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Off the Top of My Head: Oilers dominant in Washington, struggling veterans, and Ethan Bear

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Photo credit:Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Robin Brownlee
3 months ago
For all the questions asked about what was wrong with the Edmonton Oilers, from the power play to the penalty killing to goaltending – even Connor McDavid had been under fire from some frustrated fans — as the team lurched to a 5-12-1 start to this season, the answer we got Friday afternoon was nothing.
In a result nobody expected – no, you didn’t – the Oilers capped a four-game road swing that started with three straight losses with a 5-0 throttling of the Capitals, who took the ice 8-1-1 in their last 10 games and winners of five straight. This was a contest that looked like a mismatch coming in. Turned out it was. 
The power play scored three goals on four tries. The penalty killing was flawless in five attempts against. Stuart Skinner made 25 saves for his third career shutout despite having Dustin Schwartz as his goaltending coach. And McDavid, merely mortal with 16 points in 16 games coming in, had four assists for his most productive outing of the season.
“We’ve got a lot of guys in here that care a lot,” said Leon Draisaitl, who potted two of the power-play goals. “I think sometimes that’s a little misunderstood toward the outside, which obviously is unfortunate, but we care a lot. We want to win here.
“Has there been times or games where it hasn’t gone our way as a leadership group? Yeah, of course. Have we been at our best all year? Absolutely not. But there’s a lot of pride in this room and this tonight was a good step.”
For one afternoon, the Oilers looked like the team fans and pundits thought they could be when the season began. As up and down and all over the place as this team has been through 19 games, let’s just leave it at that as the Anaheim Ducks come calling tonight.

STILL WAITING ON THEM

Mattias Ekholm’s impact was immediate and obvious after he arrived via trade from Nashville at the deadline last season. With Ekholm paired alongside Evan Bouchard, the Oilers went 18-2-1 down the stretch. He provided a veteran presence, settled things down in the defensive zone and chipped in 4-10-14.
I was expecting more of the same this season, but after missing training camp and pre-season with a hip injury, the 33-year-old Swede still hasn’t hit his stride or had nearly the same sway. While Ekholm had a shorthanded goal in Carolina and looked engaged in Washington, he needs to be better. He’s certainly not alone.
In that regard, Connor Brown tops that list for me. I wasn’t expecting Brown, who missed all but four games with the Capitals last season with a knee injury and surgery, to be prolific, but he’s done zip. Bupkis. In the 13 games he’s played, Brown doesn’t have a point and hasn’t been much of a threat to get one. 
Brown seemed to be coming on until he missed six games after tweaking his groin, but he needs to start producing. If you count his four games with Washington in 2022-23, Brown has gone 17 games without a point. 

ENCORE FOR BEAR?

Mar 3, 2020; Dallas, Texas, USA; Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ethan Bear (74) during the game between the Stars and the Oilers at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Are the Oilers interested in a return by free agent defenceman Ethan Bear? Should they be? With Bear skating in Kelowna and edging closer to a return after recovering from shoulder surgery, speculation about where he will end up is growing.
Will Bear, who was with Vancouver when injured but wasn’t qualified last summer with his six-month window for recovery, end up back with the Canucks? That’s my guess. Might Bear make sense for the Oilers? Some people think so. I don’t see a fit under the cap or in this line-up, but when a team is struggling as the Oilers have, you must consider the options.
Bear had 132 games in the books with the Oilers when GM Ken Holland traded him to Carolina for Warren Foegele in July 2021. The Hurricanes dealt Bear to Vancouver in October 2022. He split 119 games with those teams and now sits at 251 overall.
Bear played top-four minutes with the Oilers over parts of three seasons his first time around, averaging 20:12 in ice time. What say you?

MOOG IN CANCER BATTLE

A lot of people are pulling for Andy Moog, a three-time Stanley Cup winner as a member of the Oilers in a goaltending tandem with Grant Fuhr, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
Mike Vaughn, who is involved with goaltending equipment manufacturer Vaughn Hockey and is a long-time friend of the 63-year-old stopper from Penticton, announced the news Friday.
“He has asked us to share the news with the hockey community that has meant so much to him over the years,” Vaughn announced via Instagram. “We hope you can share your thoughts and well wishes as he begins the toughest battle of his career.”

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