It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. After starting 7-1-0 on the season, the Oilers lost their fifth straight game on Thursday and are now almost back to being a .500 hockey club. They’ll get a chance to make things right on Saturday versus the Dallas Stars, but a lot of fans in Edmonton are worried.
Even though Edmonton gets its fair amount of shots on net, with one of the worst shooting percentages in recent history, the goal scoring has dried up. So too, the goaltending has gone back to the average results many fans have come to expect. While he isn’t necessarily losing them, Talbot is no longer winning games for the Oilers. Finally, the defense has notably struggled and the stable pairings of the first ten games have started getting separated.
If you’re among those fans who may be starting to let a bit panic set in, here are five things you need to know to keep you from driving yourself crazy.
No. 1: Returning Regulars
The Oilers are starting to get healthy bodies back. Matt Hendricks, Drake Caggiula, Brandon Davidson and Kris Russell have been seen skating with the team on this current road trip and that is a good sign for an Oilers team that has lost a ton of chemistry.
It always difficult to insert returning players into a lineup that is meshing and clicking on all cylinders. In this case, the Oilers are struggling, which makes this the perfect time to make changes. Edmonton could use a boost from bodies who haven’t been a part of this five-game slide.
The return of Kris Russell is of particular note as the Oilers defense has clearly struggled since his absence. Andrej Sekera hasn’t meshed particularly well with rookie Matthew Benning and there is an obvious lack of confidence the comes with a rookie and wasn’t present with the Russell and Sekera pairing. Fans of the Oilers should be excited to see these two back together.
Some of the injured players may return against Dallas on Saturday, but others are a couple more games away.
No. 2: Goodbye Anton Lander
Fans will start to notice that players who were questionable choices to start the year are going to be moved to make room for the returning roster regulars. One of those players already moved is Anton Lander, who was placed on waivers by the Oilers on Friday. It is being assumed that his demotion means either Caggiula or Hendricks will be taking his place.
Lander has been a much better player than he showed last season for the Oilers, but he still doesn’t seem to offer much more than an excellent ability to win faceoffs or some defensive penalty killing. Hopefully moving Lander out of the lineup won’t greatly affect the Oilers ability to perform well in either of these areas. The hope is that more offense comes from the depth of the roster.
No. 3: Jesse Puljujarvi’s Opportunity
Jesse Puljujarvi may get a look at the top line right wing position alongside Connor McDavid, particularly on the power play. Edmonton’s man-advantage numbers have been abysmal and toward the end of the loss to Los Angeles, coach Todd McLellan started to play with the lines in order to spark something. In a limited window, Puljujarvi and McDavid seemed to look pretty good.
This is potentially a killing two birds with one stone situation. Puljujarvi has not been a lineup regular for the Oilers, but Edmonton wants to kickstart his offense. The Oilers are also looking to send a message to Jordan Eberle, who has been ineffective in his last few games.
The Oilers were counting on Eberle and McDavid to be a consistent threat, but during this run, the pairing has only shown chemistry in one game — that being the game against the Penguins.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 18, 2016
No. 4: The Penalty Non-Calls
The non-calls that are taking place as far as McDavid’s ability to draw penalties is starting to catch the attention and ire of the fanbase, media, Edmonton Oilers and the coaching staff. That said, it appears the Oilers are taking the stance that the high-road is the better alternative.
So far, not one member of the team nor coaching staff has whined or complained about the obvious lack of calls and their intention is to use this as a teaching lesson, showing that there has to be another way over these hurdles.
There is always a question surrounding how the superstars get or don’t get calls, but against the Kings on Thursday, there were multiple instances where it was clear McDavid should have drawn a penalty, but no call was made by the referees. This seems to have been a regular occurrence in the last few games, but the Oilers have to find a way to battle through it. McDavid himself seems to be the first one to realize that these calls are out of his hands and he’ll eventually get the referees attention. He’s probably correct.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 18, 2016
No. 5: Superstars Won’t Stay Quiet Forever
Connor McDavid does not have a goal in the month of November. Anyone that thinks this is going to be a continued trend needs to have their head examined. Like any NHL superstar, there is a streakiness that goes along with the game. Sometimes you score, sometimes you go a little dry, but McDavid is still creating chances, getting opportunities and tallying assists. It’s only a matter of time before the puck goes in for him.
McDavid himself is aware of the situation, but says he’s not worried:
‘It’s a streaky, weird league in the sense that when one goes in, you find a way and you get lots,’ said McDavid. “I’ve had some goals that definitely shouldn’t have gone in, and now I’m doing a lot right, and nothing’s going in. Every player who’s been in this league has gone through this… ‘It’s 10 games. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve been generating a lot and still contributing with assists (seven in the last 10). Scoring isn’t the only thing in this game.’
On a different level, but in the same way, players like Jordan Eberle, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl won’t stay silent long. During this dry spell, fans will obviously complain and others will suggest trading the entire lot, but with a little more patience, most will see that the Oilers start to score again and their stars will be the ones to do it.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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