Edmonton Oilers: The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same

(Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)
(Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE)

There was a lot of excitement coming into the season surrounding the Edmonton Oilers. Perhaps it was the additions of Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz, combined with the further maturing of a young core. Maybe it was the way the players dominated in the AHL. Maybe it was the fact that this team couldn’t possibly get any worse after finishing 30th, 30th and 29th overall the past three seasons. But despite flashes of brilliance, very little has changed for the Oilers.

Primed with a new coach and a confident swagger, it looked as though Edmonton might finally challenge for a playoff spot. However as we approach the midway point of this shortened season, the Oilers find themselves in 14th place in the Western Conference. Granted, they have the same number of points as three other teams, and are only four points back of eighth place, but with six teams to climb over, things aren’t looking great.

Now the playoffs were by no means a guarantee for the Oilers this season, but a move up in the standings was certainly a big goal for the team. Many felt that the defense would be an Achilles heel for them, but the powerful offense would be able to outscore the mistakes. It hasn’t quite happened that way. The Oilers are 25th in the league in goals for, a surprising stat considering the firepower this line-up boasts. They are 16th in the league in a goals against, a testament to slightly improved goaltending.

So why can’t this team score? Taylor Hall (who is currently injured) only has four goals on the year. Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov have six apiece. Ales Hemsky has eight, which leads the team. Sam Gagner is the Oilers leading point getter, with seven goals and 20 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has one goal so far. Who would have thought, that 21 games into the season, not one Oiler would have 10 goals.

It’s certainly not for lack of trying, as the Oilers have stretches where they absolutely dominate with the puck in the offensive zone. They just don’t have a lot to show for it. They went 4-8 in the month of February and have two losses already in March. This team is clearly still in the midst of a learning curve, but they have the goods to be much better than they are and they know it. The comments following the team’s loss to the Minnesota Wild reeked of clear frustration all around.

“Overall, Minnesota took it to us today. They out-battled us in every situation. We have to get much hungrier.” – Coach Krueger. “That was embarrassing. We talk about it every practice that we need to get shots. We couldn’t get the puck on net today.” – Magnus Paajarvi. “Not enough shots, not enough want to get to the net. If we let our frustration get to us, it’s going to be a long year.” – Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “We obviously can’t play that way if we expect to win. It’s a wake-up call. We need to find a way to raise our level.” – Sam Gagner (Oilers Twitter)

Did the Oilers come into the season feeling that they were better than they actually are? Was the success in Oklahoma City a little deceiving? Do the offensive stars on this team need to start thinking defense first rather than waiting for a break-out? It could be all of the above. One thing the Oilers want to do is get tougher to play against, and they started the process today acquiring Mike Brown from the Toronto Maple Leafs for a draft pick.

They say expectations is the root for all heartache. Maybe the expectations were a little too high for the Oilers this season. But improvement in the little details has to start coming for this team, because another cliche is starting to show it’s ugly face for the Oilers: hard work always beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.