The Edmonton Oilers responded well when they returned home after a tough road trip, during which they lost 4 straight games, by completely dominating the Chicago Blackhawks 9-2. They lost a hard hitting affair in Dallas two days later, but bounced right back and thumped the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Tuesday night. They are being led by a seasoned veteran in Ryan Smyth, whose 11 goals lead the Oilers. He is tied in points (22), with 18 year old rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. But, in a tight Western Conference, points are at a premium. The Oilers are currently out of the playoff picture in 9th place with 24 points, but are in 2nd place in their division behind the Minnesota Wild. The West has long been the closest of the two conferences, as just three points separate 2nd and 10th place. If the Oilers hope to be among the top 8 come seasons end, they will need to find some consistency in their game.
Since winning 6 straight games at the end of October, the Oilers haven’t been able to put together back to back wins. In the 6 loses since that streak, they’ve scored a total of 11 goals. In contrast, they’ve scored 18 goals in 3 wins since the streak. In other words, it’s been feast or famine for the Oilers in the month of November, something they are aiming to change as the season wears on. Coach Tom Renney addressed the issue after the game against the Predators:
“I don’t want anyone to lose sight that we are young team and we are still trying to figure this out,” Renney said. “These guys are trying hard. Consistency is a problem for the coach. We have to identify with a standard of play and a commitment to do the little things every night. When we do that we are fine. But we have a tendency to give the puck up. We turn it over and we try to get fancy,” he said. “There are no style points on the NHL. We have to play a simple game, especially on the road.” – Washington Post
Perhaps the position that needs the most consistency for the Oilers to be successful is in the crease. Nikolai Khabibulin lead the league in goals against average and save percentage early in the season, but has slipped a little as of late. Back-up Devan Dubnyk has been strong in his past few appearances, but with numerous injuries to the defense corps, the Oilers need solid goaltending every single night. The net-minding was an area of concern going into the season, but it’s clear that the potential is there. Secondary scoring from guys like Sam Gagner and Shawn Horcoff needs to improve as well, because of droughts from some of the young guys, and constant injuries to Ales Hemsky. The offense needs to be spread out much more.
The Oilers road trip continues on Friday when they face the league leading Minnesota Wild. They travel to Colorado on Saturday to face the Avalanche before returning home for games against Nashville and the Wild again to end the month of November. The Oilers start has been strong, and it’s been surprising, but they will need to round out those rough edges and figure out how to string more wins together if they want to challenge for a playoff spot. And as they’ve proven so far, it’s certainly not out of reach.