As we near the three-week mark of the 2017-18 campaign, the Edmonton Oilers continue to struggle to find their way. By no means is four points in seven games the end of the world but if they are not careful, this group could finish the month of October in an unwanted spot. With that said, as a hockey fan, it is hard not be excited about the coming days, as the Oilers take on Sidney Crosby, Tyler Seguin, and Alex Ovechkin over a span of five days.
Week That Was: vs Carolina (L), at Chicago (W), at Philadelphia (L)
A questionable decision by Todd McLellan to go with Laurent Brossoit in goal instead of his No. 1 netminder likely cost the Oilers two points they badly needed against the Hurricanes. An opportunity missed to be sure, especially since Cam Talbot was by far and away Edmonton’s best player against both the Blackhawks and Flyers. Unfortunately, scoring goals remains an issue…as does winning hockey games.
Fourteen goals in seven games and only ten have come at 5 v 5. Outside of the top line of Connor McDavid, Patrick Maroon and Kailer Yamamoto, there continues to be little to no offence coming from the other three lines at even strength. Add to that one of the worst penalty kill units in the league, a middling power play, and their results might actually be better than they should be.
Outside of the return to form of Talbot, an absurd spin-o-rama feed from No. 97 against the Hawks and a pair of goals from Mark Letestu on the man advantage, it was Maroon who has stolen the spotlight of late. After being next to invisible in each of the Oilers first five games, the 29-year old has scored in back-to-back games and looks to have a jump in his step for the first time this season. A positive sign to be sure.
The Week Ahead: at Pittsburgh, vs Dallas, vs Washington
He may have eight points in seven games and be the only player on this roster who can create scoring chances with any kind of regularity but McDavid hasn’t been his usual dominating self. Outside of his opening night outburst against the Calgary Flames, things have been fairly quiet for the reigning NHL MVP. However, chances are that could change against the defending champs and a certain someone.
During the Oilers last trip to Pittsburgh, hockey fans were treated to the first-ever showdown between Sidney and Connor…and boy was it fun to watch. Though the Penguins found a way to come back and sneak out a 4-3 overtime victory, it was McDavid who stole the show. Three first period assists and one electrifying rush after another sent a clear message that this kid was up for the challenge.
No matter the era or sport, when it comes to head-to-head matchups between the best of the best, chances are we will likely see something pretty special. That trend should continue during Round Three of Crosby vs McDavid and set the stage for the league’s defending scoring champ to catch fire. Call it a hunch but this week’s slate of games has No. 97 breakout written all over them.
Oil Notes: We won’t know for certain until later today but it seems as though the much-anticipated return of Leon Draisaitl will happen against the Pens. It has been two long weeks since the 21-year old was forced from the lineup with concussion-like symptoms and not surprisingly, Edmonton struggled in his absence. Three losses in four games and a grand total of seven goals scored tell us how bad it’s been.
On top Draisaitl, it looks as though the Oilers will also have Drake Caggiula return to the fold for the first time since the second game of the season against the Vancouver Canucks. Though his return will not have anywhere near the impact on the lineup as the big German winger, inserting his speed into the mix will be a welcome addition and an element this roster sorely misses.
If both return as expected, Edmonton will have to send a player out in order to make room on the roster. The easy answer would be to re-assign Brad Malone, who doesn’t need to clear waivers, back to the AHL and take another player out of the lineup. Problem is, Malone has looked good since being recalled and been one of their better bottom six forwards. That said, it is the only option that makes sense…especially with Yamamoto’s days likely numbered.
Draisaitl & Caggiula questionable for tomorrow, McLellan "anticipates" they'll be cleared, but no guarantees.
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) October 23, 2017
Three Questions and Three Answers
What happened after the Oilers home opener against Calgary? -Joe-
As a group, Edmonton played a solid all-around game and rode McDavid’s hat-trick to victory but to be fair, Calgary wasn’t at their best. There are those who suggest the Oilers did not allow them to play their game, which is a fair point, but the Flames looked hesitant from the drop of the puck. It was obvious they were uncomfortable every time No. 97 stepped onto the ice, as they instantly fell back into retreat mode whenever he had a head of steam.
Also, in my mind, the fact it was the season opener played into it. The positivity and energy that last season’s playoff run generated in both the city and Roger Place was certainly a thing and the game against the Flames felt as if it was nothing more than an extension of that ride. Combine that with Calgary not playing well and it being the first game for their key off-season additions, it was not exactly in an ideal spot for the visitors.
Whereas for Edmonton, it was a perfect storm. Unfortunately, it was followed up with a couple of average to poor showings against the Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets and the momentum swung in the opposite direction. This lineup has its shortcomings and at some point or another, they were going to come to the forefront. It just happened earlier in the season than most anticipated.
I agree it is still early but at what point should we be worried about this team? -Phil-
It certainly is still early but if the regulation losses continue to pile up, this group could start to feel the pressure. As I have mentioned in the past, this season is a completely different animal to what this organization has dealt with in previous years and especially last season. Outside of finally removing themselves from the basement of the Western Conference standings, the Oilers had no real pressure on them in 2016-17. That is no longer the case.
There is a big difference between being the hunter and the hunted. Despite their run to the 2006 Stanley Cup Final, this club hasn’t been part of the latter group since the end of the dynasty years. Everyone has their eyes on this team and many have picked them to be a Cup contender in 2017-18. From an expectation standpoint, that is about as big a swing as we will see in such a short period of time and it can be a lot to take on.
With their upcoming schedule being what it is, their struggles may continue over the next week or so but they need to find a way to start picking up points…even the dreaded loser point. Come mid to late November, we will know exactly where this team sits and it will be time to potentially sound the alarm bells.
Rough start this year! They need a goal scorer. Do you like the Eberle trade? -John-
I did not like it at the time and still feel exactly the same way. Though he has yet to find his way with the New York Islanders and was a whipping boy of sorts for some fans, Eberle is a proven goal scorer at this level. Ryan Strome is not and doesn’t do enough other stuff to warrant making such a swap. Obviously, money played into the equation but since Peter Chiarelli has decided to do nothing with said money, the move remains a head-scratcher.
Edmonton has gone from having too many scoring wingers and not enough centres, to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Thanks to the drafting of McDavid and Draisaitl, their weakness down the middle took care of itself but by making the moves he did, Chiarelli has stripped this lineup of its scoring depth. And contrary to popular belief, finding guys to score at this level isn’t easy and just because you place them on a line with No. 97 doesn’t mean they necessarily will.
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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.