If there was ever an example of how important depth scoring is to the Edmonton Oilers and the degree to which it has been lacking in the first quarter of the 2022-23 NHL season, it was made grossly apparent in their 4-3 comeback win against the New York Rangers on Saturday (Nov. 26). Entering the third period down 3-0, they stunned the Rangers with four unanswered goals as the Oilers won in regulation after trailing by three goals during the third period for the first time since Jan. 25, 1990.
What made this once-in-a-generation occurrence even more improbable was who sparked the rally: defenseman Evan Bouchard had the Oilers’ first two goals, and Dylan Holloway tied it up. Neither had scored in their first 20 games of the season. Rookie Holloway, in fact, was without a regular season goal in his young NHL career until Saturday.
With the teams even at three and just over two minutes remaining in the third period, Leon Draisaitl tallied on the power play, with assists from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid. But that trio of forwards getting on the scoresheet was nothing new, which is exactly the point.
Oilers Relying Heavily on Stars
The Oilers had come into Saturday’s game as losers of three of their previous four games. In the one win, a 4-3 overtime victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov. 19, Draisaitl and McDavid each scored and recorded an assist, while Nugent-Hopkins had three assists. In the three losses, they had scored just three goals total: one each from Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and fellow top-six forward Zach Hyman.
That’s been the story of the season. When the superstar pair of Draisaitl (12 goals through the Oilers’ first 21 games) and McDavid (16) are having their big nights, they are winning. When the Art Ross and Hart Trophy winners are held in check, the Oilers are most likely taking an L.
Latest News & Highlights
Hyman and Nugent-Hopkins (nine goals each) have certainly done their part, and Evander Kane was on pace for close to 30 goals this season before being sidelined after his wrist was cut during a Nov. 8 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but beyond that, the Oilers have been starved for depth scoring as no other player on the team has more than three goals.
This has left the offensive output almost solely up to Edmonton’s superstars, more than can be reasonably expected of even players as sublime as Draisaitl and McDavid. The Oilers are a house of cards, so precariously constructed that just the absence of Kane (who will be out until February or March) could cause a collapse.
Oilers are Missing Kane
Prior to Saturday’s win, the Oilers were 2-4 without Kane, scoring just 12 goals in regulation time over those six contests, an average of two per game. In the 14 games Kane has played, Edmonton has scored 53 goals, all in regulation time, for an average of 3.79.
The Oilers have now played 21 games, winning 11 and dropping 10. In the victories, Draisaitl has eight goals and 15 assists, while McDavid has 12 goals and 14 assists, for a combined average of 4.45 points per game. In defeat, Draisaitl has four goals and five assists, while McDavid has four goals and six assists, for a combined average of 1.90 points per game. That differential is as staggering as it is unsurprising.
Consider now that the Oilers still haven’t won a game without at least one of Draisaitl, McDavid, or Nugent-Hopkins scoring. In nine of their 11 victories, at least two from the quartet of Draisaitl, Hyman, McDavid, and Nugent-Hopkins have scored.
The Oilers have allowed at least three goals in 16 of their 21 outings and following NHL action on Sunday (Nov. 27) ranks 27th of 32 teams with a goals-against average of 3.57. They simply aren’t getting the goaltending that allows them to consistently win games when they score only two or three goals, and they may not get it, at least not this season. With only 22 starts in his NHL career, 24-year-old Stuart Skinner is still developing, and veteran Jack Campbell has been well below average for a year now, posting a 3.44 goals against average and .890 save percentage dating back to Dec. 1, 2021.
Where Can the Oilers Find Help?
The Oilers need depth scoring, and given their well-documented cap crunch, it’s going to be tough to address matters via trade(s). The good news is, they may have the answers in-house.
Over the previous two regular seasons, Jesse Puljujarvi scored at a rate of virtually once every four games (29 goals in 120 appearances); he has tallied once in 21 games this season. Kailer Yamamoto was a 20-goal scorer in 2021-22; this season he’s been limited by injury to 13 games and has yet to light the lamp. Bouchard racked up 12 goals last season, a fantastic total for a blueliner in his first full NHL campaign, but the 23-year-old was seemingly regressing until his two-goal outburst on Saturday. Holloway’s spectacular pre-season had some predicting the 21-year-old could score 15, perhaps even 20 goals in his first NHL season, but he’s not come close to realizing that potential yet.
The Oilers would be getting a huge boost if at least a couple of the aforementioned players got on track, and three goals combined from Bouchard and Holloway on Saturday is certainly a start. It would be a bit much to say their contributions in the Big Apple saved Edmonton’s season, but the difference between coming home from a three-game road trip with a record below .500 and on a three-game losing skid, versus returning to Rogers Place for Monday (Nov. 28) night’s game against the Florida Panthers above .500 and tied for the Western Conference’s last playoff spot is a gulf.
The Oilers are going to need a lot more of the depth scoring they got on Saturday if they’re going to make the playoffs in 2022-23, let alone get back to the Western Conference Final and contend for the Stanley Cup.
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.