The first half of the season was an abject failure on pretty much every front, from general manager Peter Chiarelli to sophomore support player Drake Caggiula — and everyone in between.
The team scarcely showed up for its Saturday matinee in Dallas, falling behind 3-0 after 20 minutes and never threatening to challenge the superior Stars. After back to back 5-0 losses at home last week, and now a 4-1 loss on the road, something has to give here.
If I had a dollar for every time someone says, “Geez, Spec. What’s wrong with the Oilers?” I’d have been watching this game in a beach bar in Maui. But we watched it from the home office instead, while compiling this list of things that have gone wrong in Edmonton.
They are listed in no particular order. Enjoy:
• Special teams: Edmonton’s power-play entered Saturday’s game ranked 25th in the NHL, and the penalty kill is 31st. This is on the coaching staff for not figuring out how to use the talent it has at its disposal, the GM for short-staffing his coaches, and the players who can’t execute at a higher level.
The special teams have crippled this club. It’s a major problem that requires personnel changes, and perhaps even a new set of eyes under head coach Todd McLellan. If they don’t improve, the Oilers won’t improve.
Clearly, Chiarelli needs to find a defenceman who can shoot the puck, stat. The Oilers get no offence from the back end, and on the power play there is no threat of a shot from the blue line. That has to change.
• How many blocked shots would you think Zack Kassian has, through the first half of the season? He kills penalties, right? Plays a hard, fourth-line role. He must get in the way of his fair share of shots. Doesn’t he?
Well, through the first 41 games Kassian was credited with three blocked shots. Three. That’s it.
Kassian has played nearly 70 short-handed minutes this season. You’d think more than three pucks might inadvertently hit you in that amount of PK time.
Want a prime example of something that happened last season that isn’t happening this season for Edmonton? Kassian isn’t happening on enough nights. Not enough hits, not enough influence on games, not enough speed, not enough Kassian.
• Leon Draisaitl opened the second half with a power-play goal in Dallas. That’s the good news.
The bad news? It was his first power-play goal of the season.
Draisaitl may be young at just 22 years old, but it’s time to grow up. He’s in the first year of an eight-year, $68-million deal. When you demand, then accept, a salary of $8.5 million per season, you sign on to become a leader. Not a follower.
Draisaitl had 10-22-32 in 37 games in the first half, but there haven’t been enough nights where he led the charge, or drove his line. He is Edmonton’s second-best player, but hasn’t been that on nearly enough nights this season.
He’s been hurt, we understand. If that is the reason for his level of play, then the team should sit him out until Klefbom is healthy. To be fair, Adam Larsson’s steady game from last season has departed as well. The top pairing has been anything but effective this season, which would kill any team. It’s killed this one.
• Caggiula and Matthew Benning are second-year pros having sophomore slumps. Should Chiarelli have seen this coming? Maybe, but they are two good, young players who are part of the future. You have to endure this growing process, but their collective play has truly hurt Edmonton’s fortunes.
• Pat Maroon and Milan Lucic are two top-six left-wingers with size. Neither are fast, so to be valuable they have to bury pucks in close, provide a physical presence and play smart to make up for a lack of foot speed.
Both have struggled, particularly Maroon, whose defensive play has been horrendous at times this season. Lucic has to be better on tips and close-in chances, and has missed on a bundle of them. Throw in veteran centre Mark Letestu, who has absolutely leaked goals this season, and you have three major parts of last season’s success that aren’t helping enough this season.