Edmonton Oilers Not Playing Up to Potential…Yet

After the first five games of the 2021-22 NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers are off to a below-average start. Going into the final week of October, they are 2-3 and currently sit in 5th place in the Pacific Division. In previous seasons, a 2-3 record wouldn’t be considered too bad, but not anymore.

Jay Woodcroft Edmonton Oilers
Jay Woodcroft, Edmonton Oilers head coach (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

It seems like the sample of playoff success the Oilers tasted last spring has everyone focusing too far ahead. It’s like fans all wish the playoffs could start tomorrow, so they can relive the ride the Oilers took them on. But, that was yesterday. It’s time for the Oilers to get focused on playing better, especially defensively.

Defensive Lapses Hurting the Oilers

It’s a bit unfair in a way to ask a hockey team to crank up the intensity and emotion of the playoffs for 82 games. But the Oilers are getting themselves in a position where if they don’t crank up the energy and commitment to team defence, they’re going to find themselves playing catch-up in the Pacific Division and Western Conference by American Thanksgiving. The American holiday is traditionally the point in the season where teams who are in a playoff position have a better chance of making the postseason once mid-April comes around.

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Right now, the Oilers are on the outside looking in. And, yes it’s early. However, bad habits developed early in the season can compound and create issues later on. It’s time the Oilers tightened up defensively, not only all defensemen on the team, but also forwards coming back and helping out in their own zone. People can name names, but overall the entire team needs to get better defensively.

Oilers’ Goaltending Has Room For Improvement

The new Oilers’ goaltending tandem of Jack Campbell and Stuart Skinner has shown glimpses of greatness. In fact, in all but one game they have held the Oilers in the game as the team has fallen behind. This pattern of giving up the first goal was prevalent last season, and the bad habits of the 2021-22 NHL season are seeping into 2022-23.

Jack Campbell Edmonton Oilers
Jack Campbell, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With the Oilers playing their first six games at home, there’s extra pressure for the new goaltending tandem to perform in front of the home faithful. It might help the goaltenders, and the team to get out on the road for a few games and enjoy some team bonding.

It’s Not Time to Push the Panic Button…Yet

If the Oilers continue with their slow starts and play catch-up hockey by letting the opposing team score the first goal, it’s going to wear on the team. Remember, because of the salary cap the team is already handcuffed roster-wise and can ill afford for superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to be double-shifted for long stretches of the season. Even though they and the rest of the team are in top condition, you can’t have your top players burning out once spring comes.

Leon Draisaitl Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Management might have to make a trade happen that opens up salary cap space but doesn’t hurt the chemistry or talent on the team. Even though names like Jesse Puljujärvi and Warren Foegele have been discussed on Twitter and fan forums, Oilers general manager Ken Holland has to be careful in terms of making the right trade. With the team so close up against the cap, he and his team of assistant general managers Brad Holland and Keith Gretzky along with Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft may have to make an unpopular decision sooner rather than later to help the fortunes of the team further into the season.

What Do the Oilers Really Need at This Point in the Season?

There will be a million words written and spoken about what the Oilers need at this point in the season. Right now, on paper, they are a team that looks poised to make some noise once the postseason begins. However, they have to be careful on their journey to making the playoffs. What looks like a sure thing, can often turn out to be a mirage. If you’re an Oilers fan, you have to hope they’re not only ready to make some moves to climb the Pacific Division and Western Conference standings, but also be in a position to live up to their potential as possible Stanley Cup contenders once the postseason arrives. That means they have to get focused on the here and now, and not look too far ahead. Essentially, they have to take it one game at a time and play up to their potential, as this is the deepest team Oilers fans have seen in close to a decade.

Related: 5 Observations From the Oilers’ First 5 Games

The Oilers can’t count on past playoff success, and they can’t look at press clippings projecting them to be Stanley Cup contenders this season. They have to put the blinders on and play hard one game at a time. If they do, they should be okay because of the depth of talent they possess. But you just never know. Buckle up Oilers fans. There’s a lot of hockey to be played, and so far it looks like the Oilers are in for a very interesting season.

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