If there is nothing else to be said about the Edmonton Oilers’ performance on Saturday night, it’s that they don’t have an interesting sense of timing.
Edmonton’s last game before the National Hockey League trade deadline was quite likely its worst effort of the season, as the Oilers were abjectly outplayed in just about every aspect of a 5-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
It was an absolute dud that only further emboldened those already calling for the Oilers upgrade their roster. Even the most level-headed fans couldn’t help but a bit concerned by Edmonton’s (no-)showing on Hockey Night in Canada.
However, Oilers general manager Ken Holland doesn’t come across as one prone to acting rash. Even as Edmonton now finds itself third in the Scotia North Division (seven points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and one behind the Winnipeg Jets), it’s hard to imagine the lopsided loss in Calgary prompting the general manager into making a move he wasn’t go to make already.
On the day between their most lopsided loss of 2021 and the last opportunity to bolster this season’s lineup, this is where the Oilers find themselves.
Things were going swimmingly on March 20, when the Oilers defeated Winnipeg 4-2 at Rogers Place for their 18th win in 25 games, and moved into a tie with Toronto atop the North standings.
Since then, the Oilers have won only four of eight games (although Edmonton has picked up a pair of additional points via overtime loss) and have given up 23 goals while scoring 18 (which drops to 16, an average of just two per game, if empty-netters are removed). The lack of consistency in their play has mirrored that of their schedule, which has been completely upended by the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks being forced to postpone games due to players entering COVID-19 protocol.
Edmonton had a week between games (March 20-27) and are about to get five days off before next playing in Vancouver on April 16 (provided the Canucks, who have had 21 players test positive for the coronavirus, are cleared to play). Further, the Oilers have played just one of their last eight games at home, and will be on the road for the next two.
This stretch has already seen the Oilers make two round trips between Alberta and Ontario and Quebec, and play a pair of back-to-backs, including one that was only scheduled the day prior (Edmonton found out on March 29 it would be playing in Montreal on March 30, a make-up date for one of the Oilers’ three postponed games with the Habs).
Dynamic Duo Needs Backup
Edmonton’s schedule upheaval is hardly ideal, but a challenge that nearly every team will face during this crazy 2020-21 season. The two teams Edmonton is now chasing in the North, Toronto and Winnipeg, have seen their supporting casts step up on the nights when their stars were a step slow.
That was the major story with Edmonton earlier this season; during a stretch from Jan. 30 to Feb. 25 in which the Oilers went 11-2 and averaged 4.08 goals per game, more than three-quarters of the team’s scoring (40 of 53 goals) came from players other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
But Edmonton’s secondary scoring has dried up lately, and at a time when it’s been needed most. Edmonton’s Dynamic Duo, who during normal times often look extraordinary, have more often looked normal in these extraordinary times. Neither Draisaitl or McDavid has scored in five of the last seven games; meanwhile, all other Oilers have combined for just six goals in the last six games.
The slumps have been particularly prolonged for those that most frequently play alongside McDavid and/or Draisaitl. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had two goals in 15 games before sitting out the last two with an upper-body injury; Jesse Puljujarvi’s only goal in the last 10 games was scored into an empty-net; before scoring in Ottawa on Thursday, Kailer Yamamoto had gone 11 games without a goal; and Zack Kassian has two goals in 24 games of what has been a hugely disappointing campaign from the former first-liner.
Smith Couldn’t Save the Day
Stellar goaltending from Mike Smith has helped Edmonton to a handful of wins when its offence wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but even he had a rough night Saturday. Not that it really mattered, given the Oilers couldn’t put a single puck behind Jacob Markstrom, and fired only 17 shots on the Calgary goaltender.
After Saturday’s loss, Edmonton has just two wins in 10 games when McDavid doesn’t have a point, while winning all 10 games in which its captain has three or more points. When Draisaitl is held pointless, the Oilers are 4-7-0; they’re 14-2-1 when he has at least two.
The Oilers remain firmly in a playoff position, but issues that could spell a shorter postseason than hoped in Edmonton are being put into sharp relief.
During his media availability Friday, Holland set Oil Country aflutter by saying he’s open to dealing Edmonton’s 2021 first-round pick for a non-rental player. However, the Oilers’ limited salary cap space makes any trade difficult, so the odds of the team making a big splash before 1 p.m. MT Monday would seem slim. More likely, they’ll either figure it out with this group, or they won’t.
Brian is an Edmonton-based sports writer and broadcaster. His experience includes working as a sports reporter for the Edmonton Sun, where he covered the Edmonton Oil Kings 2013-14 Memorial Cup championship season.