Momentum Woes: Oilers Struggle to Win When Trailing

Some consider this the most wonderful time of year: children hum happily as they compose letters to Santa, Christmas decorations blanket homes and malls, and holiday tunes play as a background lullaby while stars dot the sky. But every holiday season needs a Grinch, someone who steals joy from the most wonderful time of year. Thankfully, the Edmonton Oilers have decided to fill that role again—for the umpteenth season in a row. How kind of them!

The Oilers may be atop the Pacific Division but they are tied with the Arizona Coyotes and the Calgary Flames—who some might call Santa after gifting their fans with a six-game win streak—are two points back.

The Oilers have a plethora of things going right, but they are starting to unveil their faults, shining as bright as Christmas lights—not pretty lights, the kind with dozens of burnt-out bulbs. What’s one of the Oilers’ most noticeable faults? Their inability to bounce back when the opposition scores first.

Unfortunately, the Oilers rely too much on momentum to win; without a strong start, they lose. That’s been one of the major differences between their red-hot first 10 games and their worrying play in the last 10.

Oilers Can’t Bounce Back When Allowing First Goal

When you compare the top teams in the league—yes, including the Oilers—Edmonton has one of the worst records when it comes to bouncing back after the opposition scores first. When the opposition scores first they have a 4-8-3 record. When the Oilers score first: 14-3-1.

Connor McDavid, Jacob de la Rose, Filip Hronek
Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan)

Without momentum, they falter, fail, and can’t win games. The last-place Detroit Red Wings have found a way to come back four times after the opposition notched the first tally (4-15-3) and the 30th seed, New Jersey Devils, have a similar record (4-12-0). Yikes. It’s never fun comparing a potential playoff squad with last-place teams, but it’s reassuring to see that both the Devils and Red Wings let the opposition score first a lot more than the Oilers do.

Meanwhile, top-seeded teams like the Washington Capitals have a 9-4-2 record when the opposition scores first; the Boston Bruins boast a 7-2-3 record; the New York Islanders—who have excelled this season—have bounced back nine times (9-5-1 record).

To make matters worse, if the Oilers go into the third period trailing by one or two goals, they can’t shift the momentum to win and rely too much on McDavid (as much as I hate to admit it).

Oilers Can’t Come Back When Trailing in Third Period

The start of the 2019-20 season felt different. We had practical hope, for once; the playoffs felt like a reality. It’s safe to say that October was the most wonderful time of year, but since the Oilers prefer to act the Grinch during the holiday season, their faults have wreaked havoc on Cindy Lou Who and the rest of Whoville (Edmonton).

Take a look at the Oilers’ record going into the third period during the first 10 games of the 2019-20 season: 3-0-0 when ahead, 4-0-1 when tied, and 0-2-0 when trailing. They may have only been behind twice during their first 10 games, but the stats foreshadow their inability to come back when momentum doesn’t go their way.

In the first 10 games of the season, the Oilers scored 12 goals in the third period. Meanwhile, in their last 10 games, they’ve scraped by with just five.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Ross D. Franklin)

The Oilers’ record going into the third period during their last 10 games: 2-0-0 when ahead, 1-1-1 when tied, and 1-4-0 when trailing. If they want to win and continue to compete for a playoff spot, they need to get over their momentum-mood swings and play a full 60 minutes.

Comparing the Oilers’ Third Period Woes to Other Teams

Anyone else want to yell “get’cha head in the game” before the Oilers start the third period? Maybe you’re one to shout less innocent profanities at your television screen, considering they hold a meek 2-10-1 record when trailing after two periods.

Related: Edmonton Oilers: 3 Keys to Making the Playoffs

Meanwhile, top-of-the-league teams like the Bruins have a 4-5-3 record when trailing after two and the Capitals a 4-4-1 record. Even the Flames have a slightly better win record with 4-11-2.

It’s impossible to win every game, but the Oilers can’t let trailing by one or two goals ruin their ability to compete. The first 10 games showed their capabilities; it’s time to tap into that consistency again!  

Edmonton Oilers celebrate
Edmonton Oilers celebrate (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

Let’s hope the Oilers’ heart grows three sizes, and they gift us with third-period goals and the ability to swing back after losing momentum. Oh, and a top-six forward would be nice. Just like Whoville, we will continue singing (okay, swearing) tunes (okay, harsh words) of hope.