The Edmonton Oilers lost another regulation game just before overtime last night, about they only way to screw yourself over in the Bettman League. They are burning daylight and the climb through December is steep. There are roster issues all over hell’s half acre, and the flames are getting higher. You wanted a playoff chase? You got one. This is going to be a strange brew. HDSC: 6-4.
In truth, there is only one real thing to worry about this morning. I will tell you at the very end, just in case you don’t already know.
First, please calm down. You are getting upset over a team that simply doesn’t have the horses. I picked the Edmonton Oilers for 82 points, fifth in the Pacific Division, eleventh in the conference and twenty-third overall. The Oilers, right now, are miles ahead of where I suggested they would be at the end of the season (on pace for 90 points). Why did I pick Edmonton to finish so low? Balance. Have to have it folks. Have to. You know the list. It is a problem, has been since 2006 spring. The last Oilers general manager to ice a balanced roster? Kevin Lowe. Seriously. You could look it up.
One more thing: There is real progress here. The team Corsi for 5×5 percentage is 51.8, No. 10 in the NHL. Edmonton is getting 51.4 percent of the 5×5 goals, and 51.4 percent of the shot shares. Fenwick is 52.30, 5×5 save percentage is .923 (ranks No. 17). Source
The Oilers are going in the right direction, just not fast enough for you. I get it. It has been a long haul. But believe me when I tell you this team was not balanced enough to be a playoff team from the start. The only way to get into the second season is McDavid winning the scoring title and Cam Talbot playing out of his mind. And you know what? That combination has worked pretty damn well to this point in the season.
CALM YOUR TITS, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0, goal differential -7
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-2-0, goal differential +10
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2, goal differential -6
- Oilers in November 2016: 5-8-2 goal differential -3
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-6-1, goal differential -9
- Oilers in December 2016: 2-1-2, goal differential +1
- Oilers after 29, 2015: 12-15-2, goal differential -12
- Oilers after 29, 2016: 14-11-4, goal differential +8
Edmonton won G30 a year ago, 7-5 over the New York Rangers. This was the high life a year ago—in fact, the good run wasn’t over yet, one year ago. This season, the club has flipped the script, but (musical flourish here) there’s still time. All aboard the pain train, we are on to Minnesota. And out of balance.
There is still time. Edmonton has 14 December games, and our line in the sand is 14 points. So far, five games in, the Oilers have six points. There is still time. If Edmonton finishes with 90 points? That would represent a 20-point climb. Folks, you can get as mad as you want, a 20-point increase is a very strong turn north.
If the Edmonton Oilers had all of their cannons pointed in the right direction (hello, France!), their backup goalie would have been a better one last night. This is a fact.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Jonas Gustavsson had a poor game. Edmonton should consider calling up Laurent Brossoit or making a deal before the backup needs to play again. Backup goalie is an important position.
- Sekera—Russell played very well together, by eye and number. In 16:22, they went 15-14, including a dandy 3:31 (5-1) with McDavid and a credible 6:21 with RNH (5-4). In the ditch a little (3-7) in 4:28 with Leon, though. They were 2-6 against Giroux, but 7-5 against Schenn. I liked the pairing, gotta say. Sekera scored a nice goal, they were +1 each and were not close to the reason Edmonton lost the game. Sekera ranks as one of PCs best free-agent signings.
- Simpson—Benning were 7-9 in 7:43. Simpson did some nice things, had some wobble (which should be expected) and went 4-5 against the Schenn line. It was nice to see his parents in the crowd, hope they enjoyed seeing their son. I will cry at whatever my kids invite me to, it has been that way since the Christmas concerts. It’s a thing, I have come to accept it. Simpson was +1 in his debut.
- Benning also went 3-2 with Oscar Klefbom in 1:46.
- Klefbom—Larsson went 12-19 in 14:04 together, including a dastardly 4-9 in 5:31 with Nuge (they were 5-5 with 97). They were 5-10 in 7:03 against Giroux and 2-3 in 2:51 against Schenn. Oscar scored a goal, was minus four and had five blocked shots. He looked like his dog just died on the Raffl goal, and that was not good. Still, the goaler man could have been the hero, but did not defend the play well at all. Larsson had an assist, was minus two and I thought he played well.
- Klefbom is struggling, the way young defensemen have struggled since the dawn of time. He remains a top drawer young blue with all kinds of good things in his arsenal. Bury him at your own peril. What you say about Oscar Klefbom today tells me more about you than it does about Oscar Klefbom. Kicking a young player while he is down is a silly damned thing to do. Same with Nuge, while I am at it.
FORWARDS, LAST NIGHT
- Lucic—McDavid—Caggiula scored 1-3-4 and won the possession and HDSC game. Always interesting to see how a line is attacked, and Hakstol threw a curve—the Bellamare line. Edmonton went 13-8, but Bellamare scored at even strength. The Giroux and Schenn lines were free to roam the earth, and Giroux pummeled 93.
- Maroon—Nuge—Eberle had a weird night. They were -6, but Eberle made some nice moves, got an assist and dished Nuge a couple of nice feeds. Nuge was awful, and I love Nuge. Is he hurt? Giroux was 11-7 against him. Lacking confidence? This is serious stuff, Edmonton cannot trade him for 10 cents on the dollar and their wheels won’t turn without him. Damn that was awful. He cannot win a faceoff, nor a battle, seems winded on breakouts and his passes are erratic at times. Whatever is wrong, Edmonton needs to fix it. Schnell!
- Hendricks—Letestu—Kassian didn’t get a lot done, I like this line with Maroon but they don’t have enough going without him. They were 1-4 against Giroux. Letestu picked up a power-play assist.
- Pouliot—Leon—Puljujarvi had a beyond weird night. Got caved in possession, but their collective boxcars were 2-3-5 and the visual on Leon was impressive. Crazy man crazy. I don’t think this line has a future. Leon was 5-12 against Schenn, 2-5 against Giroux. Nice to see Pouliot score.
- Sources include Hockeystats.ca, NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.
I think Peter Chiarelli made a bet on the day he traded Taylor Hall (June 29, 2016). He had just drafted Jesse Puljujarvi, he had Connor McDavid, and may have felt there was enough (Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Benoit Pouliot, Patrick Maroon) to cover the loss of Taylor Hall by moving in Milan Lucic.
It has not been close, as of now. I will never agree to the idea that the trade was a good one (it was a terrible trade—now and forever), but NHL general managers can lose a battle while winning a war. The bet, as I see it, surrounded key players Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Nuge with Eberle seemed a reasonable bet to me. Put Benoit Pouliot on that line and you should have somewhere near a 2.00/60 5×5 line. Fair? Not close. As of this morning, here are the top nine forward totals in this category:
- C Connor McDavid 3.14
- C Leon Draisaitl 1.91
- R Jesse Puljujarvi 1.77
- R Tyler Pitlick 1.68
- R Jordan Eberle 1.63
- L Patrick Maroon 1.60
- R Anton Slepyshev 1.51
- L Milan Lucic 1.46
- C Ryan Nugent-Hopkins 1.45
Leon Draisaitl is pushing towards 2.00 and has been on a dandy run. The rest of the group, including 97’s linemates, have to improve in this area. This is important stuff. One year ago, four men were over 2.00 (McDavid, Hall, Leon, Pouliot) and Eberle was 1.85. This team needs a consistent scoring line beyond McDavid, and they need it right damned now.
BEING A FAN, ACROSS TIME
Every morning, I get up and take the dog out. The dog, Ziggy, is as much a part of my family as I am—in fact, if the dog runs away tomorrow there would be bedlam and chaos, whereas if I ran away Mrs. Lowetide would know I would be back as soon as I got hungry.
When I get back in the house, I smell coffee brewing (my wife spoils me, brings me coffee nowadays too, because I write this blog 6:30-8:30 every morning) and head down stairs to work. The first thing I do, after turning on the computer, is go to the Connor McDavid page on hockeydb. Why? I check his career GP and points, which this morning stand at 74 and 86, respectively. I would have done this last season, but the Philadelphia Flyers robbed me of that joy. I have been waiting for about 18 months now for the GP number to click over at 82—and only then will I know the real joy of the cumulative second number. It is the same feeling I had as a child, staring at my Bobby Orr hockey card. Numbers mean nothing unless you know the enormous story behind them, and I am blessed to know. No matter what you feel about this team this morning, I encourage you to head to hockeydb and join the party. This is special, hold it close, hang onto it in the mind’s eye. The 82GP number will be magic. Soon we will know.
As I write this, I am reminded of a passage by the best sports writer God ever invented, Roger Angell. He wrote about some rabid Detroit Tigers fans decades ago, and immortalized one man with the following lines:
- Bert. A little after nine-thirty on a Monday morning in June, Bert walks into his ground-floor office in Oak Park, Michigan, which is a suburb on the north side of Detroit. His name on the door: Bert Gordon, Realty. He says good morning to his secretary and his assistant, Barbara Rosenthal, and goes on into his office, which looks out on a parking strip, and beyond that, onto Greenfield Road.
- He sits down at his desk, leans forward and takes off his shoes, and slides his feet into a pair of faded blue espadrilles. Then he swings his swivel chair to the right, so that he is facing a desk-model calculator on a side table, and punches in 2922 and 1596. The first number is the total number of days of President Nixon’s two terms in the White House; the second is the number of days the President has served to date. He hits another button, and the answer slot at the top of the machine offers up 54.62 in illuminated green numbers.
- Bert is a member of the Michigan Democratic State Central committee, and he has just figured (as he does every weekday morning) the expired percentage of President Nixon’s two terms in office.
- Now Bert clears the machine and punches out the numbers 9345 and 2806.
- Since Friday morning, the first number has gone up by seven and the second number has gone up by one. Al Kaline, the veteran star outfielder for the Detroit Tigers, hit one single in seven official times at bat against the Minnesota Twins over the weekend.
- The machine silently presents another set of green numbers. Today, Kaline’s lifetime major-league batting average stands at .3000267. Bert sighs, erases the figure, and picks up his telephone. He is ready to start his day.
I can understand Bert, hell I am Bert. I understand how he felt that day about Al Kaline, and in fact care as much about McDavid’s 82-game point total as Bert did about Mr. Kaline. No. 97 is on pace for 95 points, but if he can find a way to push it? Well, I don’t want to rush the story, and won’t be disappointed no matter the number. It is, at some level, a representation of what being a fan is all about. We keep score, in all kinds of ways. This is mine. Oh. By the way. Al Kaline finished his career holding on to a .297 batting average. I bet Bert loved Al Kaline even after he slipped below .300.
THE ONE THING TO WORRY OVER
You have read (or will) all manner of things about the Oilers today: Fire Chiarelli, fire McLellan, shoot the goalie out of a cannon, et cetera. As I mentioned at the top, Edmonton management is slow playing the McDavid early years and there isn’t much anyone can do about it. Why are they doing it? No idea, beyond that has been the mantra for several years now.
The one thing to worry over today is this: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There is something wrong here. He is not the same player, by many miles, that we have come to know. I would say disinterested, but that doesn’t fall in line with the detail oriented career he has put forth until now.
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS 16-17 (15-16)
- 5×5 points per 60: 1.45 (1.36 last year)
- 5×4 points per 60: 3.76 (4.84 last year)
- Corsi for % 5×5: 52.1 (47.9)
- Qual Comp: toughest (same as last year)
- Corsi Rel: 0.6 (-0.5)
- Shots on goal/percentage: 79/5.1 (108/11.1)
- Boxcars: 29, 4-9-13 .448 (55, 12-22-34 .618)
Up until this point, I have been focused on two things in regard to Nuge. First, he remains a strong PP option, but Connor McDavid duplicates his skills so there is going to be less power-play time. Second, his shooting percentage is in the dumper, so he is not getting the goals his shots have earned. Nuge should have eight goals based on his shot total and he has half of it.
That said, I am officially worried about him. He has a giant brain but we see less creativity. Is he ill? Injured? I have no answer, and don’t think it is especially productive for me to point fingers at him, the coach, or the flu. It is a concern, this is not the player we have come to know. The Oilers are dead in the water without him.
I am not burying Nuge, I am worried about him. Something isn’t right.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Steve Lansky, BigMouthSports. Oilers falling, Flames rising, and Toronto about to lose its mind over a soccer team.
- Guy Flaming, The Pipeline Show. World Juniors just around the corner, is Canada good enough to medal? Win the gold?
- Matt Iwanyk, TSN1260. Should Peter Chiarelli bring in a new backup goalie? Should he pull the trigger on a trade today in order to improve playoff chances?
- Paul Almeida, SSE. A look at last night’s game and ahead to this evening.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Note: I didn’t mention Brandon Manning in this post, mostly because this is a one day story and unlikely to impact anything. I will talk about it on the show today, however. I like to see 97 engage in this way, Oilers need to win these games to really put their stamp on the league. Someday soon, they should be the team that comes into your town, grabs two points, insults your architecture and steals your gold. Someday soon.