The Edmonton Oilers can swap their line combinations around, as they did against Dallas on Saturday, but they are still a draft lottery team, now four games under .500 after a 6-3 loss to the Stars.
Next up? The West’s best team awaits in St. Louis, a rematch from a 4-1 Blues win just a few days before.
This was one of those days when the Oilers best players were far less than that, as Connor McDavid managed to be a minus player while counting three points, Leon Draisaitl was not sparked in any way by being moved to another line, and goalie Cam Talbot was below average in goal.
It’s pretty simple: when something new buries your team every night, it means that not enough players are bringing a consistent game to the rink often enough. In this matinee it was the defensive game that lacked, as Dallas racked up six on an Oilers team that held a 3-2 lead early in the second period.
Here are a few takeaways from another dreary Oilers trip to Dallas.
• Remember when Taylor Hall used to score a couple of points for the Oil, take a ton of chances, then leave the rink an even or minus player after another loss?
McDavid is clearly a far superior player, but the numbers don’t lie: minus-2 against St. Louis Thursday, and minus-2 again Saturday, despite a goal and two assists. Your best player simply has to be better than that, and McDavid’s line — with Pat Maroon and Drake Caggiula — was on the ice for three even strength goals by Dallas, with McDavid also on for a fourth.
Somehow, too many turnovers have mixed into McDavid’s game, resulting in odd-man rushes the other way after high-risk zone entry attempts go bad. In his own zone, the puck is getting behind his goalie too often, even if the reasons are ever-changing.
Part of being a superstar is playing as well without the puck, and being smarter with it than McDavid has been this season. Your best player has to be just that — at both ends of the rink — to have success. And the Oilers aren’t having much of that this season.
• How about nine minor penalties as a culprit? And speaking of your best players, how about Draisaitl taking three of those minors?
On a day where McDavid could have used some help, Draisaitl had nothing, salting slashing, high-sticking and hooking minors into his afternoon’s work.
Then with a chance to tie up a 4-3 game on the powerplay, Draisaitl ripped a shot right at the middle of the net from about six feet out, and Ben Bishop made the save. Or more aptly, the puck hit him.
We know it’s hard to do, and that those chances happen fast. We get that. But the Draisaitls of the world get paid to put that puck far closer to a goalpost than he did on that occasion, and the next two goals would instead go Dallas’ way.
• Some love for defenceman Adam Larsson, who led everyone with 27:47 of ice time and led all defencemen with three hits. All of this after being felled by what appears to be Alex Radulov’s stick between the legs in the first period.
Larsson’s game has settled after a rugged start to the season, a good sign for Edmonton. (Hey, we’re searching here).
What the Oilers need is to adopt Larsson’s straight-ahead, competitive mindset for a few games. Rather than passing off shots, making pretty plays that just aren’t working, and trying to finesse their way through the season, the Oilers need to buckle down and play a much more firm game.
Too much dipsy-doodle, and not enough straight-ahead-Fred.
If you think that game is good for the Oilers, take a look at the standings in the morning.