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Slow Starts are Exposing the Oilers

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Photo credit:Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Gregor
11 months ago
Everyone in Oilersnation knew this was coming. It has been discussed for weeks. I wrote about the Oilers’ poor starts in mid-November. It has been an issue since early November, and this weekend it cost them two games. They allowed a goal 49 seconds into the game in Seattle on Friday and last night the Los Angeles Kings scored 2:01 into the game.
Very few teams can win consistently playing catchup, and the Oilers are no different.
Playing catchup is not a recipe for success. In the past five seasons, only five teams have finished the season with a  points% above .500 when allowing the first goal.
In 2016-17 Pittsburgh won 20 of 35 and had a .571 points%.
In 2017-18 no teams were above .500P% when allowing the first goal.
In 2018-19 Tampa Bay was the only team above .460P%. The Bolts dominated that season and went 23-12-1 (.639P%).
In 2019-20 Boston was 18-7-4 (.621P%) and the only team above .472P%.
Last season Florida was .607P% (17-8-3) and Pittsburgh finished .519P% (14-12-1). But in only 56 games.
The Oilers are 7-7 when allowing the first goal and they are 9-0 when they score first. I’m no genius, but it seems pretty clear how much of a difference it makes.
In the 2021 calendar year, the Oilers are 32-3-1 when they score first and 19-23-1 when allowing the first goal. The trend is pretty clear.
During the 2019-20 and 2020-21 season, the Oilers were ninth in scoring the first goal of the game. They were pretty good at it. But this season’s slow starts have plagued them. Only Ottawa and Vancouver (8) and New Jersey (7) have scored first fewer times than the Oilers. And against Pittsburgh, even though they scored first, the Oilers were clearly the slower team out of the gate. Pittsburgh outshot the Oilers 6-1 in the first 10 minutes of the period, and Zach Hyman scored on their only shot.
“This has been coming for a while here. Been coming for a while,” said head coach Dave Tippett. Anyone watching the Oilers has seen it and commented on it. “We’ve been masking it with some special teams stuff, but we haven’t had enough guys play well for a while. We have too many guys not contributing.”
The slow starts have been a complete team effort. Different forwards, defencemen and goaltenders have contributed to them not being as energetic and engaged as their opponents most nights. I don’t blame the head coach. He isn’t on the ice. A few times a season the head coach might have a “movie-like” pre-game speech to fire up the players, but that doesn’t happen every game, nor should it. The players are paid to be ready. The coach’s job is to present a game plan that makes the players feel confident they can succeed. They have players/team to work on things in practice. Coaches don’t do overwhelm players in pre-game meetings or video even.
Edmonton’s slow starts are simply a lack of intensity and execution. Edmonton has felt their way into games too often this season. Losing two consecutive games for the first time this year will get their attention much more than finding ways to win despite a slow start, which has been the case for the past few weeks.
“I don’t mind some adversity as long as you react the right way to it,” said Tippett. “We’ve got too many guys who aren’t contributing enough to help us. We need some more throughout our lineup.”
Zack Kassian, Warren Foegele, Derek Ryan, Kailer Yamamoto need to be more consistent 5×5. Kassian has had a few good games, but then he’s been invisible in too many other games. The peaks and valleys can’t be that high and low with him. It is why he is a lightning rod among Oilersnation. He can play well for stretches, but then completely disappear for longer periods of time. He needs to find more consistency in his game.
Last night it wasn’t just depth guys though. No one played well. Now we’ll see how they react.
“I think some adversity is good for us right now,” said Tippett. “It is recognition we have to get better. As a whole group, not singling anybody out. The thing about it is we know we have to get way better than where we are if we are going to be a top competitive team. You are going to go through some up and downs, and these downs show you how much you have to get better.”
Last night was a complete team failure, but for many stretches this season they haven’t got enough contributions from complementary players. And not just points. But effort and commitment. I don’t expect bottom six players to score a lot, but they need to defend better and need to be able to inject more energy with their play.
How often have the bottom six had consecutive positive shifts that change momentum or give the Oilers a boost? Not remotely close to often enough.
The areas they are struggling are effort and execution based.
“The are parts of our game which aren’t good enough right now,” said Tippett. “Some puck battle stuff, wall battle stuff, execution with the puck. Things that allow you to play a lot faster and a lot harder and we’re not doing enough of it right now. If you watch, our puck play is slow. We lose too many battles and end up chasing pucks. That just didn’t happen tonight, it has been going on for some time now. It catches up with you.”
And slow starts are a major reason.
“We talked about it before we went on the ice,” said Tippett. “We wanted to have a good start, then our first shift we give up a grade A chance and then we end up losing a puck battle along the boards and it ends up in the back of our net.”
So how do they improve it?
“It is an execution,” replied Tippett. “You have to be able to make plays under pressure. Sometimes there is a guy on your back and you have to make that play. It isn’t always easy plays. You have to stop and go, use your body to protect the puck and make a good play. Good plays aren’t just the ones that send people for breakaways. They are the play 10 feet in your end that get you out of trouble, or a wall play where it comes around the wall and you make the execution. The D is pinching down on you and you make a good play and get it to a guy to get it out. Those are the things we are lacking right now.
“The first play below our goal line, wall play, turnovers, those are the things that leave us chasing the game and all are areas we have to improve.”
They need to improve those areas quickly. Their next four opponents are all top-13 in points% with Minnesota, Boston, Carolina and Toronto coming in the next nine days.

LAGESSON FRUSTRATED…

A player agent will never tweet something about a player’s situation without the player’s permission. William Lagesson’s agent Allan Walsh tweeted this last night.
Let’s unpack this tweet.
Yes, Lagesson had solid possession numbers for that game.
Yes, Dave Tippett didn’t speak to Lagesson prior to the game. But Jim Playfair, the defence coach, did. Playfair spoke to Lagesson once he got to the rink.
@Darnell Nurse wasn’t cleared to play until after the extras had skated in the morning, so that’s why Lagesson didn’t skate with them.
Jason Strudwick, who was healthy scratched over 100 times in his 13-year career, told me that it usually was the defence coach who told him he wasn’t playing. The head coach did a few times, but that wasn’t normal. He even said a few times he heard it from someone other than the coaches.
Tippett has long been well respected by his players, because he, according to them, is upfront about how he wants them to play. I don’t think Playfair informing Lagesson he wasn’t playing is a major sign of disrespect and I don’t see it destroying the team.
Walsh has never been afraid to speak publicly on behalf of his players. It is why many like him as their agent. Lagesson gave his agent the green light to tweet this. Lagesson is frustrated. He felt he played well on Friday and deserved to play. I can respect his competitive side. His challenge is he is currently ninth or 10th on the organization’s defensive depth chart. Nurse, Evan Bouchard, Duncan Keith, Kris Russell, Slater Koekkoek, Philip Broberg and Markus Niemelainen might all be ahead of him on the left side. It is clear Lagesson wants to be moved, otherwise this wouldn’t have become public.
The issue is he was on waivers earlier this year and no team claimed him. Once Keith and Koekkoek are healthy, Lagesson will go back on waivers. His agent wanted the league to take notice of his client’s stats. I get it. I’m just not sure it will work.

MONTH OF GIVING…

Thank you to everyone who donated for the Pyramid of Giving on Friday. We raised over $18,000. Amazing. Thanks to GS Construction for their $7100 donation.
DAY FIVE: Five Course Meal at Chop Steakhouse
  • Dinner for six at Chop Steakhouse Ellerslie. You and five of your friends will dine with Jason Strudwick, and me along with our wives.
  • It will be a five-course dinner with wine pairings and your choice of beverages in their private room.
  • A date will be agreed upon that works for everyone to ensure a great night.
You can bid by listening to TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today. All proceeds will help out The Christmas Bureau.

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