Two games. Two horrible periods. Two losses.
The Edmonton Oilers played a solid first 40 minutes in Calgary, but collapsed in the third period and were outshot 18-5 and outscored 3-0. Last night they started well again, led 2-1 after 20 minutes, but then allowed three goals within a span of 2:12, and for the second consecutive game they folded quicker than Superman on laundry day.
Now what?
Oilersnation is livid, and has every right to be. The Oilers have essentially wasted the great start they had. Despite a lot of travel and a steady stream of quality opponents, the Oilers opened the season 7-4-1. They looked like a competitive team, but since then they are 1-6 and in their six losses they’ve been outscored 27-11.
The past two weeks have been ugly. Their lack of effort v. Colorado, in the third period against Calgary and the middle frame against Vegas are very concerning. The Oilers’ play prompted former NHLer Marc Savard to tweet.
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Savard likely saw it first hand. Over his first nine seasons in the NHL, his teams (Rangers, Flames, Thrashers and Bruins) missed the playoffs every year. He finally made the playoffs in his tenth season, 2008, with the Bruins.
In his rookie season with the Rangers, they fired Colin Campbell after 57 games and replaced him with John Muckler. After two years with the Rangers he was traded to the Flames. Brian Sutter was his head coach the first season. It was Sutter’s third season as head coach and the Flames missed the playoffs all three years. He was let go in the summer. Don Hay was hired, but only lasted 68 games and was replace by Greg Gilbert. Gilbert was the head coach in Savard’s third season in Calgary and was there to start the fourth season, 2002/2003.
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Savard was traded 10 games into the season to Atlanta for Ruslan Zainullin. Savard and Gilbert had a public feud and Savard had asked for a trade. Then during his first year in Atlanta, Curt Fraser was fired and replaced by Bob Hartley. Savard had played nine games with the Thrashers before Fraser got canned. Savard played three years for the Thrashers and scored 97 points in his final year before signing as a free agent with the Bruins. Dave Lewis was his head coach his first year in Boston, but was let go in the summer and replaced by Claude Julien.
Savard experienced many coaching changes in his career, so maybe he does know if a team has tuned out the coach. Every situation is different, but when you see the lack of effort in three of the past four games it makes you wonder. But I also noticed how good the Oilers were in the first 40 minutes against Calgary. They should have been ahead more than 2-0, having missed three breakaways. They didn’t look like they were tuning out the coach at that point. But when adversity hits this team right now, they don’t know how to respond.
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NOT JUST THE COACH

Mar 20, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan looks up from behind the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 7-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Todd McLellan has to shoulder some of the blame, no question, and he might be the scapegoat if the Oilers don’t play well on this three-game trip to San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles, but if he is replaced that won’t fix everything.
Combining last season and this year, Cam Talbot is 30th among goalies (40 GP) with a .905sv%. Not good enough.
The Oilers team defence, not just the defencemen, leak too many chances.
Last week GM Peter Chiarelli said the Oilers don’t have any great puck moving defenders. He built this blueline. If they lack puck movers that is his mistake. You can’t ask players to be what they aren’t.
If the Oilers struggles continue, McLellan will pay the price. Every coach knows they are hired to be fired and they realize the coach often pays for the mistakes of his GM and the short comings of his players. Joel Quenneville won three Stanley Cups in six years, and he was let go earlier this season.
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A new voice could help, but a new head coach won’t be able to cover up all the warts of this team. It would be one change, and it could turn out to be a good move, because some of McLellan’s decisions have not worked out, but after witnessing six different head coaches come through Edmonton between 2008-2014, I’ve learned changing the head coach won’t magically make your team more talented, or your management more astute.

PARTING SHOTS…

I liked McLellan’s move to slot Lucic and Kassian in the top six to calm the Flames down midway through the first period, but I would have reverted back to the regular lines in the third period. Right now Milan Lucic’s effort is fine, but at this point his game doesn’t change whether he has a stick in his hands or not. He isn’t adding anything in the ways of making plays. Drake Caggiula and Alex Chiasson are adding decent complementary production, so I would have had them in the top-six in the third period.
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However, that doesn’t guarantee the Oilers wouldn’t have collapsed. The Flames looked like they were on the man advantage for the entire third period. The Oilers were flat-footed and all over the place defensively.
The Oilers don’t have an Identity right now. Does the coaching staff spend enough time discussing the identity? I don’t know the answer, but the Oilers don’t have a fall-back option to rely on when things are going poorly. Good teams have that. It isn’t pretty or exciting, but it allows teams a “safe” zone to reset.
Alex Chiasson is a great example of how it is impossible to really know when a player has found their stride. All 31 teams felt he wasn’t worthy of a contract this summer. He signed a PTO with the Oilers, and after sitting out the first five games he has scored eight goals in 14 games.
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It is obvious Cam Talbot has no confidence. McLellan’s only option at this point is to give Mikko Koskinen the opportunity to be the starter for the next few weeks. The Oilers have a very cardio-friendly schedule the next few weeks so Koskinen should be the starter. They play don’t play back-to-back games until December 13th in Winnipeg and home to Philadelphia on December 14th. Talbot can work on his game before, during and after practice with goalie coach Dustin Schwartz, and despite him starting the second most games in the league since the beginning of last season, McLellan must go with Koskinen. It is the easy decision.
If I was the head coach I’d move Jujhar Khaira to third line centre. He is better in the middle, plus he skates better than Cooper Marody. Khaira has struggled making plays on the wall, so with the trade of Strome I’d consider sliding Khaira to the middle. I think Marody will be able to help in the future, but I’m not sold on his speed right now.
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If you were Peter Chiarelli, or Bob Nicholson, what moves, if any, would you make?

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