The Edmonton Oilers were hoping to finish another disastrous five-game road trip on a high note with a win against a streaking Toronto Maple Leafs team but were unsuccessful despite their valiant efforts. Zack Kassian and Mike Smith returned to the Oilers’ lineup. Still, they were without their captain Connor McDavid and several other key players, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Tyson Barrie, and Derek Ryan leaving the team very thin down the middle of the ice.
The Oilers have been winless since Dec.18, 2021, when they beat the Seattle Kraken and are quickly falling in the Pacific Division standings with this recent slide. The team put forth a much better effort than they did in their previous game against the New York Rangers, which should be an encouraging sign considering how shorthanded they were in terms of absences in the lineup.
Oilers Goaltending Not an Issue
The Oilers are struggling as of late to get good, consistent goaltending and lost plenty of games due to the concerns in their crease. This trend caused a stir after Head Coach Dave Tippett made comments regarding Mikko Koskinen’s performance after the loss against the Rangers. Mike Smith got the nod in this one and played a solid game for the Oilers and gave them every opportunity to win.
Two of the goals against were off bad bounces, making the loss even tougher for the Oilers to swallow. Smith got roughed up in his last start against the New Jersey Devils, allowing six goals in the overtime loss and bouncing back, stopping 29 of the 32 shots he faced. The health of Smith will play a significant role for the team moving forward because Koskinen can be given a well-needed rest period and time to re-focus. Neither can start a bulk load of the games and needs to share the net to be effective.
Lack of Offensive Production
For a team with so much firepower up front, the inability to score goals is beginning to become a major concern. The Oilers managed to fire two pucks past Jack Campbell and got several opportunities to find the back of the net and were unsuccessful. This marks the fourth game during this losing streak that the team scored two goals or less, which also puts more pressure on their goaltenders to keep games close without the offensive support.
Granted, the Oilers were without McDavid and his offensive abilities tonight, and Draisaitl did find the back of the net. Still, the lack of scoring support from other areas of the lineup is another growing issue. Despite the increased minutes and roles for several players in tonight’s game, no player really stood out on the offensive side of the puck.
The Oilers’ power play failed to cash in on their only attempt against the Leafs and has been goalless since Dec. 18, 2021. Despite still owning the best power-play percentage in the league, the Oilers’ power play has been operating at just 17.6% since the start of December and is looking like the main reason the team did so well earlier in the season. This emphasizes 5-on-5 play needing to better and the source of offense, but the continuous need of relying on McDavid and Draisaitl to do the heavy lifting offensively looks to be causing a lack of production elsewhere in the lineup.
Hyman’s Homecoming Spoiled
After playing his entire career as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, Zach Hyman returned to Toronto after his offseason departure. The return home lacked emotion without fans in the arena, but the Leafs spoiled his night scoring three of their four goals with Hyman on the ice.
He found himself skating on the teams’ second line alongside Ryan McLeod and Jesse Puljujarvi due to the absences in the Oilers’ top-six forward group. He also had over 20 minutes of ice time which is more than his season average, and registered two shots on goals, two hits, two blocks, and a minus-3 rating. In his last 11 games, he has just two goals and five points, and for someone who plays top-six minutes and a cap hit above $5 million, the team needs more from him at both ends of the rink.
Reset and Refocus
The good news for the Oilers is that they are heading home after an abysmal road trip and will get a chance to hit the reset button. Hopefully, the opportunity to get some rest in their own homes and time with their families and friends can help clear their heads before taking on and Ottawa Senators team that is third-worst in the league standings on Jan. 10, 2021. They will hope to get some reinforcements back into the lineup and should be able to give their best effort in that game, considering they will have 10 days of rest due to postponements before taking on the Florida Panthers at Rogers Place.
I am a graduate of Seneca Colleges Civil Engineering Technology Program and have turned my obsession for sports into a lifestyle. I have been covering the Edmonton Oilers here on The Hockey Writers since 2019. I love fantasy sports, collecting sports memorabilia and listening to classic rock with a cold one or a coffee in my hand.