Losing takes a terrible toll on hockey people, you can see it and hear it in the tones of voices as another season slips away. You can also hear the sharpness in the words from Todd McLellan, who has gone from mentioning they need a power-play option to openly questioning if this group is bona fide. It is the weight of losing, mind-numbing losing, and the pressure heightened.
I find it hard to blame the players, they are batting too high in the order. Last night, in New Jersey, Edmonton’s third pair must have been dizzy most of the night—simply not able. That isn’t on those men, that isn’t on the coach—that is on management. You can pay Todd McLellan a lot to take a knife to a gunfight, but you can’t make him happy doing it.
GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, 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: 7-6-1
- Oilers in January 2015: 5-7-1
- Oilers in January 2016: 4-5-2
- Oilers in February 2015: 5-6-1
- Oilers in February 2016: 2-3-0
- Oilers after 55 in 2014-15: 15-31-9, 39 points (-57 GD)
- Oilers after 55 in 2015-16: 21-29-5, 47 points (-30 GD)
The Oilers have one .500 month during the entire season (December) and February looked promising until the weekend and another step into one of those damnable elevator shafts. The club has Toronto and Winnipeg to round out the week, and the ‘box of chocolates’ season rolls along.
DEFENSE, LAST NIGHT
- Sekera—Fayne now deliver reliable and dependable play pretty much every period these days. Sekera does some unusual things—he was on his way out of the corner of his zone with clean air before stopping and going back for 40 more seconds of hell—but he battles well and has skills to the sky. I really like him, he should get 30 points on a team that is not a good offensive group.
- Fayne played less at 5×5 than any other defender, and had the best possession numbers. You can bitch about the personnel, but the math has a story to tell as well. There were better options than 14:11 Clendening, and they were on the bench.
- Davidson—Gryba played well again, solid possession numbers and they moved the puck pretty well (Gryba lugged it with some aplomb a time or two).
- Brandon Davidson is one of the very few defensemen this organization, drafted, developed and delivered to the NHL. His story is unusual—including a one-year delay that allowed him to fly under the radar—and maybe there is a lesson there.
- Nurse—Clendening got fed and this cannot go on. Neither man has enough experience to be the strong partner, and frankly Nurse played mostly well to my eye but the pairing was chasing instead of solving. It will be very interesting to see what the Schultz trade (if it comes) fetches—Chiarelli may decide to bring in a veteran mentor. We wait.
CENTERS, LAST NIGHT
- Connor McDavid and his line scored the goal (again) and I thought they had a lot of jump. Early (again) there were some fine and dandy chances, but it was followed by a hard candy Christmas.
- Mark Letestu is playing in more of an offensive role than warranted (at even strength he is not a strong option for that slot in the other) and the result was poor possession against a pretty pedestrian line from the New Jersey side. He did have one golden chance, still have no idea how Schneider made the save.
- Matt Henrdricks and his line skated miles, while neither side could get a thing done. Seriously. EIGHT MINUTES of even strength time and there were three Corsi events. I don’t think it is possible, probably wrote down the wrong numbers.
- Leon Draisaitl and his line had some chances (Hall missed early and then set up Letestu for what should have been a goal) but they did not have the edge in play. A late surge helped the numbers, his only shot came as the game wound down. Leon is hurt, pretty sure.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is badly missed, as we discussed at the time of his injury.
WINGERS, LAST NIGHT
- Pouliot—Eberle were terrific on the goal, and I thought there was good chem there. Lots of comments about frustration over lack of execution late, but NJD are good at clogging the drain when they are up by a goal.
- Hall—Pakarinen was not overly effective, I think Purcell moves the needle far better.
- Purcell—Yakupov played on a weird line, the best chances (Letestu, Purcell) took place when they were not on the line. Perhaps that is the point.
- Korpikoski—Kassian accomplished little and gave up about the same. In some weird, horrible way, Korpikoski was perfect.
INDIVIDUAL HIGH-DANGER SCORING CHANCES
- Connor McDavid 1
- Taylor Hall 1
- Jordan Eberle 1
- Iiro Pakarinen 1
- Mark Letestu 1
The Oilers should have a point from last night’s game, but early chances were missed and Schneider was brilliant when required. I also think the power play needs to be mentioned, this team has some terrible vapor-lock moments on entries. I think they need more practice, but they looked so good 5×4 at home I wonder if there is something in the video. Exits and entries seem weird, maybe other teams have scouted them and are offering a different look. Either way, two home games to end the week and one hopes the 5×4 looks better at Rexall.
- Elliotte Friedman: Nothing imminent as far as I can tell, but the clock is ticking on Justin Schultz in Edmonton. Like Cowen with Ottawa, it is time for both the player and organization. A deal will happen, it’s just a question of when. Source
I hope it gets done soon, Edmonton needs some help on defense and I have had enough of the story. One thing people miss (imo): Schultz may be letting you down, but I think the organization failed him miserably. If you go back and see his TOI totals and handling, it is textbook stupid. During his four NHL seasons, Schultz has averaged over 22 minutes a night. His production was best in his rookie season, and it has been downhill from there. I think a team trading for him could have success, if they understand two things: First, he is NOT a good defenseman so playing him heavy minutes hurts the team. Second, he is not a good outlet passer and does not have a great point shot. Inside the offensive zone, with the puck on his stick, Schultz can make things go. It is a narrow, but valuable window. I think a team with massive offensive tools, like Pittsburgh or Dallas or even Washington, would be an ideal fit.
FIRE THEM INTO THE SUN!
Lots of anger online and on this blog last night, completely understandable. Even a few ‘trade Hall!’ volleys, and that is my signal to have our discussion about logic and reason. No player is perfect, but the Oilers and their fans have been blessed with astounding talent since 2010. No fan base is going to feel sorry for you, nor should they, but the anger you feel need not be addressed at the players, but rather at management. For some reason, Oilers management got it into their heads that they could do a timed rebuild, having things figured out when the new arena opens. This gave rise to addled thinking, ridiculous errors in assessment (Petry v Schultz a good example) and the steaming pile of poop we see before us.
When you watch a game in which the second pairing would make a good third pairing, why do you yell at the player? Did the player bid on the opportunity, win the chance, and then fail to deliver? No sir. As was the case with Shawn Horcoff—who was wildly hated because of his (sic) $7.5M cap hit—people have to get over this need to wave lanterns at runaway trains. It is the management. Same as it ever was. Will Peter Chiarelli fix it? That is chapter next.
- Goal: Cam Talbot
- Defense: Andrej Sekera, Mark Fayne, Oscar Klefbom, Brandon Davidson, Darnell Nurse
- Center: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
- Left Wing: Taylor Hall, Benoit Pouliot
- Right Wing: Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov
That my friends, is a mammoth talent base. My suggestion to you: Stop ripping the living crap out of these men and ask why management, with legion Jacks and Kings, remains unable to gather sixes and sevens and nines.
If you read this, and filter it as an assessment of the talent (as well as a lashing out at personnel), Todd McLellan nails it home with a Charlie Watts cymbal smash:
- Todd McLellan: ”There are a number of young players who are trying to break into the league and create careers, are they passing the grade? I don’t know. There is a number of players who are trying to hold on and survive, are they doing what they need to do? It is a critical time in the season. And then there are others who have reputations, whether they are really strong or somewhat weak, you have an opportunity to change it or grow it and they let that go today.” Source
The Oilers have the Jacks and Kings, but they need to find balance—and that arrives on the day they stop chasing ridiculous solutions on the blue line, buckle down and find Todd McLellan some actual NHL defensemen. The rest is a shell game.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
A fun day (four hours again, so Schultz trade could happen when I am on the air! Shut up! It could happen!) beginning at 10, TSN1260. Scheduled to appear:
- Bruce McCurdy, Cult of Hockey. Oilers slink home a beaten crew.
- Nathan Dempsey, Campus Director at Vimy Hockey. Confidence and what happens when you lose it—plus how to get it back (in a hockey sense).
- Scott Cullen, TSN. Trade deadline, Canada’s sad hockey teams and probably some CFL.
- Moving target for the rest, if the Eskimos snap off a big free-agent signing we will adjust our sights and grab someone to talk about it.
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. Chin up, you. We have been through worse.