Oilers Look to Use Time Off to Reset & Get Healthy

The way this recent stretch has been going for the Edmonton Oilers, some extended time to practice and get their team healthy could be the best thing for them right now. They’ve had a busy past week and a bad road trip, going 0-3-2 since the pause after losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

There is lots of frustration in the players and the entire organization after the losses have really piled up. Head coach Dave Tippett called out Mikko Koskinen for his poor performance against the New York Rangers, and in turn, Koskinen commented on the lack of scoring in his recent losses.

Related: Oilers’ Internal Options to Replace Dave Tippett

After going 16-5 to start the season, the team has lost 11 of their last 13 games, getting six points and falling to a second wildcard spot with more games played than the teams on their tail. There are still 48 games remaining, which is more than half the season. We’ve already witnessed teams’ fortunes change in a blink of an eye this season as well as what the Oilers can be while healthy and with bounces going their way.

Some things do need to be addressed, but maybe a chunk of time to grow as a team and get their heads right will help them in the long run without having to make an immediate change in personnel or coaching. Over the next couple of weeks, the frustration won’t build up more since they don’t have the opportunity to lose games, but the anticipation and drive to get back in the win column will.

Oilers Will Have Time to Heal

The Oilers were missing multiple players from their lineup in the game against the Maple Leafs, three of which were on COVID-protocol. Connor McDavid, Tyson Barrie, and Derek Ryan were all placed there before the game.

Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Since they only have to be out five days if they show no symptoms, they should all be back in the lineup by the time the Oilers play their one game between now and Jan. 18 on Jan. 10, just enough time for these players to return. If for some reason they can’t, it will just be one game against a 30th-ranked Ottawa Senators team.

These losses affected the power play in the one opportunity they got since McDavid and Barrie are key pieces to the top ranked squad in the NHL. Any game without McDavid will result in uneven line matchups and creates a big disadvantage for the Oilers without the best player in the world and one of the guys who the offence runs through.

There are three other players on the injured reserve, one of them being Kris Russell who is actually on the long-term injured reserve. The others are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Markus Niemelainen. Russell definitely won’t be healed up in time, but it gives the Oilers extra time either way to not play so many games shorthanded.

With the return of Barrie and/or Niemelainen, William Lagesson will be forced out of the lineup and be demoted. He has not shown he’s an NHL-caliber player, especially for an Oilers’ team that is desperately needing defencemen who can play solid defensively. He hasn’t played much, so having him in the lineup really doesn’t take much of the load off of the other defenders. This team needs six contributing bodies, but that also falls on the coaching to utilize them in that way.

Nugent-Hopkins’ presence in the top-6 and on the penalty kill and power play has been missed, and the Oilers will have to do without him for a bit longer. We could see him back in the lineup around the end of January, barring any setbacks.

In the meantime, the Oilers have lots of time to get their affairs in order and come out strong for the last half of the season. This includes building confidence in themselves and getting back to full health so that chemistry and lines can properly work out the kinks.

Oilers Can Work On Chemistry & System

Since the 5-on-5 play of the Oilers has been lacking all season long, that will have to be a big point that they focus on. At both ends of the ice, that will help immensely to prevent goals and possibly get the first goal of the game. Anyone who follows the Oilers has heard throughout the season that they have scored the first goal of the game the least amount of times. They can’t play their game and focus when the issue at the front of their minds is to score goals and catch up from behind.

Playing from behind has occurred too much, allowing the first goal of the game in 21 of their past 25 games. The Oilers are also 10-0-0 when scoring first. When chasing the game early, momentum shifts to the other team and you have to take more chances as a team to produce offence. It just so happens that neither offence or good defensive play has been a trend over this tough stretch.

The Oilers had good energy coming out of the gate on Wednesday vs. the Maple Leafs. This has to continue to happen and not allow the first goal of the game against take the wind out of their sails. It’s a long game, and if they stick to their system, goals will come. Every player doesn’t have to take risks offensively and leave the defensive end open to a counter attack.

Mike Smith Edmonton Oilers
Mike Smith, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There have been callouts, but it’s a team game and everybody’s responsibility for team success. This is the time to heal and not turn on each other. With all the players in and out of the lineup through this tough stretch, lines have been juggled and nobody has really been able to stick with each other, forwards or defence.

This will also be a time to evaluate the lines and who has shown the best chemistry together so far. Ken Holland had mentioned that, “The answer has to be in your dressing room. I can go out and get a player… but the solution has to be in your locker room.” This has to do with the Oilers’ bottom-6, also speaking on the injuries that haven’t helped. This statement can also be attributed to the top-6, as scoring in general has dried up, not helping the goaltenders even if they have better games.

There are a couple pairings that I think Dave Tippett should keep together since they have had good showings, and mix and match from there. He can’t be switching lines every game, though — players should be given two or three games to show what they can do together on a line before moving pieces around. Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto have shown that they should continue to play together, as well as I’d like to see what Ryan McLeod and Tyler Benson can do with more time together.

As the losses have continued to pile up and the Oilers are without key players, a rest can’t make matters any worse. The team showed just how dominant they can be when they have confidence, and they just have to get back to that mentality.

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