3 Oilers’ Keys to Breaking Slump Against Flames

It’ll be better for the Edmonton Oilers to get back into a rhythm with games every couple of days or so rather than endlessly practicing. This is partly the reason for their struggles. The players would likely much rather play a series of back-to-back games than suffer more postponements and COVID protocol, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks.

The Oilers have a 2-11-2 record in their last 15 games, and despite a strong effort against the Florida Panthers, one of the league’s best, on Thursday, they were missing a key player in Zach Hyman. Their next game is against the Calgary Flames today, to mark the first time the Oilers have played twice in three days since Jan. 3 and 5, and it’s only their third game since then. Connor McDavid has failed to score in eight consecutive home games for the first time since his rookie season, but the Oilers will need a big game from him and Leon Draisaitl, although they always show up for the Battle of Alberta.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The game is a big one. The Oilers have slipped further and further down the standings, and as they continue to lose the games they had in hand on the teams ahead of them, their hole is getting deeper with just half a season remaining. However, they are still two games above .500, but the matchup against the Flames, who are also struggling, should be considered a must-win. Here are the things the Oilers need to focus on ahead of their next game.

Special Teams Without Nugent-Hopkins & Hyman

Nobody expected the Oilers’ power play to keep pace with their over 50 percent success rate at the beginning of the season, but no one expected it to drop this much either. A lot of this has to do with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Hyman missing time due to injuries and COVID protocol. The Oilers have scored just two goals or fewer in a game in 10 of the last 15, with both wins having come from their only five-goal outings.

Despite the players who have done well trying to fill in, the team is missing one of their top three power-play contributors on the left side in Nugent-Hopkins, who provides seamless zone entries and an underrated wrist shot on his off-side. Hyman’s presence has been missed in front of the net; he’s tenacious and can use his body to screen and hammer in rebounds efficiently.

Both players also kill penalties together and can produce offence while shorthanded and kill time in the offensive zone. The penalty kill has suffered immensely since Dec. 3, ranked last in the NHL. If the Oilers can get their special teams to operate at a combined 105 percent or higher, it puts them in a position to win every night. It would also place them in the top half of the league in power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage and wouldn’t allow them to lose games solely based on special teams.

Against the Panthers, the Oilers ran into a hot goaltender, but their power play failed to produce on three opportunities, and they allowed three power-play goals on five opportunities. Not only do the Oilers need to be better shorthanded, but they also have to be more disciplined.

New Look in Net

Mikko Koskinen‘s time with the Oilers is up, whether management somehow moves him before the deadline or sends him to the minors. While pucks are just not finding the back of the net for the Oilers, he continues to allow weak goals that kill any momentum his team might have going. As a result, they are constantly losing any goalie battle.

Mikael Backlund, Mikko Koskinen
Calgary Flames’ Mikael Backlund scores on Edmonton Oilers Mikko Koskinen.

With Mike Smith injured again and Stuart Skinner unavailable due to COVID, the crease should go to 23-year-old Ilya Konovalov for his first NHL start. He can’t be much worse, and it’s worth seeing if he can handle the pressure. Maybe they’ll get lucky and he stands on his head in his debut.

Related: Oilers Should Look to Capitals to Address Goaltending Woes

The fans have long since turned on Koskinen, and recently head coach Dave Tippett seemed to do the same (from ‘OILERS NOTES: Koskinen and Tippett both have valid points’, Edmonton Sun, Jan. 5, 2022). It’s not all Koskinen’s fault that the Oilers are losing games, but many times, he has let in a weak first goal and other weak ones that follow. He hasn’t been able to win a must-win game since Dec. 1, and the Oilers need two points on Saturday.

Don’t Change the Game Plan/Convert Scoring Chances

Hyman won’t be available for the Oilers’ game against the Flames, so the lines should be the same as the Panthers game. Despite the 6-0 loss, the Oilers had 40 shots on net and some high-danger chances that missed or were deflected wide. The energy they came out with in the first was great and really put the Panthers on their heels. One or two bounces and the game could have gone a different way.

The Oilers held the Panthers off the scoresheet for over 25 minutes. Barring the late third-period collapse while they were shorthanded, Edmonton competed for most of it. The losses have been a combination of the Oilers seemingly running into a hot goaltender every night and the inability to put pucks in the back of the net. If they had played almost any team and goaltender other than the Panthers and Bobrovsky, the result wouldn’t have been a 40-save shutout.

With how the Flames have been allowing goals at an alarming rate compared to how they started the season, the Oilers have a chance to come out with the same game plan they had against the Panthers vs. the Flames This includes hard pressure and getting shots on a vulnerable team who’s also struggled almost just as much.

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