Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

On fire vs. fireable: Blues humiliate Oilers

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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).

It seems fitting that the same few Oilers contributed at least something to the cause, as McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were involved in Edmonton’s three scores.

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.

It was a banner night for one of the best lines in the league in Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, and Vladimir Tarasenko.

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.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Blues expect to get Bouwmeester back for clash with Oilers

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The NHL on NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday night, as the St. Louis Blues host the Edmonton Oilers at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The St. Louis Blues have been hit hard by injuries so far this season, but that hasn’t stopped them from having some success in 2017-18.

Finally, they’ll be getting some good news, as Jay Bouwmeester is expected to play for the first time this season. Bouwmeester hasn’t suited up for the Blues since suffering a fractured ankle early on in training camp.

“It’s been a long time, especially at the start of the year when you miss training camp,” Bouwmeester told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m excited and hopefully and I’ll just jump in and not interfere with what’s going on here.”

The 34-year-old’s return gives the Blues’ top four defense some balance. He skated on a pairing with Colton Parayko, while Alex Pietrangelo was with Joel Edmundson during Monday’s practice.

“He’s a veteran guy, his skating ability, defensive game, I don’t expect him to step in and his game to be exactly where it’s going to be five, 10 games from now,” head coach Mike Yeo said. “We have to understand he’s missed a lot of time but his experience will make the transition. It will come along quickly.”

The Blues have been just fine without Bouwmeester, so they should be even better now that he’s back. They’ll head into tonight’s game with the best record in the Central Division at 15-5-1.

Things haven’t been going as well for the Oilers, who are alarming close to the basement of the Western Conference through 20 games.

Surprisingly, only two teams (Buffalo and San Jose) have scored less goals than Edmonton’s 50 this season. When you look at the individual numbers on the team, you understand why they’re struggling so much.

Only two players (Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) have scored eight goals or more this season. Nobody else on the team has more than five.

Another big issue has been the play of Cam Talbot, who went from one of the top goalies in the NHL to being pretty average this season. Talbot owns a 7-10-1 record with a 3.10 goals-against-average and a .903 save percentage this season.

“He’s part of the team … the goalies have to be better, the defense, the forwards, the coaches have to be better,” said head coach Todd McLellan, per the Edmonton Journal. “None of us have lived up to where we need to be and that’s why we’re where we are in the standings.

“I’m not going to single out the goaltender. It’s team-wide.”

Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid have wrong things in common right now

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As the top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft, faces of beleaguered franchises, and recipients of eight-figure salaries starting next season, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel share a lot in common.

Sadly, though the first quarter of this campaign, their similarities mostly leave you kind of bummed out.

Sure, there are key differences, but if you paint in broad brushstrokes, the similarities are striking.

Varying degrees of blame

Look, it’s almost human nature to blame a team’s failures on its best player. The logic goes: they have the most power to change things, and they often draw the biggest checks (technically not true for McDavid and Eichel until next season), so they need to take the heat, right?

Well, maybe, but in almost every case in a team sport like hockey, it’s usually not on the best guy or even top guys on a team.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sure seemed “in decline” for a while there, and then the Penguins brought in Phil Kessel, played to their strengths as an attacking team with Mike Sullivan in charge, and are now repeat champs.

Here’s hoping that McDavid and Eichel get some help, but with things sour for the Oilers (middle of the pack with contender aspirations) and Sabres (cellar dwellers despite dreams of big strides), the two are getting thrown under the bus at times.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington wrote this about Eichel, and keep in mind this was before Buffalo dropped its sixth in a row in falling short against Columbus on Monday:

Eichel has five goals in 20 games, tallying just once in his last 11. He’s got a minus-9 rating for the season. Those are the numbers. Now let’s move to things you can’t measure.

Eichel’s body language has been terrible much of season. It’s a dirty little secret fans are finally figuring out that he floats off the ice far too much on the end of his shifts.

McDavid, meanwhile, saw his defensive struggles magnified during Edmonton’s frustrating loss to the Dallas Stars this past weekend:

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis felt the need to defend McDavid, and he wasn’t alone. That’s how bad things are getting for fans of the Sabres and Oilers, two teams who have been through these growing pains so often, they probably wonder if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a mirage.

Varying degrees of success

You really don’t have to dig that deep to see that McDavid and Eichel stand among a handful of Oilers/Sabres who are carrying the scoring burden for their teams.

It’s especially stark with McDavid, who has 25 points while the second-highest Oilers scorer is currently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who has 15). Things are a little more even among Eichel and guys that he spends much of his ice time with, like a resurgent Evander Kane, but the broader view is the same: only four Sabres skaters are above 10 points while the Oilers only have five.

Yes, you can nitpick both players at times, but that requires the willful ignorance of looking the other way on an important point: few, if any, skaters are perfect. Especially during every night of an 82-game season.

The painfully obvious truth is that both McDavid and Eichel need more help and are being asked to do far too much. Harrington made an interesting point with this tweet, as it actually might apply to McDavid more than Eichel:

Deck chairs

From my vantage point, the situation might be more dire for the Oilers than the Sabres for a few reasons.

For one, it seems like Edmonton’s management has made its bed and now must lie in it. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis said it well (sub required) in a piece titled “There’s no retreat from the course Peter Chiarelli has plotted for the Oilers.”

Chiarelli has essentially cast his lot with the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell as key supporting cast members, and that hasn’t gone well, at all. Their bad contracts and trade clauses make them difficult to move.

And, really, how much do you trust Chiarelli to get the most out of moving, say, Nugent-Hopkins after he’s left behind a trail of shaky (at best) moves during his last years in Boston and his stay in Edmonton? To a lot of fans, he’s already a punchline.

Yikes.

In the short-term, the Sabres’ roster probably has bigger holes. Perhaps things might change as Kyle Okposo gets healthier, but the offense is a little slim beyond Eichel, Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, and Jason Pominville (though Sam Reinhart‘s showing some signs of promise).

While Edmonton’s actually fashioned a half-decent defense for itself, Buffalo’s a mess in that regard.

That said, this is the first season of the Phil Housley – Jason Botterill regime, and they deserve time to get things together. The best thing about this situation is that, while there’s a tough deal or two like that of Zach Bogosian, it’s a fairly clean slate in Buffalo. They don’t need to cling to bad moves out of pride or even to protect their jobs like, say, the Capitals stubbornly hanging onto Brooks Orpik and letting quality players slip by.

Essentially, these two teams are on different points in the board game that is team-building. The Oilers are advancing close to that make-or-break spot, which to some extent makes it scarier to see the same old problems bubbling up.

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No, their situations aren’t exactly the same, but it’s remarkable to see the parallels between Eichel and McDavid right now. You can even meme them in similar ways.

With the right mixture of luck, progression, and good management choices, maybe we can go back to focusing on the delightful things that make them similar: financial security and being absolutely spellbinding at hockey.

Right now, that’s a difficult thing to do.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Why are there so many empty seats at Red Wings games?

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Brady Skjei had an impressive rookie season, but he’s struggled this season. His sophomore slump isn’t even really his fault. He hasn’t seen much ice time on the power play and his defense partner keeps changing. (bluelinestation.com)

–The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference this season. They’ve been able to generate offense because their blue liners get involved in the attacking end too. “That’s what makes us successful when we are getting guys in and out letting our D get in because they can see (forwards) are supporting them and being behind them. It creates confusion on the defense,” center Brandon Dubinsky said. (Columbus Dispatch)

–The Capitals have played just five games at home this season and they haven’t looked very good on home ice. One of the big reasons they’re  struggling in Washington is because their special teams play has been brutal. (Washington Post)

–The Ottawa Senators have come up with a couple of new hats, and it’s safe to say that the fine folks at welcometoyourkarlssonyears.com aren’t big fans of the new merchandise. (welcometoyourkarlssonyears.com)

Miles Wood took the blame for New Jersey’s loss to Calgary on Sunday night. The Devils forward hasn’t found the back of the net in eight games and pucksandpitchforks.com believes it’s because he’s putting too much pressure on himself. (pucksandpitchforks.com)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has had a couple of quiet season with the Oilers over the last few years, but he’s really turned it on of late. He’s playing more of an offensive role now, which is good for him and the team. (oilonwhyte.com)

Matt Duchene played almost 600 games with the Colorado Avalanche, so Mile High Hockey decided to take a look back at his journey with the team. From when he was drafted to All-Star games to a contract dispute, Duchene has seen it all. (milehighhockey.com)

–The Flames decided to waive veteran Tanner Glass on Monday. It’ll be interesting to see who the team recalls from the minors if Glass clears waivers. (flamesnation.ca)

–The WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds will reportedly play two outdoor games at Safeco Field by 2019. The timing of all this is interesting considering there are plenty of rumors about the NHL going to Seattle in the coming years. (Seattle Times)

–The Detroit Red Wings have announced sellouts for every one of their home games so far this season, but there’s been a ton of empty seats at Little Caesars Arena. One economist suggests that all the new features in the arena have taken the attention off the game. (Detroit News)

–Jaela O’Brien is a young hockey goalie that was diagnosed with cancer a little while ago. Her meetings with some Minnesota Wild players and Jonathan Quick helped her in recovery. “He’s still my favorite player,” O’Brien said of Quick. “He’s athletic and he reminds me a lot of myself. He always makes crazy saves. He seems like a good person too.” (NHL.com)

–There haven’t been a ton of positives for the Arizona Coyotes in 2017-18. The performance of rookie Clayton Keller is one of the bright spots for them this season. The ‘Yotes can build around Keller, but they absolutely need to get him some help. (spectorshockey.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Oilers show rare restraint by demoting Yamamoto

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Aside from “not messing up Connor McDavid,” the Edmonton Oilers haven’t inspired a lot of confidence in how they handle young forwards.

It’s not just about getting questionable returns for high picks like Taylor Hall, Nail Yakupov, and Jordan Eberle. There have been some bumpy development paths, and some of those wounds are self-inflicted, as management has a shaky track record of burning through rookie years in ways that are often wasteful.

Jesse Puljujärvi isn’t the only example one could reach for, but he’s the most recent. Puljujärvi finds himself below the NHL level at the moment, which isn’t a big deal – he’s still just 19 – yet he already burned through the first year of his entry-level contract in 2016-17 by playing 28 games.

Considering the Oilers’ recent history of paying huge premiums for second contracts (McDavid and Leon Draisaitl raising the already-high-bar that was $6M going to guys like Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), that situation might make some a little queasy.

Then again, perhaps they’ll get their act together going forward?

Monday presented some reason for optimism, as the Oilers showed a rare bit of restraint (for them) in assigning Kailer Yamamoto to the WHL. They did so while preserving the high-value ELC years of his rookie deal, as they made this call before he exceeded the nine-game mark this season. This is usually simple stuff for NHL teams, but Edmonton bungles this often enough that it’s worth celebrating.

Goodbye Moto

This makes for quite the whirlwind few months for the 19-year-old.

It’s common to see high draft picks make an immediate jump to the NHL, and for guys hovering around the top 10 to at least get a cup of coffee. Yamamoto, however, was the 22nd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. It’s rare to see guys in that range demand a long, immediate look, and so far it looks like the Oilers got a steal in the undersized forward.

He forced his way into some prominent situations, too.

While his ice time and opportunities were erratic, it’s worth noting that, per Natural Stat Trick, his most common even-strength linemates were Connor McDavid and Patrick Maroon. Yamamoto didn’t look out of place in his audition on that first line, providing a silver lining while Leon Draisaitl (another forward who burned through his rookie deal faster than maybe necessary) was injured.

Somewhat amusingly, Yamamoto might have actually made one of the better arguments to stay up, as his possession numbers and production indicated that he’s a quick study.

In the long run, this is a better move for the Oilers, especially since McDavid’s raise won’t kick in until 2018-19. They’ll need to find bargains going forward, so getting the most out of Yamamoto’s dirt-cheap rookie contract could be absolutely crucial.

Now, three full years of Yamamoto as he really kicks into gear could drive up the price of his second contract, too. Eh, worry about that when you get there … that’s practically the Oilers’ developmental model anyway, right?

Panthers send Big Red down

Owen Tippett drew some attention in getting a look with the Florida Panthers, in part by comparing himself to rookie Phil Kessel.

Tippett won’t be making that jump, as the Panthers demoted him today. He didn’t get a huge chance, generating a goal in seven games while only averaging 11:07 TOI per night. (At least Tippett fired away relative to spotty ice time: 17 SOG in seven contests isn’t bad in sparse minutes. The kid still seems confident.)

This situation is a lot clearer for the Panthers than it was for the Oilers, but either way, both teams probably made the right calls.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.