The Day After 29.0: Too many passengers and not enough drivers for Oilers as long, slow death march looms

Photo credit:Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
2 months ago
Has the coaching bump worn off for the Edmonton Oilers?
Given that Tuesday night saw the club drop a 3-1 listless decision to the New York Islanders, their third straight loss in a row, one has to wonder not just if that bump has worn off, but what needs to happen to get the mojo back.
The early days of the Kris Koblauch-era weren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows going 2-3 in their first five games. His club then rattled off eight straight wins and looked like the team that they were assembled to be. But now, having blown leads in two of their last three games, sandwiching a depressing effort against the Florida Panthers, what’s clear is there might be too many passengers on this Oilers team.
Last night was a perfect example. After Warren Foegele dropped a pass into space for Leon Draisaitl to get under and score, to take a 1-0 lead, it never felt as if the Oilers tried to threaten again the rest of the game truly. Mind you, that goal, just 1:23 into the game gave the Oilers a 74.2 percent chance of winning, according to a live win probability graph from Evolving Hockey. Were there some nice moments the rest of the way? I guess. But what’s a nice moment if it doesn’t end up in the back of the net?


Throughout that winning streak and losses to the Lightning and Panthers, the Oilers’ top line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Connor McDavid and Zach Hyman outscored the opposition 12-5 at 5v5. The rest of the Oilers roster were outscored 11-9.
The top line controlled 65 percent of the shot attempt share. The rest of the lineup controlled 49.92 percent.
The top line controlled 69.92 percent of the scoring chance share. The rest of the lineup controlled 54.51 percent.
So, to balance the lineup and try to spark the rest of the group, the Oilers split up that top line last night. Evander Kane was elevated alongside McDavid and Hyman, while Nugent-Hopkins joined Draisaitl and Foegele.
The underlying numbers look Jim Dandy from last night — 86.36 percent shot attempt share and 97.17 percent expected goal share for the top line, 64.29 percent shot attempt share and 50.3 percent expected goal share for the second line — but the problem is just one damn goal was scored the entire game. The much-lauded Oilers power play, the best in NHL history last year and fourth best this season, went 0/4 while giving up a shorthanded marker, while the penalty kill gave up two goals on four chances themselves.
Where has Evander Kane gone after scoring 11 goals and 20 points in the first 21 games of the season? In the Oilers’ last eight games, he has one goal and as many assists — both of which came in a 4-1 win over the Devils. And while Draisaitl got on the board last night and is still producing points, the four goals and six points in his last nine games aren’t quite used to the production level we’ve seen in years.
Warren Foegele can get as many scoring chances and shots as anyone can ask for, but he’s scored just four goals in 29 games this season, and has a dismal 6.6 shooting percentage.
Connor Brown? Earth to Connor Brown. The Oilers need you. One assist in 23 games and barely over a shot on goal per game? I get it — an ACL tear is a tough injury to return from, but something needs to happen at some point. Ryan McLeod missed the start of training camp and all of the pre-season with injury, so he too gets some grace, but two goals and seven points in 29 games isn’t the .4 points per game that he scored last year.
There are a lot of passengers on this Edmonton Oilers team right now, and while on paper, five points back from a playoff spot may not seem insurmountable, their horrendous start to the season used up any good grace or lenience they might have the rest of the way.
Heading into the game, the Oilers had a 37 percent chance of making the playoffs. The loss cost them five percent points individually, but the results of other games has kept them buoyed at 36.9 percent.
There’s no longer time to sit and ponder or for the Oilers to hope things improve. There’s no longer time to give players grace as they ease their way back into the lineup.
Players either need to step up on this roster, or management needs to use their weak prospect pool, middling draft pick choices and non-existent cap space to make the improvements for them.
Anything but wins against the New Jersey Devils Thursday and New York Rangers Friday, or this team is about to have a long, slow death march.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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