) celebrate Boeser’s fouth goal of the night as dejected Edmonton Oilers goalie Stuart Skinner (74) tends to the crease in the third period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
3) Clay asks – What has been the biggest surprise for everyone early in the season? I’m stunned by the lack of third period offence despite believing this offence was going to be better than they were last year.
Jason Gregor:
No third period goals in five games. It is brutal.
Robin Brownlee:
Same about no production in the third period. I’ve also been surprised by how ineffective Evander Kane and Connor Brown have been. I recognize the injury circumstances, but I thought they’d be better than this.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
Last year, it felt like they were never truly out of a game and this year, they’ve looked remarkably flat in the final frame of each game. They look like a team that’s somehow lost their identity and I’m not sure how they’re going to find it.
Liam Horrobin:
The lack of consistent effort. The performance against Philadelphia was laughable and not a symbol of what Oilers hockey is supposed to be. The effort in the defensive zone against Vancouver in the home opener was awful too. The good news is that the Winnipeg game was better, which people might not want to accept since the lost.
Baggedmilk:
Everyone is giving good answers here so I’ll go with how the players look like they’ve never played together before. Passes are too long or too short, they’re lost in the offensive zone, and the power play has been a mess over the last two games. It’s weird.
Oct 19, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (29) skates back to the bench as Philadelphia Flyers right wing Cam Atkinson (89) celebrates his goal with during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
4) @ryantyke asks – What happened to the commitment to defence that was preached in the off-season?
Jason Gregor:
I don’t doubt that is their focus, but saying and doing are much different. It is difficult to do it consistently, and that is the Oilers issue right now.
Robin Brownlee:
Talk is talk. Too many Grade A mistakes.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
*shrugs* I’m not sure. I don’t think the changes to the defensive zone structure and the whole zone defence thing are what’s been screwing them early on here. I think it’s a lack of effort and attention to detail. The Oilers will always be the most skilled team on the ice, but lately they haven’t been the team who’s looked like they wanted it more.
Liam Horrobin:
Who knows! Again, it was better versus Winnipeg but previous it was poor. We are only a handful of games into the season so there’s still plenty of time to improve.
Baggedmilk:
I don’t have an answer for this. After five games, the lack of execution all over the ice has been a major issue.
Oct 11, 2023; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard (2) and forward Ryan McLeod (71) watch as Vancouver Canucks forward Dakota Joshua (81) scores on goalie Stuart Skinner (74) in the third period at Rogers Arena. Vancouver won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
5) @oldoilerfan asks – Robin Brownlee’s recent article said this team should have enough lessons learned by now. By now, slow starts and lethargic efforts should be a thing of the past. Do we need a coaching staff or leadership group that would “clear their throat” a little more? What’s missing? Why are they still not getting themselves ready to play?
Jason Gregor:
Woodcroft entered the season having the 2nd most wins in the NHL since being hired. Wanting to fire a coach after five games won’t help. It is a bad start. It will be fixed from the players, a new coach would only be a bandaid solution and not fix that the players ultimately decide outcomes of games.
Robin Brownlee:
You’d think so, no? I’m surprised at how this team has kept repeating mistakes they should have learned from long ago. No answers here.
Tyler Yaremchuk:
I hinted at this earlier. At some point, it can’t always be on the coach or the GM or whoever else. At some point, this group needs to look inward.
Liam Horrobin:
Things are happening to this team that are unusual. For example, they don’t score goals in the third period anymore. The errors leading for goals are blatant. These things cannot happen all season and eventually things will turn in favour of the Oilers.
Baggedmilk:
Things will turn around, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling pretty dejected right about now. Needless to say, this is not the start to the year that any of us would have expected.

MAILBAG PRESENTED BY STAR MECHANICAL

Star Mechanical is Edmonton’s top plumbing and heating company. Our team of skilled professionals is committed to helping with all your plumbing and heating needs, from repairs and maintenance to installation and upgrades. With years of experience and a reputation for quality workmanship, you can trust us your local Star to get the job done. Visit us at starmechanical.ca to schedule an appointment and let us help keep your home running smoothly.

Check out these posts...