Maybe, as Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli insists, the Oilers really aren’t in panic mode right now. But are we certain that they aren’t experiencing something just as bad, like, say, paralysis?
Saturday presented another disconcerting loss in the form of a 6-3 defeat to the Dallas Stars, dropping the Oilers to 7-11-2. Performances like these can’t do much for Cam Talbot‘s confidence, as he allowed six goals on just 21 shots.
Connor McDavid finished the game with a -2 rating, yet the beleaguered, poorly supported captain of the Oilers doesn’t deserve the blame. Not when he’s giving his team a chance to win by being involved in all three of their goals (one goal, two assists).
There’s the creeping feeling that the Oilers are finding ways to lose, as they tend to grab the shots advantage, yet they drop games with many and few games alike. You can’t even really pin everything on the likes of Milan Lucic, who grabbed an assist and at least seemed to show a pulse. Even if his efforts increasingly seem futile.
It’s never a good sign when people give McDavid & Co. the Simon & Garfunkel treatment, yet what else can you do when you’ve lost four of five games and seem to be digging the hole deeper and deeper?
And, to little surprise, there’s at least some grumbling about the play of number 97, too. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to losing, especially when you’ve done as much of it as the contemporary Oilers have.
Somewhere along way McDavid became a turnover machine. Gotta stop – costing a goal per game. Now, visibly frustrated. Not a good look for Oilers captain.
On Saturday, it felt a bit more like “general disillusionment,” even if the Oilers haven’t suffered a total defeat. With four games remaining on this current road trip and only three home tilts in their next 11 games, something needs to give.
The Oilers are running out of both time and patience.
At the start of the 2017-18 season the Edmonton Oilers had the second best odds to win the Stanley Cup. Even with the NHL’s reigning MVP and scoring champion and even after a wildly successful season that saw them come within a single game of the Western Conference Finals it still seemed to be a little too much, a little too fast.
First, for as good as the Oilers were last season a lot of it was dependent on Connor McDavid putting the team on his back and carrying them as far as he could. They also played Cam Talbot a ridiculous number of games and still don’t have anybody behind him that can be counted on to give him any kind of a consistent break. Add those two factors to a team that still doesn’t have a lot of depth and there are some reasons to maybe want to pump the brakes on the Stanley Cup talk.
It is still early in the season, but so far we are starting to see that play out on the ice.
After their loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday the Oilers are now just 2-5-0 on the season and have the second-worst record in the Western Conference.
McDavid is doing what McDavid always does.
He is in year three of his career and is still a human highlight reel every single time he touches the ice. His speed is unmatched. His creativity is off the charts. He is, at times, an unstoppable force and is once again the single biggest factor driving the Oilers offense.
Right now he is the only factor driving the Oilers’ offense.
With eight points so far this season that means he has either scored or assisted on more than 57 percent of the team’s goals.
He has been on the ice for nine of them, which is more than 65 percent.
Through the first seven games of the season the Oilers have scored only five goals this season when McDavid has not been on the ice. That is not a trend that can continue if the Oilers are going to have any hopes of getting out of this early season slump, let alone competing for a Stanley Cup. There is no one single player in the NHL that can make that much of a consistent impact without some secondary help.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup runs were not just about superstars like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. They were also about the complementary players and secondary scoring options that could step up and fill the back of the net when the top tier guys had their inevitable stretches where they would get shut down (and there always comes a time when the top players get shut down for a stretch. Sometimes in the playoffs, too).
Right now the Oilers do not have those secondary options, and if the offense is not coming from Connor McDavid, it is not coming from anybody.
To be fair, they have only had Leon Draisaitl, their second-most important offensive player, for only three games this season. But even a return from him is not a guarantee to be enough based on the makeup of the rest of the roster.
Over the summer the Oilers traded their third-leading scorer (Jordan Eberle) straight up for Ryan Strome, a player that has never had the single-season output that Eberle had a year ago in what was widely considered a down year for him. Strome has two points in seven games.
A year ago the Oilers had big — and mostly unexpected — seasons from players like Patrick Maroon and Mark Letestu as they combined to score 43 goals, each of them setting new career highs. Together, they had a combined shooting percentage of 14.5 percent, a nearly five percent increase over their career averages. That increase in shooting percentage was probably worth an additional 10-12 goals between the two.
There is no guarantee they can duplicate that success.
The Oilers are probably not as bad as their early season record indicates, especially when Draisaitl is back. Even so, McDavid is still going to need more help than he is getting from his teammates if the Oilers are going to do anything close to what was expected from them at the start of the season. Whether or not they have the roster around him to do that remains to be seen.
Sure, Connor McDavid scored all three of their goals, but it was still electrifying to see the Edmonton Oilers open their season with a 3-0 win against the Calgary Flames.
For those who saw red flags, the last week must have felt like retribution, as the Oilers dropped three straight, with their most recent loss (6-1 to the Ottawa Senators) marking a low point.
With that 1-3-0 record in mind and Leon Draisaitlon the shelf, spirits are low and frustrations might be high in Edmonton. Let’s dig deeper to see which patterns should continue and how much this boils down to bad luck.
Plenty of shots, but maybe the wrong guys shooting?
The Oilers lead the NHL in Corsi For rating with 59.42 percent, and Edmonton sports the classic signs of bad luck: they fall in the bottom five in PDO and team shooting percentage. (Fancy stats via Natural Stat Trick.)
The takeaway there is quite basic: more bounces are bound to go their way. Just consider McDavid alone: he hasn’t scored a goal since that thrilling hat trick to start the season.
A lot of those trends will end merely by playing more games.
That said, the distribution of shots on goal is a bit troubling, and it’s something that Oilers head coach Todd McLellan should address either through tweaking lines or his system (or both?).
Check out the Oilers’ top five players in shots on goal:
Ryan Strome hasn’t scored a point so far for the Oilers, but some of that might come down to a lack of opportunities. He’s averaging almost one fewer minute of ice time per game vs. his last season with the Islanders, which is a touch surprising since many expected this to be an opportunity for him to break through.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins simply needs to do more. While RNH has two goals so far, he’s only fired five SOG in four games. You can explain some of that away by explaining playmaking leanings, but when your team is struggling, sometimes a passer must be a bit more assertive, too.
Again, expect better things from RNH and Lucic in particular, not to mention Patrick Maroon, Kailer Yamamoto, and Jussi Jokinen. Even so, some of this might come down to the makeup of this team.
Depth can often be key for scoring in the NHL, and the Oilers have something to prove in that area.
“I’ll find a way to fix it. I know I will because I’ve always done it before,” Talbot said. “We’re going to turn this around here, no doubt. It starts with me in net. Once I start making the saves I’m supposed to make, the guys in front of me can do what they’re supposed to do. It starts in net and we work our way out from there.”
If you want to look at the surest spot where things will improve for Edmonton, look to Talbot.
Much like a host of other NHL goalies, he’s off to a shockingly bad start. Talbot’s GAA is just under four (3.96) and his save percentage probably gives Grant Fuhr some unpleasant flashbacks (.880). Talbot’s numbers should rise considerably, even if he fails to match the heights of 2016-17.
In the meantime, the Oilers turn to Laurent Brossoit, who’s off to a solid start.
In most cases, the Oilers should settle things down.
Still, it’s important to remember that this team has Stanley Cup aspirations. For all the justifiable criticisms GM Peter Chiarelli receives, if he can identify issues during the season and address at least some of them with savvy “rentals,” then he’ll earn his place as the guy who lucked into having McDavid on his roster.
Things will get better. It’s just going to be a challenge when you consider how high they set the bar for themselves.
Teams haven’t yet figured out how to play defense, goaltenders can be a little rusty, goal scoring briefly spikes and the season is still so young that we can’t really get a firm grasp on what teams are going to look like.
Which team off to a fast start is for real? Which slumping team is truly doomed? Should we pay attention to any of this so far because the early season results can lie to us.
That’s what we attempt to look at in our first installment of the PHT Power Rankings: Which teams are as good as they look, which teams are as bad as they look, and which teams have played better than their early terrible records.
At the top of the rankings we have the Toronto Maple Leafs, winners of four out of their first five and the highest scoring team in the league. Is Mike Babcock satisfied with the fact they are giving up nearly as many goals and chances as they score? Probably not. But these young kids can flat out fly and once they get turned loose there are not many defenses in the league that can slow them down.
From there, we break the 31 NHL teams down into four tiers: Teams as good as they look, teams likely to fall, teams likely to rise, and the teams at the bottom that are exactly what they look like.
As good as they look
1. Toronto Maple Leafs —Auston Matthews is better than the pre-draft hype. We knew he was a slam-dunk No. 1 pick. We knew he had All-Star potential. He is still better. And not by a little, either. Five goals and eight points in his first five games to start the season and a 58.6 percent Corsi mark. Just a dominant, dominant, dominant player.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning — Injuries, especially the season-ending one to Steven Stamkos, decimated this team a year ago. Fully healthy this is still a Stanley Cup contender.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets —Artemi Panarin is showing that he doesn’t need Patrick Kane next to him to produce and that is great news for the Blue Jackets. They needed a game-breaking forward up front, and now they have one.
4. Chicago Blackhawks — It has been the Corey Crawford and Brandon Saad show in Chicago this year. Just when you think the Blackhawks might start to slow down or that their run as one of the NHL’s top dogs was starting to come to an end, they find a way to stick around.
5. Los Angeles Kings — Is it possible that they just needed a new voice, a new system and a new approach? I have my doubts, but it is hard to argue with the results thus far … both the record and the underlying numbers.
6. Calgary Flames — If Mike Smith can give them competent goaltending (and so far he has!) this team could be a serious threat in the Western Conference, especially with that top-four on defense.
Fast start, but not as good as they look (Teams likely to fall)
7. St. Louis Blues — Pretty amazing start given the injury situation, but they have been absolutely crushed on the shot chart and you have to wonder how long they can withstand that.
8. New Jersey Devils —Nico Hischier gets all of the headlines as the No. 1 overall pick, but don’t sleep on defenseman Will Butcher. He already has eight assists in his first five games. An improved team for sure, but probably not one that is as good as its early record.
9. Ottawa Senators — The most confusing team in the league? Their run to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago was a shock. They were a double-overtime Game 7 on the road away from being in the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t really a team that made you think they could do it again. Now, they have started the season with eight out of a possible 10 points without getting a single minute of play from Erik Karlsson. Stunning. They also have the second worst shot attempt numbers in the league. Not an encouraging sign for future play.
10. Detroit Red Wings — After missing the playoffs for the first time in more than two decades expectations were near an all-time low for the Red Wings this season. They are off to a great start, but this roster is still problematic.
11. Colorado Avalanche — That defense will not hold up. It just won’t. Have to be encouraged by Nail Yakupov’s start up front though.
12. Vegas Golden Knights — One of the best starts ever by an expansion team, but how long is it going to last? The best thing about James Neal’s start is what it is doing to his trade value for the deadline.
Slow start, but better than they look (Teams likely to rise)
13. Edmonton Oilers — Making them one of the odds on favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season is premature. Also premature? Writing them off after a slow start. They are the top possession team in the NHL and they still have Connor McDavid.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins — After dropping their first two games (where they gave up 15 goals!) they have won three out of their next four and seem to be starting to get back on track a little. They still need to make another move or two to fix that center depth.
15. Washington Capitals — Are they going to win the Presidents’ Trophy again? No. But they have three of the top offensive players in the NHL and Alex Ovechkin is still the best pure goal scorer in the league.
16. Nashville Predators —Filip Forsberg looks like he is well on his way to another 30-goal season and Scott Hartnell has looked like a steal of a pickup.
17. Montreal Canadiens — They have some question marks, but they have played significantly better than their early season record indicates. A true test of process vs. results. If the same process continues, the better results are going to come.
18. Minnesota Wild — They have earned at least one point in three of their first four games and Nino Niederreiter, arguably their best two-way player, has yet to hit the score sheet. He will be fine and so will they.
19. Boston Bruins — They are a top-heavy team, but the guys at the top of the roster can be some of the best in the league. Let’s see how they look when Patrice Bergeron and David Backes get back in the lineup.
20. Philadelphia Flyers — There is a lot of young talent on this team and they can be really good, really fast … if they get the goaltending.
21. Florida Panthers — Their possession numbers look fantastic so far and having a full season of a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov will be game-changing for them. Last season might have been the fluke.
22. Carolina Hurricanes — Only three games to go by at this point, but the roster looks good, the young talent seems to be for real. If they do not contend for a playoff spot this season something is very, very wrong.
23. San Jose Sharks — Four games into the season and Brent Burns and Joe Thornton have combined for only two assists. That will not continue.
24. New York Rangers — The results (1-5-0) are lousy, but like Montreal and Edmonton ahead of them they have played much better than that record indicates. Mika Zibanejad has been a real bright spot so far, already scoring five goals.
25. Anaheim Ducks — I know, they were in the Western Conference Finals. They have had back-to-back 100-point seasons. But they have just looked lousy so far. That can not continue, can it?
Exactly what they look like
26. Dallas Stars — Still not entirely sold on this team, even after another offseason of blockbuster moves. Sometimes you need to actually just win.
27. New York Islanders — Once John Tavares starts to get going things will get better, and Joshua Ho-Sang can be a fascinating player if they turn him loose. But after that it’s a pretty dull team.
28. Winnipeg Jets — This should be a good team. This looks like a good team on paper. They have great individual talent up and down the lineup But it never materializes on the ice.
29. Vancouver Canucks — Rebuilding team that isn’t really rebuilding and doesn’t have anybody that is truly exciting as a long-term building block. Bo Horvat is good, but with all due respect to him and his ability if he is your player and top scorer that is probably not a good situation to be in.
30. Buffalo Sabres — Five games into the season and an eight-year contract and Jack Eichel is already frustrated with losing. That is not a promising start.
31. Arizona Coyotes — Better days are ahead, but when you have a team with his many young players and so many new faces there are going to be some pretty fierce growing pains along the way. The Coyotes are experiencing that so far this season. First-year coach Rick Tocchet already had to apologize to the fans.
It was early in the season, but the Edmonton Oilers coach saw something he didn’t like in his team’s effort that night and he moved quickly to address it.
Fast forward to the end of the first week of the 2017-18 season.
Led by Connor McDavid, the Oilers completely outplayed the Calgary Flames in the season opener. The result was a 3-0 win, which could’ve been bigger if not for the performance of Flames goalie Mike Smith. Since then, however, Edmonton has lost to the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets.
McLellan once again had a message for his team, with reports out of Edmonton showing a highly intense skate on Wednesday.
“We started at training camp on Day 1 trying to remind the players how hard it is to win, and part of solving that puzzle is work ethic,” said McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal on Wednesday.
“I thought we were really outworked the other night. We tried to do a lot of things the easy way. Today was a reminder that we have to get back to work.”
Last season, the Oilers snapped a lengthy — and frankly embarrassing — playoff drought and then came within one victory of qualifying for the Western Conference Final. They also went on a five-game winning streak immediately following McLellan’s sharp public criticism.
Loaded with McDavid and Leon Draisaitl up front and after a sensational year in net from Cam Talbot, expectations surrounding this Oilers team have risen significantly.
They don’t play again until Saturday, when they host the Ottawa Senators. It might be early in the season, but McLellan has once again wasted little time in trying to grab the attention of his team after subpar performances.