The Edmonton Oilers have reached a point where fans can be genuinely disappointed by an effort that would have been considered usual fare not so long ago. Ahead 3-1 last night, they stepped into an elevator shaft and blew a winnable game. They have major issues, including a momentum-killing power play and a problem with pressure. It is December 28: They remain in the conversation for the playoffs, but last night’s win makes draft talk in January far more likely.
JIGSAW PUZZLE, YEAR OVER YEAR
- Oilers in October 2014: 4-5-1
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0
- Oilers in November 2014: 2-9-3
- Oilers in November 2015: 4-7-2
- Oilers in December 2014: 2-8-4
- Oilers in December 2015: 7-4-1
- Oilers after 37 in 2014-15: 8-22-7, 23 points (-54 GD)
- Oilers after 37 in 2015-16: 15-19-3, 33 points (-18 GD)
It will be a damn shame if the Oilers can’t grab at least one win in their last two December games (Los Angeles and Anaheim). There will be better days ahead—the IR has exceptional quality—but the club has shown impressive resilience in this first half of the season.
THE BLUE, LAST NIGHT
- Nikitin—Gryba had a strong night by the numbers and visually both men had good moments. Gryba is as advertised (he can defend but is not a strong puck manager), so his partner should be better with the biscuit—enter Brad Hunt. I saw Nikitin good last night, he was more aggressive with the puck, but his wheels won’t turn and that is a fact.
- Sekera—Fayne played a lot together but were a tale of two cities. Sekera won the Gaudreau Corsi events battle (8-6) in 5:47, but was only 11-17 with Fayne (5-1 with Gryba). Fayne’s numbers were the least impressive of the group, I like him but will admit he is often in the middle of nowhere and standing up at the blue is alien to him (his game is more passive, he cheats because of foot speed—that’s my guess). He won’t play a feature role for McLellan when the injured return.
- Nurse—Schultz had a good night against the feature group, sawing off Gaudreau at 5×5. Nurse was splendid to my eye, this was one of his better games during the days of heavy work. He finished 12-11 in 7:06 against Gaudreau and that kid is magic. Schultz was 9-12 against Gaudreau and of course made a poor decision on goal four against—but it is important to remember it’s possible to have good numbers and get noticed for negative things—single moments and events can have super importance while being exactly single moments and events.
Brad Hunt is on the roster and will play soon, suspect he will receive plenty of power-play time. Who comes out, based on merit? Nikita Nikitin and it is not close. I believe NN’s deadline trade value is something akin to ‘Nikitin and a second for a third’ with Oilers keeping some of the money. The Oilers biggest issue (imo) this morning is the power play, and Hunt should help with that hammer.
CENTERS, LAST NIGHT
A very nice recovery evening from Nugent-Hopkins, skated miles, posted two assists (one a dandy) and spent 5:16 against Gaudreau (going 7-8). He was 30 percent in the dot, but overall this was a solid effort. Leon Draisaitl also had a positive outing, getting an assist on the Purcell goal. He isn’t on fire currently but still has an impact. Mark Letestu is bringing a consistent level of play now, the veteran (like many Chiarelli hires) seems to have settled in. His speed is exposed on a night like last one, but for me there is value in this player. Anton Lander was the only regular C at 50 perent on the dot, and battled the Bennett line to 6-3 Corsi events at 5×5. A good night from the centers to my eye.
WINGERS, LAST NIGHT
- Hall—Purcell hooked up on the third goal and had five and six shots on goal, respectively. It is hard to fault this line, they cashed once and could have had another. The power play issues are clearly team driven, so my grade is positive (save for an ill-advised Hall hit attempt on the PP that contributed to the PK goal by CGY—a devastating moment that involved a lot of culprits).
- Pouliot—Eberle had a splendid night, hard to believe this trio were the same bunch who played so poorly in Vancouver. If they can keep that momentum up, Edmonton will win some games in this next stretch because two scoring lines—and it has been awhile.
- Hendricks—Korpikoski had an effective night by the numbers, I am still mad about the bobbled pass by Hendricks but that is a single event and this is a substantial veteran. Hendricks does seem to have some issues at the blue lately, probably just a blip on the radar and he will settle down.
- Gazdic—Pakarinen played the McLellan 4line minutes, meaning not a helluva lot. I would like to see the Finn in a bigger role, but the guys ahead of him are playing well so there is no daylight.
— Jesse Anttila (@Jeffexi) December 28, 2015
It’s possible to have good numbers and get noticed for negative things—single moments and events can have super importance while being exactly single moments and events. Put another way, shit happens.
— Matt Green (@Matt_Green97) December 28, 2015
This is a Glen Sather move all the way. Zack Kassian brings issues to his new team (described briefly here) and the Oilers fanbase is going to be asked to adjust their thinking on this player. On the negative, he has a back story that would have had Steve Tambellini puking into a bucket dawn to dusk. There is also the Sam Gagner stick-swinging assault to deal with and Kassian’s poor display of sportsmanship that followed it.
Once beyond that mess, we have a somewhat unique hockey player. He is 6.03, 214, can win battles along the wall and in front of the net, and is a world class agitator. He can fight, and has real skill (12.86 even-strength goals per 82GP in the NHL) and is the definition of a power forward. Since Edmonton doesn’t have one, Kassian goes to the top of the table.
Adding Kassian brings competition to the RW position and it is my belief we could see him on a skill line as soon as he is ready (Kassian hasn’t played since last season) in Bakersfield. Will he ever play for the Oilers? Yes. Will he have success? There is a very good chance. Will he conquer his demons? One always hopes for it. Can we cheer for him? Let me get back to you.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) December 28, 2015
SAIL ON, SPRUCE GROVE SAINT
He came to us in times of trouble and for a time stilled the waters. Playing goal for Team Chaos is a giant task and Mr. Scrivens could not sustain the confidence and performance, becoming another in a long line of goaltenders crushed under the incredible weight of playing Oilers goal.
Year two of his deal featured the humiliation of being sent to the minors and toiling in a lesser league. I didn’t hear one complaint from him and he delivered solid netminding once he got established (.957, .921 and .923 last three Condors outings).
You remain a unique personality in the game of hockey, and we will follow your career in Montreal. There is quite a collection of former Oilers there, suspect one day you will be able to laugh about your experiences in Edmonton. I hope you earn an NHL contract for next season and build your career back to previous levels. Don’t become one in a long line of players who lost their NHL careers because playing for the Oilers sewered value. Seize the day, Ben Scrivens. Grab that rope and start climbing. Sail on, Ben Scrivens. All the best.