It has been one of the, if not the biggest story ,over the past number of weeks in the NHL is how much the Edmonton Oilers have struggled. Fans aren’t happy, management is working on solutions, but the confidence and hope in the dressing room haven’t completely gone away. Whether it’s how the team is built or the mentality in the room, I believe the Oilers are still in a better position this season than a number of other good teams that have struggled this season as well. I will go into detail below.
Brendan Perlini, known for his optimism, had this to say about where the Oilers are at right now in a recent sit-down with the media, “I think it can only go up. I’ve been on teams where you lose six, seven, eight in a row and you can win six, seven, eight in a row just like that.” This is what the Oilers did but in reverse. They started the season 16-5-0 and have gone 2-10-2 since. There’s no reason to think that the team can’t flip the switch right back, especially with two of the best players in the world in Perlini’s mind and probably every other hockey fan’s mind.
Perlini said, “I like to bring positive energy to the guys in the room.” That type of mentality can keep the spirits and energy up in the room. While he goes on to say that practices like the one the team just had, puck battling and fighting hard is the start of a turnaround, and he’s experienced the same thing in the past.
The Oilers’ biggest rival, the Calgary Flames, have also been playing poorly, but the attention seems to be solely on Edmonton. Maybe it’s because the expectations were higher for the Oilers, but Calgary has been right beside the Oilers all season long.
They’ve had a number of bounce-back and breakout candidates that have mostly all gone quiet as of late. After winning seven of eight games from Nov. 18 to Dec. 3, they have posted a record of 2-7-1, losing four in a row to date. That’s not much better than the Oilers, and it has come at the perfect time for an Oilers team watching themselves fall in the standings, because the Flames haven’t gained much ground at all. Other than the Flames, who have played one less game than the Oilers, the other teams ahead of them in the Pacific Division have all played four to six more games.
The main reason why the Flames were so dominant at the start of the season was the play of their goaltenders. In their past four games, they have allowed 20 goals after only letting in 67 in the first 30 games. They have posted seven shutouts on the season, but all of them came in the first 19 games of 2021-22.
With many Flames slowing down offensively as well, it’s a recipe that they must fix at both ends of the ice, no different than the Oilers, except the Flames don’t have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Players on Calgary like Dillon Dube, Andrew Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund, and Blake Coleman have all been nowhere to be found as of late. Dube has two goals in his last 14 games, and Mangiapane has scored three goals and added an assist in his past 14 games after scoring 15 goals in his first 19 games. Backlund has three assists in his past 15 games despite playing well over 17 minutes a night, and though Coleman has put up four points in his past five games, he has just 11 points in 33 games on the season and had seven in his past 27 (3-4).
The Flames of 2020-21 weren’t very good, and there is that type of game creeping back into the Flames of 2021-22. Head coach Darryl Sutter has said, “I just think the emotional level of our group has been lacking for a period of time now.” There is a difference here between the Flames and how the Oilers have been playing. Even though the Oilers have fallen behind early, they have fought back and stayed in the game, battling to the end in many of their recent losses.
The Dallas Stars have been very streaky this season, especially as of late. The NHL was put on notice when they went on a seven-game win streak at the end of November and allowed just nine goals. Then they proceeded to lose five in a row in regulation, allowing 19 goals and scoring one or fewer goals in four of the five games. The Stars snapped that by winning four in a row, but the only thing that improved was the offensive output. Their defence and ability to keep the puck out of the net has remained an issue, and they have lost three of four since.
The Oilers have been streaky too, but it’s come in the form of two long streaks at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Oilers and the Stars have the exact same record, but the Stars have suffered less impactful injuries. The major issue the Stars have run into is the underperformance of a number of their core forwards who are being paid well and that they count on. The Oilers sit ninth in goals for per game (GF/GP) with 3.29 and 25th in goals-against per game (GA/GP) with 3.34. This is also without half of their NHL defencemen for stretches of games and an injured Mike Smith for most of the season. The Stars are 23rd in GF/GP with 2.77 and 17th in GA/GP with 3.00. Comparing the two, the Oilers have the advantage, especially with the Stars allowing 3.61 GA/GP since their seven-game win streak.
The bulk of the offence has been placed on Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen, while what was once a dominant line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov have failed to produce at a rate everyone is used to seeing from them. Radulov has one goal and 12 points in 31 games this season and would be failing to produce if not for assisting on the nine goals by each of Benn and Seguin. As for those two, Benn has four points in his last 12 games, all coming in two of them, while Seguin’s production may be the most disappointing, as he has recorded just one assist in his past 24 games along with his five goals.
Will Pavelski be able to keep up his scoring pace all season? He is now 37 and an unrestricted free agent after the season, so he could even be a possible trade chip before the deadline if the Stars think they aren’t in the race. Robertson has had some minor injury problems early in his career, so that may keep him out for a handful of games at a time, something they can’t afford when he’s playing at over a point per game.
As for the goaltenders, Jake Oettinger came in very hot, winning his first five starts and allowing just seven goals. Since then, he is 4-3-0 and hasn’t allowed fewer than two goals in a game. The other man in net, Braden Holtby, has lost four of his last five games and has allowed 17 goals. With both the offensive struggles of a number of players and their goalies not being able to win games for the team as of late, it doesn’t look to be getting much better on the horizon.
Even though the Stars have been lights out at home this season, they have the worst road record in the Western Conference and second-worst in the NHL. A team that plays that poorly on the road won’t be able to stay in the race because they won’t be able to maintain any momentum and will have to remain nearly undefeated at home.
Since the start of the season, everyone has been waiting for when the Anaheim Ducks will finally fall off a bit. That has happened recently. They, too, have just won two games in the past 10, allowing 3.7 GA/GP and scoring 2.2 GF/GP. While playing the most games in the division with 41, six more than the Oilers, they have also failed to gain much ground on the Oilers while they haven’t been able to win either.
While Ryan Getzlaf and Troy Terry’s start was amazing, it was too good to be true, more so for Getzlaf, who is turning 37 and hasn’t been close to a point-per-game player since 2017-18. He has just one goal and five points in his past 15 games after starting out the season with one goal and 19 points in the first 18 games. This also has to do with Terry’s goal-scoring slowing down. He started the season with 12 goals and 22 points in the first 17 games, but since then, he has scored 10 goals and 14 points in his last 21 games.
Luckily, Trevor Zegras has finally shown the type of player he is after a slow start, but he and Sonny Milano can’t carry the majority of the offence alone. Injuries have slowed the Ducks down a bit, but they also couldn’t be expected to keep up the pace they started the season.
The Oilers are seven points back of the Ducks with six games in hand, so that’s just above .500 hockey if the Oilers can snap out of this losing streak soon. A thought that still has to be going through the minds of Ducks management is, are they too early to compete? The answer is yes, but they still have to make a decision on whether they will sell at the deadline to further push along the rebuild that seemingly looked over at the beginning of the season.
Every team goes through tough stretches. The Oilers’ tough stretch just so happens to be long. The team showed everyone just how good they can be at the beginning of the season, and with the best players in the world, you can’t count out that the offence can just turn on a dime and they start scoring over four goals a game nightly again. The losing streak is coming to an end, and when that happens, the team is going to want to keep the feeling that brings them.
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Rob Couch is a THW freelance writer covering mainly the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames. He covers everything you need to know about fantasy hockey. He will also keep you up to date with NHL Stats News and trade talks.
You can find more of his work here.