McLellan critical of Oilers amid early-season struggles

AP
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The Edmonton Oilers still have 72 games remaining on their schedule, which would give the impression that they have plenty of time to turn around what’s been a disappointing month of October and climb the Western Conference standings.

But after another loss, this time to the Washington Capitals on Saturday, head coach Todd McLellan expressed an urgency to his team, noting that their struggles, particularly on offense, can no longer be dismissed as a short-term issue that will simply correct itself with time.

“There’s nothing early about this. Let’s not kid ourselves,” McLellan told reporters after a 5-2 defeat to Washington, in which the Oilers built up an early two-goal lead and then faltered in the second and third periods.

“There’s a lot of points that have gone by and you never get them back. They have the same value now as they do at the end of the year. It’s tough falling behind in a game. It’s also tough falling behind in the season. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and we’re going to have to play better than we have. We don’t have enough players playing at their capabilities — or at least what we believe their capabilities are — to consistently win.”

The biggest issue right now is scoring. Edmonton is 30th in the NHL averaging only 2.20 goals-for per game, and has been plagued by a lack of secondary scoring. Connor McDavid has 11 points and has contributed to 50 per cent of the Oilers goal totals so far.

With the Oilers struggling in that department, there was a report Saturday that the club is disappointed with the Ryan StromeJordan Eberle trade from this summer. That deal may have opened up available cap space for Edmonton to get Leon Draisaitl under contract with a hefty raise, but it also removed a player that was a proven scorer. Strome, now 24 years old, had one impressive season with the New York Islanders, but also endured up and down times there as well.

The Oilers are nearing the time when a decision must be made on right winger Kailer Yamamoto. The 19-year-old rookie has appeared in seven games with three assists, and is still eligible to be returned to junior at the nine-game threshold without using up the first year of his entry-level contract.

The Oilers also have 2016 fourth-overall pick Jesse Puljujarvi playing down in the American Hockey League. The 19-year-old right winger’s point total — three assists in seven games — is hardly overwhelming, but the 14 shots on goal he’s put up over the last two games would suggest he may be finding a bit of a groove down there and on the cusp breaking out in the goal column.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.