EDMONTON — A troubled, slow start in Edmonton is starting to reveal something else. A troubled, slow team.
The Detroit Red Wings were immensely faster than the plodding Oilers on Sunday afternoon — not to mention far more interested and with superior goaltending — handing the Oilers a disheartening 4-0 loss to run Edmonton’s record to 4-8-1.
Edmonton is the lowest scoring team in the National Hockey League with the worst penalty kill among 31 teams. The club that won 47 games last year and won at a .628 clip is currently in 30th place and playing .333 hockey.
“You don’t get to participate in April or May hockey at .333 – you sure don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out,” said head coach Todd McLellan, who benched Connor McDavid in the third period. McDavid played 15:55 – his lowest of the season by four-and-a-half minutes.
“Obviously you don’t like it. It’s not very fun to sit on the bench, but that’s what it is,” said McDavid, who got caught cheating on Detroit’s second goal. “I need to be more responsible defensively, first and foremost.”
Detroit was quicker, more sound defensively, had a more effective forecheck and had better goaltending. Edmonton’s power play and penalty kill — ranked 23rd and 31st respectively in the NHL before the game — gave up a goal while shorthanded, and another just eight seconds after a penalty had ended.
The power play went 0-for-2. That the Oilers can’t solve their special teams woes on either side of the puck speaks poorly not just for the players, but for this coaching staff as well.
“It’s on all of us, this hole that we have dug ourselves,” said Milan Lucic, who struggled in this game against the speedy Red Wings. “Eventually you have to start doing something about it and stop feeling sorry for yourselves. I think it comes down to the players taking over like we did last year and playing the way that we can. That’s what it’s going to take for it to turn around.”
Are the Oilers fast enough?
“We were fast enough last year,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
“I don’t know if this team’s much different from the one that was one game from going to the Western Conference finals,” added Mark Letestu. “We’re fast enough.”
It was a 2-3 home stand for Edmonton, which now heads out East for a four-game swing. After a 6-3 win over New Jersey on Friday, losing any vestige of momentum the next time out is a sign of just how lost this Oilers team is.
With American Thanksgiving right around the corner, they need a 4-0 road trip just to climb back to .500. That’s a mighty tall order.
“The effect of losses accumulating also plays on the mentality of the team,” McLellan said. “The belief system. We worked hard for two years to get it up. Now it’s being tested, so we’ve got to put some performances together.”
The matinee loss was also NHL game No. 9 for 2017 first-round pick Kailer Yamamoto, who will burn Year 1 of his entry-level contract if he plays another NHL game this season. With just three assists this season – and a few more Grade A chances Sunday that did not go in – an Oilers team that lacks speed will now consider sending one of its speediest players back to junior for the season.
“He played a better game tonight than the past three he participated in. He was one of our quicker forwards,” said McLellan.
Is that code for, “How could we send down one of our quickest players?” Who knows?
Perhaps they’ll not worry about burning Year 1 of the ELC, as GM Peter Chiarelli did with Leon Draisaitl in his rookie campaign. More importantly, if a player is on an NHL team’s roster on Game 40, he accrues one season towards unrestricted free agency. Draisaitl was sent down before reaching that threshold, and the point was made moot when he signed an eight-year, $68-million deal this past summer.
With Chris Kelly practicing with the team, he would be signed if Yamamoto gets sent to junior Spokane.
None of which solves the primary issue in Edmonton: It’s only November, but the playoffs are already slipping away.