Atlanta Thrashers fans hold a rally to keep the team in Atlanta at Philips Arena on May 21, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.
If you judge a person or sports team by how they react to their backs being up against the wall, then the Edmonton Oilers were complete failures on Tuesday.
Whether you place most of the blame on Connor McDavid (bad) or management (fair), the bottom line is that a response was needed, as people are already doing the math to wonder if the Oilers can dig themselves out of an early hole with a huge rally.
Instead, we saw the same story tonight, only it was sadder and more dramatic. The St. Louis Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers by a score of 8-3, and that deficit wasn’t an unfair depiction of what happened on the ice. The red-hot Blues absolutely dismantled the Oilers, seemingly scoring at will.
Just check Paul Stastny‘s body language after this beautiful goal; it almost seemed like the veteran forward felt squeamish about the carnage going on in Edmonton’s zone.
Again, it was the same story with McDavid straining to create quite a few chances, even while dealing with an unspecified sickness (note: sickness not a joke about the poor team around him, this time).
This loss encapsulated a lot of the themes of this season for Edmonton: not enough support, a cratering structure, and goaltending Cam Talbot having a miserable night.
Morale in Edmonton is, uh, low.
Now, none of this should take away from the West-leading Blues’ side, as they flexed their muscles once again. Really, the main debates surrounded if the Blues were the best in the West by a large or merely a slim margin.
Tarasenko almost had a hat trick, but will settle for the Gordie Howe variety, as he dropped the gloves with Matt Benning.
Fittingly, the Oilers didn’t even win that battle, either.
Vladimir Tarasenko earns the nickname “Tank” because he’s a big, hoss-like scorer and because it matches up well with his name.
He showed a different kind of firepower on Tuesday, though, as he took exception to a Matthew Benning hit and decided to fight the Edmonton Oilers defenseman. The bout happened even as the Oilers seemed like they were getting a precious scoring chance, but the crowd in St. Louis was riled up mainly to see the superstar drop the gloves.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the first battle for “The Tank.” According to Hockey Fights’ listings, Tarasenko fought once in 2015-16 and another time in 2014-15, while also dropping the gloves once in the KHL.
So far, the Oilers haven’t been showing as much fight as Tarasenko, as the Blues currently hold a 3-0 lead and chased Cam Talbot. Read more about what’s been a tough night for goalies so far here.
There are three games on Tuesday, yet we’ve already seen two goalies benched for poor play.
If variety is important to you … hey, at least the two situations were different, albeit with some regrettable moments of pucks going into nets.
The most depressing probably came during Tuesday’s game between the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues, which you can watch on NBCSN right now.
Now, you can justifiably hang a lot of the Oilers’ struggles on poor management from GM Peter Chiarelli, yet it’s also true that teams/coaches/general managers often see their reputations rise and fall with the play of their goalies. Cam Talbot has already been struggling in 2017-18 after playing outstanding hockey – and a ton of games – last season, but tonight serves as one of his shortest and most troubling efforts.
(And Talbot gets whatever is the opposite of bonus points for languishing while angst is nearing a fever pitch in Edmonton.)
Talbot made it through just 7:35 of ice time on Tuesday, allowing two goals on just three shots before Todd McLellan understandably pulled the plug. This Dmitrij Jaskin goal was a real soul-crusher for the reeling Oilers:
Credit Laurent Brossoit for playing very well in relief of Talbot, at least as of this writing. But this isn’t what the Oilers wanted to see. (Brossoit just allowed a goal, but he has been sturdy overall with a lot of time left in this game).
Negative night for Neuvirth
Compared to Talbot, Michal Neuvirth had a long night for the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, it was a long night in more ways than one, as Neuvirth struggled against the unexpectedly potent Vancouver Canucks.
Neuvirth got the hook after giving up four goals on 22 shots over 34:26 of game time. Some of that’s on the defense in front of him, as Philly can’t be happy to give up so many chances against a Vancouver team that still has something to prove.
So, this leaves one burning question: will any other goalies get benched tonight? As it is, two out of three is quite bad. Sorry Meatloaf.
Earlier today, PHT spoke about the resounding, uncomfortable parallels between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel struggling to start this season (or at least struggling to find team success).
One can see a similar phenomenon occurring with some NHL GMs who made bold, polarizing moves to craft their teams in their images. In each case, their teams are likely to rebound – at least to some extent – yet it’s remarkable to see the similarities in how they’re being burned for, essentially, making unforced errors.
Ugly growths for Peter Chiarelli
Instead, we’re looking at an Edmonton Oilers team built in the image of what GM Peter Chiarelli believes is a modern winner. Players like Hall and Eberle are gone, in part, to make room for Milan Lucic and Kris Russell. With more than $8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, the Oilers assumed that they didn’t need to make additional moves during the summer – particularly to improve their defense – and there’s debate that it’s already too late to make a push.
In this salary cap age, sometimes you need to wave goodbye to quality players, but Chiarelli has instead moved younger, possible core guys out for older, slower, less effective pieces. I’m not the first to make this joke, but Chiarelli is the “general disappointment,” not the team. He’s the one who shopped for questionable ingredients.
Bergevin in a bind
The parallels between Chiarelli and Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin are, honestly, almost startling. (Bergevin’s the better dresser, though.)
Bergevin’s bet big on the Canadiens in the short term. Most obviously, he moved a younger star defenseman in P.K. Subban for an older one with a scarier contract in Shea Weber. Even the Mikhail Sergachev – Jonathan Drouin trade made the Habs older.
In many cases, the Habs suffer from old-school thinking in similar ways to the Oilers. The addition of Karl Alzner is divisive in that way, and it hasn’t gone well. Nathan Beaulieu isn’t a world-beater, but he can play a transition game that can help him fit in with the modern game, and the Canadiens gave him up for a pick. Andrei Markov walked to the KHL.
Much like $20M soon going to Connor McDavid + Leon Draisaitl, we can debate the Carey Price extension, especially with his health faltering, but those are the risks many NHL teams take. The thing that really stings Montreal is the unforced errors Bergevin’s made in crafting a team that plays “the old way” in some cases.
It hasn’t been pretty.
Another parallel between the Canadiens and the Oilers is that they both have cap space used for (???). It brings up a painful thought: Bergevin and Chiarelli, two swashbuckling traders, probably couldn’t get things done early this season. It’s basically the worst of both worlds for fans of the Canadiens and Oilers.
This quote from Bergevin via The Athletic’s Apron Basu (again, sub required), almost feels like he’s becoming slowly, painfully self-aware:
” … So it’s hard to make trades, it’s just the way it is,” Bergevin said. “There’s a few here and there, but at the end of the day teams want to keep their core players. That’s just the way it is.”
Bad defenses, a feeling of desperation mixed with little room for moves, and all this cap space going to waste. Yeah, this is sounding familiar. Both teams are also suffering with goalie headaches, with Carey Price ailing and Talbot struggling.
Thank goodness Dale Tallon’s back?
Of course, in both cases, asking for an Oilers/Canadiens trade is a “careful what you wish for” proposition.
Just look at the Florida Panthers and reinstated GM Dale Tallon, who showed an almost charming lack of self-awareness in discussing his return to a team that … still seems rudderless.
Last season, Florida saw crushing injuries to Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau while experiencing a slew of front office headaches. Tallon’s been able to resume control, and in doing so, going back to … wait for it … and old-school design.
Oh yeah, and gutting the sort of depth you need to succeed when that awesome Barkov line can’t do everything, kind of like Edmonton struggling when McDavid can’t do everything. This all sound familiar, doesn’t it?
Seriously, the parallels get creepier the deeper you dive.
The three teams even boast nearly identical records. Both the Oilers and Panthers are 7-11-2 as of this writing, while the Canadiens sit at 8-11-2.
Now there are differences at hand; it seems like the Canadiens and Oilers are at least regretting decisions, while there’s some (at least public) defiance from Tallon. It’s also fair to expect improvements in each situation, especially with Montreal and Edmonton.
And that brings us to an important question: are these teams learning any lessons about giving up skill and speed? For all we know, it might be too late for this season, but McDavid, Barkov, and others are still easily young enough that their teams can get back on the right path.
That might not happen if their teams keep making the same, critical mistakes.