Oilers’ latest slide raises some of the same old concerns
Look, we know the Edmonton Oilers are a flawed team, but they are over .500 through 20 per cent of their season, playing nine of their 16 games against Washington, Nashville, Boston, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh, so maybe we can take a deep breath and relax just a little?
They’ve played 10 road games, tied for most in the NHL, been to Europe, been east for trips twice.
For sure, losing to the Florida Panthers is a kick in the head, but they have a few things the Oilers don’t: an offensive defenceman, even a second-tier guy like Keith Yandle, and a right-winger who has scored 20 goals in a season, even if his name is Evgenii Dadonov, who is only famous in his household. They also have Aleksander Barkov, a younger version of Anze Kopitar.
So should we be ripping the Oilers for losing three straight? Ripping, no. But they weren’t close in losing to Washington, Tampa Bay and Florida, while being outscored 13-5. All that goodwill after an 8-1-1 run in the wake of dropping their first two season games is evaporating.
“It’s frustrating, but because of our good start it allowed us to have this little slide,” said captain Connor McDavid, who along with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have accounted for 53 of the 93 forward points through their 8-7-1 start.
Teams know if they can make things highly uncomfortable for McDavid and whomever is on his line, it’s clear sailing or close to it. Barkov, who is going to win a Selke Trophy or two and soon, was tremendous. He’s a load at 220 pounds and has the hands to set up Dadonov for a nice goal.
“I thought Barkov’s legs were the best I’ve seen all year. He took this (playing against McDavid) as a challenge,” said Florida coach Bob Boughner.
In the faceoff circle, McDavid was 1-for-9, while Barkov is a 52.6 per cent faceoff winner.
But we’re not here to talk about what McDavid didn’t do in Florida. He still scared the beejeebers out of Florida goalie Roberto Luongo, even if he was sensational.
“Yeah, I was nervous when he’d get that speed through the neutral zone,” said Luongo. “I was reading the plays well, couple of back doors on me, but I could see their guys (Draisaitl, Ty Rattie) out of the corner of my eye.”
So Luongo had something to do with this 4-1 win, same as Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa, who dove and stopped Rattie with his mask and stoned Draisaitl four times.
All reasons for the losses, but it’s a results-driven business.
Oilers coach Todd McLellan needs way more from Ryan Strome and Milan Lucic, which sounds like a broken record. You can’t have two-thirds of your third line with two goals and five points in 16 games.
Strome was smiling after getting his first point, a goal in Tampa, but he had one of his least effective games of the year in Florida (no shots, 30 per cent on draws, a missed assignment on Jonathan Huberdeau’s 3-1 power-play goal after Draisaitl had scored). Lucic was hitting and shooting, but it doesn’t mean a hill of beans if he can’t score. He has gone 15 straight without a goal and only played 101/2 minutes. Neither Strome nor Lucic are helping each other. Maybe time for a change.
The Oilers have seven forwards with zero or one goal and we’re 16 games in. Some of these players are hired to do more checking than scoring, but kids like Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto could be in the AHL soon.
On defence, Oscar Klefbom and Adam Larsson are running on fumes going against the best lines every single night. In net, Cam Talbot isn’t losing games, but he isn’t winning them either like Luongo or Vasilevskiy. Mikko Koskinen has had three excellent games, but he looked mortal against Tampa Bay.