Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Off the Top of My Head: The Oilers’ disastrous start, delayed NHL decisions, and the San Jose Sharks
3 months ago
When a team puts itself in the position of needing five goals to win six times in its first 10 games as the Edmonton Oilers have to start this season, it should be no surprise that they’re off to the second-worst start in franchise history at 2-7-1.
With a 5-2 loss to the Nashville Predators in a matinee Sunday, that’s exactly where the Oilers are as they pack their bags for a three-game road trip. The franchise record for futility to start a season is 1-8-1, set in 1992-93, but this edition of the Oilers might be worse off at this point if you consider how many aspects of their game have contributed to a terrible start.
The goaltending hasn’t been close to good enough. Neither has the team’s defensive play. Notably, they’ve been getting killed off the rush. Their two top offensive players are struggling. Leon Draisaitl hasn’t scored a goal in seven games, and Connor McDavid is without one in five. The Oilers were stymied Sunday by a backup goaltender for the fourth time this season, this time by journeyman Kevin Lankinen, who is no Jusse Saros.
The PK has been sub-par. The power play has slipped. There have been questionable coaching decisions by coach Jay Woodcroft. The Oilers have twice as many too-many-men penalties as wins. This is not the team-on-the-rise fans expected when the season began with an 8-1 pumping from Vancouver. Yes, there are 72 games remaining, but there’s a lot of work to do.
TOUGH TALK BUT NO WALK
“This is death by a thousand cuts, you know? That’s what it feels like,” McDavid said. “One mistake and it costs us. It kind of just snowballs. Like I said, it’s tough to chase games . . . struggles all over the rink. That’s what you get when you’re 2-7-1.”
“I thought we lost a lot of puck battles today,” Woodcroft told reporters. “I didn’t like that. I didn’t like seeing that. I thought our puck play wasn’t good enough. To a man, not good enough from everybody.”
So, what now?
“We’re very clear that when you’re in a funk or you’re in it up to your knees, the only forward is to stick together,” Woodcroft said. “So, that’s number one, stick together and work your way through it. It’s about addressing parts of the game like the ones I just mentioned that have to be cleaned up.”
Up to their knees? If the Oilers don’t get some things straightened out in a big hurry, they’re going to need hip-waders.
NHL DRAGGING ITS FEET AGAIN
From flip-flopping on Pride Tape to the handling of Ottawa’s trade of Evgenii Dadonov to the Vegas Golden Knights and the hush-hush gambling investigation of Shane Pinto as just three examples, we’ve had some puzzling decisions made by the NHL’s head office lately. In that regard, the buck is supposed to stop at the top with commissioner Gary Bettman, who has been calling the shots since 1993.
What’s top of mind for me is the death of former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson, who died from a skate cut to the neck while playing with Nottingham in England’s Elite Ice Hockey League, and Bettman’s reaction to it. As was the case with the NHL dragging its feet in making the use of helmets and visors mandatory in decades past, Bettman appears to be dithering again when it comes to making neck protection mandatory.
While the WHL finally announced last week it is making neck protectors mandatory, Bettman says the NHL doing likewise is something the league will continue to study. He says making neck protection mandatory – in conjunction and consultation with the NHLPA — could take years, decades even. Yes, decades.
“That’s been an ongoing discussion in terms of safety and equipment and Kevlar whether it’s for legs, or wrists, or the neck,” Bettman said in an interview on the Pat McAfee Show. “To the extent that anything would be mandated, that’s something that, A, there needs to be the appropriate education, and B, it’s something we do in consultation with the player association.” For full context, the interview is here.
Skate cuts in hockey happen more often than you’d think, even if fatalities are extremely rare. There is no downside to making the Kevlar sleeves, collars and undergarments developed to mitigate skate cuts mandatory. Get it done, Mr. Bettman. Get it done.
SHARKIES ARE BRUTAL
The 1992-93 San Jose Sharks have the dubious distinction of being tied with the Ottawa Senators of the same season as the second-worst team in NHL history in terms of points with 24 from a record of 10-70-4. The current edition of the team will take a run at that.
The sad sack Sharks, with former Oiler Mike Grier running the show as general manager, are 0-10-1 after getting stomped 10-2 by the Pittsburgh Penguins last night. The Sharks have a goal differential of minus-43 through 11 games.
The 1974-75 Washington Capitals hold the record for futility with an 8-67-5 mark for 21 points in 80 games. Former Oiler goaltender and coach Ron Low got into 48 games for that expansion Capitals team. Might these Sharks be worse than that?
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