Oil­ers’ lat­est slide raises some of the same old con­cerns

Edmonton Journal - - SPORTS - JIM MATH­E­SON jmath­e­son@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/NHLbyMatty

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?

Or not.

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.

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