Despite heading into the Christmas break with a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets and having put together a 7-3 record over their previous ten outings, the Edmonton Oilers had not been playing fundamentally sound hockey for some time. While the occasional timely goal from their talented forward group and fantastic netminding from the tandem of Anders Nilsson and Cam Talbot helped mask many of this group’s shortcomings, everyone knew Todd McLellan’s crew was going to have to improve their overall game and do so in a rather timely manner.
Thanks for ruining Christmas Oilers!
— Jeanshorts (@JSBMjeanshorts) December 28, 2015
With a pair of divisional matchups against a struggling Vancouver Canucks squad and a surging Calgary Flames side on the docket upon their return to action, the Oilers had an opportunity to right the ship over the course of the last two days. Unfortunately for them, it was more of the same over the past weekend and after starting the month on a six-game winning streak, Edmonton has now gone 1- 4-1 in their six. Can you say ugly?
While Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Canucks was likely rather tough to stomach for McLellan and his coaching staff, the fact they managed to take away a point in their first game back after the aforementioned Christmas break still left them the opportunity to bank three crucial points in the Pacific Division playoff race. And after the first 30 minutes of last night’s tilt with the Flames, it appeared as though that is exactly where this team was headed but looks can sometimes be rather deceiving.
Second Period Collapse Proves Costly
In a second period which saw Edmonton be outshot 20-12 and cough up a two-goal cushion in the span of just over six and a half minutes, the Oilers went from possibly being in the driver’s seat heading into a new calendar year to now being in danger of watching things spiral completely out of control. With a backend that continues to miss two of its three top blueliners in Oscar Klefbom and the surprising Brandon Davidson and a power play which inexplicably seems incapable of scoring when it matters most, this has potential disaster written all over it.
[Related Article: The Streaking Edmonton Oilers]
While players like defenceman Justin Schultz continue to log major minutes while making one catastrophic blunder after another, the fact his head coach has quite literally no option but to keep throwing him over the boards is a scary thought. If anyone truly believes that seeing less of Schultz in favour of more of Eric Gryba or Nikita Nikitin is a good thing, I am not sure what to tell you. As of this moment, McLellan’s hands are essentially tied when it comes to his blue line and playing a team like the Flames makes it all the more obvious.
There is no question that much of Calgary’s recent success can be attributed to the play of a guy like Johnny Gaudreau but let’s be perfectly honest here. As productive as the diminutive winger has been over the month of December, it has been the improved play of guys like Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton that has allowed Bob Hartley’s team turn their season around. The Flames defence has not only started to show signs of improvement in their own end of the rink but also started to contribute on a consistent basis on the scoresheet.
Oilers Are Currently A One-Trick Pony
Whereas Edmonton simply goes as far as their top line of Taylor Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Teddy Purcell carry them. Unless of course their goaltender steals them a game. Talbot did exactly that against the Jets on December 21 and played a rather large part in helping the Oilers grab a point from the Canucks on Boxing Day. Unfortunately, Nilsson continued his recent stretch of poor play against the Flames and this team is simply ill-equipped to overcome iffy netminding…even on a night in which the underperforming trio of Benoit Pouliot, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle accounted for two of the team’s three goals.
[Related Article: Time for Talbot to Take the Reins]
As far as wasted opportunities go, this past weekend could very well end up at the top of the list when it comes to the Edmonton Oilers 2015-16 season. While earning a post-season berth was by no means a guarantee or even a realistic target for this group heading into the year, the chances of them accomplishing it are very real. Which makes these last two losses all the more difficult to accept.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.