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The Day After 48.0: Oilers’ sluggish start after All-Star break reminder of roster holes to fill

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Photo credit:Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
14 days ago
After the Edmonton Oilers dropped their first game out of the All-Star break to the Vegas Golden Knights, captain Connor McDavid talked of needing a reminder of what it felt like to lose again.
And after a far-too-close game against the Anaheim Ducks Friday night, and a 4-0 stinker to the LA Kings Saturday night, Oilers management has been reminded that they still have work to do.
Make no mistake, Ken Holland is canvasing the league, trying to put himself in a position to attack whichever market they want, whether it’s through adding a top-nine scorer or an upgrade to the blue line. But the last few games have been reminders about the fact it may not be just one single upgrade that’s needed.
The fact that Oilers head coach Kris Knoblauch pulled Stuart Skinner from his crease with 5:37 left in the third period, and a 3-0 deficit on the scoresheet highlighted that. Goals from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Trevor Lewis 49 seconds apart in the second, and another from Quinton Byfield in the third got the Kings there.

THE DAY AFTER IS PRESENTED BY BETWAY


And in the aforementioned trio of games, the Oilers scored just six goals. Three in thanks to Evander Kane’s Friday night hat trick, and one each from Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Zach Hyman. What’s clear is that the depth scoring is still lacking for this team. It may not have been the case during the Oilers’ 16-game win streak, but on a night like last, where the top line couldn’t muster much of anything, there wasn’t anybody else who could find twine.
The Pesky Line had some looks and was inarguably the Oilers’ best line on the night while the third and fourth were dead on arrival.
Defensively, the team still isn’t perfect. The club has tried some new defensive pairings out following the loss to Vegas on Thursday, and they could surely use some work. Most notable out of it all might be the fact that Cody Ceci, who started the Anaheim game with Mattias Ekholm, was demoted again to the third pairing for Saturday night’s affair.
After spending virtually all of his time with Darnell Nurse on the top pairing since he arrived in Edmonton, his struggles as of late have been more noticable than usual. With all this talk about Chris Tanev or Sean Walker being players the Oilers are looking at, there’s only one spot on the right side in which the Oilers would likely feel comfortable upgrading, and it’s in Ceci’s spot. One has to wonder if the Oilers are signalling something here.
While Evan Bouchard’s spot is all locked up, Vincent Desharnais hasn’t done anything to show his bump to play alongside Nurse should’ve been done. If not anything else, it should signal to this coaching staff he’s best suited where he was, as the Oilers’ sixth defenceman on the third pair — a spot he’s excelled in this season.
Through it all, tweaks could still be made with the roster at hand. There’s no good reason for both Mattias Janmark and Connor Brown to continue to cannibalize ice time. The former is as quiet as a church mouse in the offensive zone, and we might see robots on the ice before the latter scores a goal.
Sam Gagner, at the very least, has provided an offensive punch virtually every time he’s stepped foot on the ice this season, with his 2.58 5v5 points per hour rate second among all Oilers forwards to only Connor McDavid. His 1.44 5v5 goals per hour are also second among all Oilers forwards, trailing only Zach Hyman.
At 5v5 in the 22 games he’s played this season, he’s scored five goals and nine points, the latter number being eighth among all Oilers forwards and more than all of Derek Ryan (48 GP: 3-3—6), Mattias Janmark (38 GP: 1-5—6), Connor Brown (41 GP: 0-4—4), Dylan Holloway (21 GP: 2-1—3), James Hamblin (31 GP: 2-1—3) and Adam Erne (23 GP: 1-1—2).
Seriously. What are we doing here? For a team that needs more scoring, ranking 18th in the league in 5v5 goals scored, it seems like malpractice to leave Gagner in the press box.
The Oilers’ schedule continues Tuesday night as the Detroit Red Wings visit Edmonton, before another three-game road trip takes them through a buzzsaw of St. Louis, Dallas and Colorado.

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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