•Oilers fall flat coming out of bye week
•A number of key players continue to underperform
•McDavid reclaims NHL scoring lead
It’s probably fair to say that the Edmonton Oilers have a roster that could take a run at the top spot in the Pacific Division, and perhaps even win a round in the playoffs. Even if, after a 5-1 thumping at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton has now lost four of its last five games.
That would mean, however, that the names on this Oilers roster would realistically be expected to produce at the level expected of them. And that’s where the cracks are beginning to show in the Oilers’ best-laid plans, as several key players continued to slumber through mediocre seasons in no-show effort against the vastly superior Blackhawks.
“We anticipated a little bit of rust, but that doesn’t account for structure or … blue paint play. They were certainly much, much hungrier than we were in that area,” said head coach Todd McLellan, whose team was coming off its mandated five-day break in the schedule.
“We didn’t have a lot of emotion. There wasn’t a single Blackhawk that was mad at an Oiler the whole night,” he said. “I was disappointed in the emotional level of our team. Do you chalk that up to the break? Or, were we just not (all) in?”
That’s the micro question. The macro question becomes, are a handful of Oilers offensive players just enduring bad seasons? Or is their collective depleted scoring level a larger issue than that?
Can Edmonton challenge for those aforementioned goals with Jordan Eberle performing at this slumberous pace? He’s got 11 goals in 56 games, has not scored in his past seven outings, and has endured scoring slumps of nine, six, six, 18 and seven games this season.
“We didn’t have a lot of emotion. There wasn’t a single Blackhawk that was mad at an Oiler the whole night.”
His perimeter game is wholly ineffective, as the mounting blank score sheets attest.
“I understand the situation. It’s been frustrating. We have two goals in our last four games,” he said of the team. “We’ve got to start putting the puck in the net. When we get a chance, we’ve got to bear down.”
Can success occur with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins plodding around at a team-worst minus-12, with a pedestrian total of 26 points in 56 games?
He had his second career fight Saturday, a good tilt with Vinnie Hinostrozza in the dying moments of the game, but really, who cares? Nugent-Hopkins’ game can be fairly judged by points production, defensive work and faceoffs, and none of those numbers are up to snuff this season for a one-time No. 1 overall draft pick.
And what of Milan Lucic? The theory goes that his game will be most valued come playoff time, when goals are scored from hard to reach places, and “battle level” rises up the to-do list for teams.
But what if the play simply speeds up and leaves him behind? If Lucic appears lumbering in the regular season, will he be able to get there when the pace ramps up in April?
“One goal and two assists since the Christmas break. Not good enough,” said Lucic, whose shooting percentage is a decent 9.6% but has produced just 11 goals and 30 points. “I’ve always been my toughest critic. I know I’m gonna break out of this.”
Then there is “Buy Out” Benoit Pouliot.
If anyone ever asks you how the Oilers missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons, just say, “Benoit Pouliot.” Not that a decade of failure is his fault, but the fact former GM Craig MacTavish and his management group saw fit to hand Pouliot a five-year, $20 million free-agent deal is the canary in the coal mine of incompetence that Edmonton’s front office used to be.
Today, Pouliot — who hasn’t scored in 26 games — coasts the wing the way an anchor hangs off the side of a fishing boat. Useful now and again, but in general, just some heavy baggage to be lugged along, trip after trip.
“If you’re in a slump or not scoring… just get to the paint,” said head coach Todd McLellan, a comment directed at any number of his forwards on a frustrating, disinterested night. “Whack away. Good things will happen.”
Edmonton hosts Arizona on Tuesday and the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday. It would be a good week for some forwards other than Connor McDavid (who took back the NHL scoring lead with an assist Saturday) and Leon Draisaitl to become productive.
A little help here, boys.