4 Takeaways From Oilers First Loss of Woodcroft’s Tenure Against the Wild

The Edmonton Oilers were looking for their sixth straight victory since Jay Woodcroft took over behind the bench, but their bid fell well short after a 7-3 trouncing at the hands of the Minnesota Wild. The team is playing a much different style of game and comes into this one with a certain confidence in themselves, which is something the team lacked five games ago.

The Oilers outscored their opponents 22-8 while on their five-game win-streak, displaying improved defensive play and spike in offensive production. This was the Oilers’ fifth game in seven nights, and there are definitely some things that the team needs to clean up before their next game to get back in the win column.

Mike Smith Gets Pulled Early

One reason the Oilers were much improved since Woodcroft took over is the strong play of the goaltender. The Oilers struggled to find consistency from all of their goaltenders for most of this season, but each of Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen, and Stuart Skinner answered the bell. Smith evidently remains the teams’ starter in goal as he started against Minnesota for the fourth time in Woodcroft’s six-game tenure.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Oilers improved goaltending does coincide with the team’s improved defensive system that new assistant coach Dave Manson and Woodcroft implemented. Smith entered the game on a three-game win streak with a .937 save percentage, allowing a total of six goals in that span.

Related: 3 Reasons Oilers’ Koskinen Deserves More Starts Before Trade Deadline

Unfortunately for Smith, his performance tonight did not go how his other three games went. Smith got pulled after the Oilers went down 4-0 in the first period, including three goals allowed in a 3:38 minute span. The Oilers did not play well in front of Smith and allowed the Wild to get several quality scoring chances in the slot. After Smith allowed the fourth goal, he was replaced with Koskinen, who did not fare much better the rest of the game. This loss is one that is not surprising against a tough Wild team and shouldn’t be pinned on poor goaltending.

Benson on the Board

If there is any positive to take from a game like this one, it’s that Tyler Benson potted his first career NHL goal in the lopsided loss. It’s been a long time coming for Benson, who found the back of the net late in the second period to give the Oilers a small sense of hope to come back. The 23-year-old was a standout in his junior days and struggled to translate that play to the next level.

Tyler Benson Edmonton Oilers
Tyler Benson, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s not surprising that this goal comes with a new coach behind the bench and one that is familiar with Benson and his style of play from their relationship in Bakersfield of the American Hockey League. If anyone knows what a player like Benson can provide it’s Woodcroft who leaned on Benson a lot offensively in the minors when he posted back-to-back 36 point seasons between 2019-2021.

Benson started four of the six games since Woodcroft’s takeover and despite limited minutes in some of the games, appears to be moving towards being in the lineup more often than not. He is yet to play more than 10 minutes of ice time under Woodcroft despite the team opting to play with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in their previous six games. Hopefully, this goal is something that provides Benson some confidence and allows him to add some scoring touch to the team’s bottom-six moving forward.

Hyman Stays Hot

Zach Hyman potted his fifth goal in six games and extended his goal-scoring streak to four games. Woodcroft opted to reunite Hyman with McDavid on the teams’ top line and it seemed to provide a resurgence to the versatile forward. With this most recent stretch of seven points in his last six games under Woodcroft, Hyman is up to 18 goals and 33 points through 44 games this season.

Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers
Zach Hyman, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)

The goal meant virtually nothing because the game was already out of reach for the Oilers but it is encouraging to see Hyman playing much better hockey of late. Getting consistent contributions from different members of the roster is one of the major takeaways of the team since Dave Tippett’s dismissal, and with the absences of Jesse Puljujarvi and Zack Kassian, the need for him to contribute is all the more important.

New Coach Magic Wears Off

The Oilers saw their five-game win streak come to an end in this one and the team suffered their first loss under Woodcroft. The defensive breakdowns were a big problem leading to a plethora of high danger chances for Edmonton’s netminders to face. The team looked slow and sloppy, which is understandable considering their busy schedule as of late but is a trend that cannot continue.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Oilers were unable to outscore their way out of this loss and the flaws on defense were exposed. The Wild are a fast and heavy team and were hungry and willing for the entire length of the game. This is the first time the Oilers allowed more than three goals against under Woodcroft and will look to buck this trend and get bad to the defensively sound game they played in their five games prior.

Measuring Stick Games Ahead on Oilers Schedule

The Oilers will move on from this loss against the Wild and look to bounce back with some tough teams ahead on their schedule. The Oilers will begin a tough five-game road trip where they will play the three best teams in the Eastern Conference in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers need to put forth a much better all-around effort against their upcoming opponents to prove that they are capable of contending, and their most recent win streak is not just a result of the head coaching change.

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