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The same old Oilers

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Photo credit:Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Tyler Yaremchuk
6 months ago
One of the more heated debates I’ve gotten into over the last few weeks revolved around whether or not the Oilers showed us anything new over the course of their eight-game winning streak.
Was this a team that had truly taken a big step forward under their new head coach Kris Knoblauch? Or was this just another classic Oilers heater, of which we’ve seen many over the last couple of seasons?
It turns out, it was the latter. 
This really is the same old Oilers. I truly believe that they would have gone on that eight-game winning streak with Jay Woodcroft as their head coach and I believe they would still be exactly where they are in the standings, even if they hadn’t made the coaching change back in November.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think I’m taking a shot at Kris Knoblauch here. It’s quite the opposite actually. I think he is showing that he’s capable of being a good NHL head coach. I just also believe Jay Woodcroft was a damn good NHL head coach.
The Oilers penalty kill has drastically improved since the change, and they have a bunch of defensemen who are suddenly playing much better hockey. Those are, without a doubt, two areas where Knoblauch and assistant coach Paul Coffey have had big impacts. Mark Stuart gets a lot of credit here as well.
Other than that? The Oilers we saw during that eight-game heater looked exactly like the Oilers of old. They win most of their games when their special teams are red hot, Connor McDavid is producing at an all-world level, and their goaltending doesn’t absolutely kill them. When all three of those things don’t happen, they lose most of their games.
It’s as simple as that.
At least last season when the Oilers went on their late-season hot streak, they were one of the best 5v5 teams in the league. They were in the top five or ten for a lot of key metrics. Over the course of their most recent winning streak, that really wasn’t the case.
Sure, they outscored the opposition 24-20 and outshot them 274-206 at 5v5, but a lot of that was done with McDavid on the ice. With 97 out there at 5v5, the Oilers outscored their opponent 13-8 and outshot them 107-67.
So that means for the stretches when McDavid wasn’t on the ice, the Oilers were actually outscored 12-11 at 5v5. That’s not good.
Last season, when they rolled through everybody in the league after acquiring Mattias Ekholm, they were actually getting scoring when McDavid was off the ice. With 97 on, they outscored the opposition 21-12 at 5v5. With McDavid off the ice, it was still 36-28.
They absolutely have to start consistently outscoring the other team when McDavid isn’t on the ice.
While I still believe that this team is more than capable of going on another long winning streak at some point, this three-game losing streak has reminded us all just how flawed this team is.
They are not just a goaltender away. They are not just one top-six winger away. They are not just one upgrade on the blueline away. They are not just one quality bottom-six piece away. They are all of those things away from being a true Stanley Cup Contender. 
And that is a damn shame. Roster construction is a massive problem in Edmonton and Ken Holland shoulders a lot of the blame for where this team currently sits, but how this team is built isn’t the only problem. This team, as constructed, is capable of playing at a much higher level than they currently are. 
When things are going well for the Oilers, they look like an absolute juggernaut. When the power play is humming, and they’re getting depth scoring, and Stuart Skinner is looking more like a starting goalie, then they are borderline unbeatable. 
The problem is that they rarely win with their ‘B’ game. When the bounces aren’t going their way, they don’t seem to have any ability to stay in the game by just outworking the other team.
They’re almost always the most skilled team on the ice and yet they are rarely ever the hardest-working team on the ice. That part isn’t on the GM. That’s on the guys in the room.
They’ll need to find that ability quickly if they want to stop this rollercoaster of a season and find some consistency.

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