Less than a year ago they were Canada’s darlings.
A 98-point team in Ottawa that would push the Pittsburgh Penguins to double-overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, and a 103-point Oilers team whose journey ended just a period away from the Western Final. They were this country’s top National Hockey League entries back then, and destined in 2017-18 to break the 24-year run of American Stanley Cup winners.
Today, if you were to combine their percentage chances of making the playoffs in 2018, that number equals 10.8 per cent (according to the Sports Club Stats web site). The Oilers are at 3.9 per cent, the Sens at 6.9 per cent — both just this side of irrelevant, well before the kids are off for Christmas break.
Ottawa is on pace for 73 points, Edmonton just 71. Off of last season’s standings, that would place Ottawa 15th in the East, and Edmonton 12th out West.
Injuries, under-performing leaders, bad goaltending, and as a result, heavy questioning of the front office have afflicted both organizations. To the point where you could switch up the quotes from one dressing room to the other and they would still apply.
“First of all, it’s not someone’s fault,” Ottawa centre Derick Brassard — who hasn’t scored a goal in 20 games — told the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch. “It’s our fault, it’s our team. Last year, we had success because we played as a team. It’s not the management’s fault, it’s not the coaches’ fault, it’s not one player’s fault.
Here are the comparables:
In Ottawa, Erik Karlsson is the best player. But he missed training camp after ankle surgery, and has been performing at about 75 per cent ever since. He has just one goal heading into a Tuesday game at Buffalo, and sits at minus-16. As great a player as Karlsson is, he is not able to give the Senators what they require at his current level of fitness and performance.
Then there is the Sens highest paid player, Bobby Ryan, who has 1-8-9 in 20 games.
That old hockey cliché about your best players needing to be your best players? Yeah, between Ryan, Karlsson and No. 1 goaltender Craig Anderson, that cliché is being borne out in Ottawa.
In Edmonton, Connor McDavid carried a flu bug through most of the first 25 games. He’s carried himself more than admirably, but carrying the team the way he did last season has just been too much to ask.
Incredibly, McDavid has still amassed 35 points in his first 30 games. But watching him playing at full health these last couple of games reminds of just what was missing as he gutted it out through illness.
How about the goaltending?
Well, with a save percentage of .895, Anderson is more than 20 points below his career average of .916. Then you look West to see Talbot — who the Oilers hope will soon return from a couple of weeks on injured reserve — sitting at a .903 saves percentage. His career average is .920.
If we stopped right there, with both starting goalies playing so far beneath what was fairly expected of them, and both stars not able to be what they were last season, you would almost certainly be looking at two non-playoff teams come April. Look around these two dressing rooms, however, and you’ll find heaps more evidence of why neither club looks like it will have meaningful hockey remaining after New Year’s Eve.
In Ottawa, the top three centres are all mired in wicked slumps.
Brassard doesn’t have a point in seven games. Three of the past four games have been shutouts, as Ottawa has dropped 11 of its past 12 games.
Newly acquired Matt Duchene, thought to be the tonic when he was acquired from Colorado for Kyle Turris, has four points in 14 games and has been a minus player in more than half of his starts. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, a playoff hero with four goals in one game last spring, has just three goals in 28 games this season.
Among Edmonton’s skaters, the maladies are dissimilar.
Centre/right-winger Leon Draisaitl doesn’t have a power-play goal yet this season, and has just a single power-play assist. He has been largely inconsistent, while a couple of young players being counted on this season by Edmonton — Drake Caggiula and Anton Slepyshev — have been injured and ineffective, with five goals combined.
On defence, Oscar Klefbom’s game has taken a major dip this season, a crippling turn of events — especially with Andrej Sekera (torn ACL) yet to play his first game this season.
On both sides, lack of confidence in goal has spread to the defence and on to the forwards.
“When one or two guys on the ice aren’t confident, it’s going to affect the other guys,” Brassard said. “We’ve got to get some of that confidence back to know that we can have goals scored against us and we can get them right back.
“We know it works, we went to the conference final last year.”
Ah, last year. Those were the days, in Edmonton and Ottawa.