Oilers Need a Strong December to Get Back Into Playoff Picture

It’s been an underwhelming 2022-23 NHL season for the Edmonton Oilers so far. The team has hovered around the .500 mark all season, winning one here and then losing the next one and repeating the trend. That’s not good enough for a team that finished in the final four of the NHL playoffs last season. So, what are the issues? How come the Oilers sit outside the playoff picture at US Thanksgiving? The schedule could be to blame as 14 out of their first 20 games were played against playoff teams from last season, but that’s no excuse.

Darnell Nurse Edmonton Oilers
Darnell Nurse, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Looking ahead to December, six out of the 15 games they have upcoming in the month will be against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season. However, teams such as the Seattle Kraken who the Oilers play on Dec. 30, and the Winnipeg Jets who they play the next night on New Years Eve are both comfortably ahead of the Oilers this season. Realistically, the way the Oilers have been playing in the first quarter of the 2022-23 season, every game is a challenge. The team needs to be playing better and it starts in their own end.

Oilers Too Easy to Play Against. Again.

It’s a story too often told in Oil Country. The Oilers are soft; they’re easy to play against. They fold like a cheap tent in a rain storm when the pressure gets too intense. The team currently sits 29th in goals against per game (3.60), 28th in shots allowed per game (34.2) and 29th in penalty killing (72.2 percent). Not even close to being good enough.

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Darnell Nurse, the $9.25 million a year rear guard, is diving around like a young Greg Louganis, often out of position and looking lost at times. He wears the “A” on his jersey, and he has to show more leadership by playing more disciplined. The same could be said for Evan Bouchard, who many were predicting would take a big step forward this season.

More often than not, he’s not taking the man and swiping at the puck and getting beat. The heavy shot he possesses doesn’t seem to be getting on net as much this season as well. Is Bouchard snake bit? Maybe. The kid needs to turn it around, and December is no better time. Nurse and Bouchard can be singled out for needing to ratchet up their games, but overall the Oilers’ entire defensive core needs to get better before the team falls too far behind in the Western Conference.

Goaltending Still an Issue

Goaltending has been a hot topic in Oil Country for years. When the Oilers signed Jack Campbell this past offseason, many believed they finally had their guy. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case so far. With Campbell possessing an .877 save percentage, he currently sits in 70th place among all 74 active NHL goaltenders this season. Much has been written and spoken about the $5 million a year goaltender so far and most of it hasn’t been positive. He’s one player on the team that needs to have a better December. If he continues his inconsistent play from the first two months of the season the Oilers are in trouble.

Fans who were calling for former Oilers goaltender Mike Smith to retire last season are all of a sudden flooding sports radio talk shows with texts and calls reminiscing about how great Smith was. If Campbell can improve his play, the talk about Smith will fade away, as it should. One of the only bright spots on the Oilers this season has been the play of Stuart Skinner. He’s stepped up and played big in many games, taking over the number one spot from Campbell. If Skinner can continue his strong play, and Campbell can improve his numbers in December, the Oilers should be ok.

More Oilers Forwards Need to Step It up in December

December is a month of giving, and a group of certain Oilers forwards need to start giving more to the team. The loss of top-six forward Evander Kane to injury really hurt. But injuries are a part of the game, and the Oilers can’t use Kane’s absence as an excuse. With Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and Zach Hyman carrying the team, forwards such as Jesse Puljujärvi, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan McLeod and Derek Ryan need to be contributing more, even if its in a limited role. Rookie Dylan Holloway clearly needs to be sent down to the Oilers’ AHL affiliate in Bakersfield for more ice time and to rebuild his confidence. The kid can skate like the wind, but he hasn’t put it together in the NHL yet. More time down on the farm could be just what the doctor ordered for Holloway.

Dylan Holloway Edmonton Oilers
Dylan Holloway, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

Something’s clearly not working for the Oilers so far this season. The talent is there, they just don’t seem to be playing like a team but rather a bunch of individuals punching the clock. Excuses are running thin in a hockey market hungry to build on the success of last season’s playoff run. This team has the talent and experience to be playing better and the month of December is a perfect time to show it. If the team can put together a winning streak, a lot of Oilers fans would definitely be more merry during the upcoming holiday season.

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