As far as early disappointments in the new NHL season go, the Edmonton Oilers currently sit in a class all their own. While far from the only club to get off to a slow start, just ask any fan of the Montreal Canadiens, expectations for this group were on an entirely different level heading into 2017-18. Be that right or wrong, it is the hand they have been dealt and as of this moment, it no longer matters. Righting the ship in the here and now is priority one.
Week That Was: vs Winnipeg (L), vs Ottawa (L)
In a week which Edmonton played only twice, it was a rather eventful seven-day period in the Alberta capital. An ugly performance against the Winnipeg Jets, followed by an embarrassing showing versus the Ottawa Senators and sandwiched in between was four days of practice time and endless questions…though the latter was not limited to the club’s on-ice struggles.
As if a pair of back-to-back losses to the Jets and Vancouver Canucks wasn’t troubling enough, news of an apparent injury to Leon Draisaitl only made things worse. Though first presented to the public as a somewhat “mysterious” formation of swelling around the 23-year old’s eye, by week’s end the conversation had shifted towards the dreaded concussion-type symptoms.
Apparently, the latter could not be confirmed until the swelling around the eye had subsided, which did not occur until later in the week. Fair enough but what was a tad perplexing was speculation surrounding the injury “potentially” come via an errant stick or puck against the Jets. However, upon reviewing video of the game, the only questionable play involving the talented German seemed to revolve around an open-ice hit from Jakob Trouba.
McLellan says he's been told Draisaitl injury stems from a hit from Trouba on Monday night.
— Reid Wilkins (@ReidWilkins) October 14, 2017
While the first-period collision did appear to shake Draisaitl up, he did finish the game and actually went on to score his first goal of the season. The Oilers eventually confirmed when the injury took place later in the week but one does wonder why it wasn’t announced earlier. Hard to say but with the entire group struggling badly to score goals, this was news no one wanted to hear and yet it wasn’t in the least bit surprising.
To this point, head coach Todd McLellan has given no indication as to when Draisiatl might return to the lineup and it has created an opportunity for Kailer Yamamoto. The rookie had the good fortune of skating next to Connor McDavid against the Sens on Saturday night and while the Oilers were pounded 6-1, the diminutive winger was by far and away the best player wearing Orange and Blue and picked up his first NHL point to boot.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 15, 2017
Netminder Cam Talbot continued his early-season struggles, allowing nine goals in just over five periods of play and was pulled for the second time in four starts. In his defence, Edmonton has been dreadful from top to bottom over their last three games and have offered zero support to their goaltender. With that said, the 30-year old has clearly been fighting the puck and if it continues, the losses will keep on coming.
Defenceman Matt Benning was a healthy scratch against Ottawa, as Yohann Auvitu made his Oilers debut, following a pair of ugly outings for the young blueliner. To be fair, the backend as a whole has been poor and partner Kris Russell was equally ineffective. In my mind, the plan all along was to give the kid a spot to catch his breath and get him right back in the lineup. Mission accomplished…now get the kid back in there.
The Week Ahead: vs Carolina, at Chicago, at Philadelphia
After losing two straight games at Rogers Place and a tough three-game road swing on the horizon, taking care of the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night is a must. Obviously, heading out-of-town on a mini losing skid would not be ideal but the Canes are much improved. A highly skilled and quick group, that is better in goal with the addition of Scott Darling and look better with each passing day on the backend. In other words, they will be a tough out.
It will be interesting to see if McLellan gives any consideration to starting Laurent Brossoit against the Hurricanes but it may be a tad risky for his taste. If the call were mine, there is no way Talbot doesn’t get the nod but perhaps the Oilers bench boss will look at it as a potential rallying point for the rest of his players. Certainly a possibility but again, getting their No. 1 guy back on track is an absolute necessity.
Also, when one considers the aforementioned trip that will see Edmonton head to Chicago, Philadelphia (both this week) and Pittsburgh, the chance of this snowballing on them is a real possibility. In a perfect world, Talbot regains his form and McDavid puts this team on his back and carries them to a few victories. Sounds reasonable enough but expecting No. 97 to carry the load every night is a recipe for disaster. Like it or not, there has to be a backup plan in place.
It has only been four games but Edmonton has a grand total of three forwards who have managed to light the lamp so far this season (McDavid – 3, Ryan Nugent Hopkins – 2, Draisaitl – 1). While the hope was to use the aforementioned trio to anchor three separate lines, it’s impossible to do if not a single winger on the roster can put a puck into a net. Add to that a power play clicking at 8.3 % and a 1-3 record starts making perfect sense.
Oil Notes: With Draisaitl having officially been placed on the injured list, joining Drake Caggiula(undisclosed) and defenceman Andrej Sekera(knee), the Oilers recalled forward Brad Malone from the AHL’s Bakersfield Condors on Sunday afternoon. The 28-year old, who last played in the NHL with the Hurricanes in 2015-16, led all Condors’ skaters with two goals and three points in three games in 2017-18 and can play both the wing and centre.
** Looking at adding a fan question segment for week two, so if you have any Oilers-related questions, feel free to drop them in the comment section below or via my Twitter and Facebook feeds that can be found in my THW profile **
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Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.