It’s funny how the things that aren’t noticed when a team is on a roll suddenly leap off the page after one bad night. Like how Leon Draisaitl, reigning Art Ross Trophy, Hart Trophy. and Ted Lindsay Award winner, doesn’t quite seem to be that right now. He seems more like a mere mortal.
The Edmonton Oilers could have used a goal – or four – from their superstar centre on Saturday night. Edmonton was soundly beaten 4-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opener of a much-hyped three-game series at Rogers Place that sees the hottest club in the National Hockey League hosting the team at the top of the overall standings.
Draisaitl has now failed to score in eight of the last nine games, an uncharacteristic slump that perhaps flew under the radar with Edmonton having won five games in a row and 11 of their last 13 before Saturday’s primetime tilt on Hockey Night in Canada.
Draisaitl played just 17:09, his second-lowest ice time this season, and nearly 4:45 less than his average coming into the game, which ended with Edmonton being blanked for the first time in a calendar year.
Is the 25-year-old just having a run of bad luck? Gripping the Warrior a bit too tight? Or is there something more to it?
There have been signs of late that not all is 100% right with Draisaitl, who has missed some practices recently.
This was pointed out during Saturday’s post-game media availability when Oilers coach Dave Tippett was asked if there is “something he’s (Draisaitl) going to have to deal with the rest of the year, or is it just a nagging thing that will just go away with time?”
Tippett’s response, “No, I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to keep him out of any games,” was notable in that, while it didn’t betray any concern about the condition of Draisiatl, it also didn’t deny that there might be something hampering his All-Star centreman.
Two Goals in Last Nine Games
After scoring in Edmonton’s 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 8, Draisaitl had eight goals through 14 games (a rate of 47/82 games), right on pace with his last two seasons, in which he blitzed NHL goaltenders for 93 goals in 153 games (50 per 82). Since then, he has just two goals, both coming in a 3-2 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 17.
But while Draisaitl is mired in his biggest scoring funk since going eight consecutive games without a goal in December 2017, his teammates have stepped up. Over their 11-2 run, the Oilers had 53 goals, an average of more than four per game.
To that end, Draisaitl has been contributing offensively. Before the loss to Toronto on Saturday, the German dynamo had six assists in his previous three games and eight over the prior five. He still has more points (34) and assists (24) than any in the league not named Connor McDavid, and boasts the league’s third best plus/minus rating (15).
His effort, like his ability, isn’t in question.
His health, on the other hand, does have some starting to wonder, where there’s smoke, is there fire?
It’s something to keep an eye on as the Oilers regroup to host the Maple Leafs again on Monday and Wednesday night. After Saturday’s result, Toronto is now six points ahead of Edmonton for first place in the North Division, and the Leafs have a game in hand. With the shortened 2020-21 schedule nearly half complete, the Oilers need at least a split of these next two games if they want to entertain thoughts of finishing the season atop the Scotia North Division standings.
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.