What’s Wrong With The Edmonton Oilers? Absolutely Everything.

What’s Wrong With The Edmonton Oilers? Absolutely Everything.

You could feel the tense frustration at Rogers Place in Edmonton last Saturday night following another brutal Oilers’ loss, 6-4 at the hands of the 30th place Ottawa Senators.

Captain Connor McDavid was a man of very few words in his postgame media scrum. A man that seemed very worn out. A man that was broken.

His response when asked what happened to his team in that game: “I’m not sure what to tell you. We had a 3-1 lead and gave it away.”

His response when asked what fell out of the Oilers’ game when they had that two goal lead: “I wish I had an answer for you.”

And his response when asked if this loss was one of the more frustrating losses he’s experienced in his career: “Yeah. It’s definitely up there.”

The grim, straight-faced expression of McDavid throughout the interview, coupled with his monotonous voice, was enough to send Oilers fans everywhere into full panic mode. What if the Oilers can’t figure out their game and miss the playoffs, wasting yet another year of their superstar captain’s generational talent? What if McDavid says enough is enough, and requests a trade out of town?

Sure, McDavid has said multiple times he wants to win in this city. He and his girlfriend just built a brand new, multi-million dollar home in suburban Edmonton, suggesting he’s in it for the long haul. But one can only take so much losing.

The Oilers’ second superstar forward, Leon Draisaitl, has been in town longer than McDavid has, and has been through more losing in Edmonton than his captain. Is his frustration level reaching its peak as well?

You could ask Jim Matheson about that, an Oilers’ media reporter who went viral in the hockey world this week after his awkward, heated exchange with Draisaitl during his media presser after Tuesday’s practice.

Draisaitl was very blunt and vague answering Matheson’s questions, which led the Hall-of-Fame reporter to ask #29 why he was “so pissy”.

Well, there’s a lot to be “pissy” about in Edmonton, even more so now following the team’s 6-0 blowout home loss at the hands of the NHL’s second-best team, Florida Panthers, on Thursday night. The loss extended the Oilers’ losing streak to seven, a new season high, and was the second time in a 2-month span that the team has lost six or more games in a row. The Oilers have also given up the first goal in 23 of their past 27 games.

With Thursday night’s loss, the Oilers sit at 18-16-2, an absolutely dreadful record when you consider the 9-1 and 16-5 starts this Oilers team raced out to this season. Since a dominant 5-2 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on December 1, the Oilers have gone 2-11-2. This is the worst stretch over the last 15 games of any other team in the NHL (the last place Montreal Canadiens have gone 2-9-4 over their last 15 games). Over those 15 games, they have scored 2 goals or less 10 times.

If the 6-0 loss wasn’t frustrating enough, consider the fact that the Oilers got out-goalied once again, as they outshot the Panthers 40-28. Panthers’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made a 40-save shutout, while the Oilers’ Mikko Koskinen let in 6 goals on 28 shots.

What’s even more incredible about the Oilers’ free fall is the fact that both of their wins over this course came with head coach Dave Tippett sidelined with COVID-19. Tippett has failed to win a hockey game in his last 13 games behind the bench.

So what needs to change for this franchise? Something needs to happen very soon because missing the playoffs is not an option. Time is running out for a franchise that has failed to do anything relevant since losing in Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. The players and the fan base are getting very frustrated and impatient.

Goaltending

This is far and away the number one thing the Oilers need to improve at this season. General Manager Ken Holland screwed up big time this offseason by electing to stick with aging Mike Smith and inconsistent Mikko Koskinen in between the pipes over the plethora of elite free agent goaltenders that were on the market. Holland needs to redeem himself by going out and getting a proven NHL starter before the trade deadline in order to at least attempt to salvage what’s left of the season.

Smith can’t seem to stay healthy, and Koskinen has been more bad than good. Koskinen currently has a 3.33 GAA and .895 SV% on the season, nowhere near good enough to be a full time NHL starter. He does boast a winning record of 12-8-1, but hasn’t won a game since December 1 and has gone 0-6-1 since then. What also leaves a sour taste of the mouths of Oilers fans is the $4.5-million gift that ex-GM Peter Chiarelli gave Koskinen before being fired in early 2019. Koskinen’s contract expires this offseason, and I can definitely see Edmonton not resigning the disgruntled goaltender.

Despite only playing 6 games due to injury, Mike Smith’s numbers aren’t any better, as he currently holds a 2-2-1 record with a 3.76 GAA and .898 SV%. On top of this, the man turns 40 in March and does not have a whole lot of gas left in the tank. Smith will also become a free agent at the end of the season.

Right now, the best goalie on the stat sheet for this team is hometown boy Stuart Skinner. He holds a 4-6 record this season with a 2.93 GAA and .907 SV%. Better numbers than the other two, but still not anything that jumps off the page. Plus, with only 12 career NHL starts under his belt, Skinner still has a lot of growing to do and experience to gain.

Over the last 15 games, all three Oilers goaltenders together have recorded a .865 SV%. This is 32nd in the league over that span.

If no goaltender is acquired before the trade deadline, it’s going to be a very long rest of the season for the Oilers. And the city of Edmonton may just burn to the ground by impatient, irate fans.

Mark Desrosiers / USA Today Sports

Defence

Of course, we can’t blame the bad goaltending all on the goalies, as the defensive corps in Edmonton hasn’t exactly given their netminders an easy workload.

The defence in Edmonton, despite Holland’s offseason acquisitions in Cody Ceci and Duncan Keith, has been struggling big time. You can definitely notice the absence of top blueliner Adam Larsson, who was picked up by the Seattle Kraken in the Expansion Draft in June.

The Oilers currently rank 21st league-wide in 5×5 GA per 60 minutes, with 2.6. They also rank 23rd in all-strengths GA per 60 minutes. Simply put, those numbers from your defensemen are not going to win you a Stanley Cup.

Since December 3, the beginning of this incredible collapse, the team has given up 4.13 goals against, last in the league over that span by a mile. They have a -27 goal differential, also last in the league, and have been a measly 63% on the penalty kill, also last. There’s not a whole lot of good that the Oilers have done when it comes to the defensive aspect of the game.

Allan Mitchell / The Athletic

Forward Depth

Draisaitl and McDavid have 54 and 53 points, respectively, and more than double that of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who sits third on the team with 26 points. The remaining members of the top two lines, Jesse Puljujarvi (25), Zach Hyman (21), and Kailer Yamamoto (13) are next in scoring for forwards.

The entire third and fourth lines have been basically non-existent over the course of this slide. Depth players that were brought in this offseason that were pretty hyped up in Oil Country, such as Derek Ryan, Brendan Perlini, and Colton Sceviour have a whopping 11 points this season between the three of them.

Good teams have depth scoring and don’t just rely on the superstar players or top two lines to put the puck in the net. Ken Holland needs to address this depth sooner rather than later. The Oilers need that permanent 3C that can put up 40-50 points over an 82 game season. You won’t find that kind of production from 35-year-old Derek Ryan, who was brought in to be that permanent 3C.

This team needs to take the stress off of especially McDavid and Draisaitl and get scoring from further down the lineup if they are going to get out of this slump. Opposing teams come in to every game with a plan: shut down #97 and #29, don’t take penalties, put a lot of shots on net, and you’ll win the game.

One of the only positives over the course of this skid is that the Oilers have somehow maintained their spot atop the league’s power play units. The Oilers have converted on 29.5% of their power plays, tied for first in the league with the Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues.

Andy Devlin / The Hockey Writers

So what’s next for this team?

Well, that’s a good question that depends solely on how management addresses the issues listed above.

One thing is for sure, though, this team right now is broken beyond repair, and it’s up to the leaders of the team to rip the Band-Aid off and get the Oilers back on the right tracks.

With upcoming games against Calgary, Vancouver, and Nashville, all of whom are playing great hockey, this team needs fixed right now. There is no more time to waste.

If nothing is done, all hell will break loose.

Featured photo courtesy of John E. Sokolowski / USA Today Sports

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