EDMONTON — It is the Homestand from Hell. But it is telling us everything we need to know — or perhaps feared — about these Edmonton Oilers.
Three straight losses at home (four overall), with Carolina and Toronto up next for the suddenly impotent Oilers, a team that has scored just four times in the opening three games of this homestand — only one coming at even strength.
Are they playing well? They’re playing OK.
“There are parts of our game that are in place, how we want to play, but you have to give a little more,” said head coach Dave Tippett. “There has to be more second effort there, more finish there. You have to find a way to win.”
To our eye, and those of a prominent scout who attended Thursday’s game, Connor McDavid looks whipped. He played another 26:47 in this 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, and didn’t have a shot on goal through 40 minutes. McDavid closed the night with a pair of power-play assists and four shots on goal.
Leon Draisaitl wired home two on the power play, but he also looked tired on a night where he played 26:35.
The two lead all NHL forwards in ice time — Draisaitl averages 22:59 per game, McDavid 22:32 — and carrying this team is already taking its toll, just 25 games in.
Tippett leans hard on his two stars, both on a power play that plays about 1:45 of every opportunity, and at even strength as well. There is no second unit here, which is becoming an issue.
“Well, each game is different. It depends on how many power plays are involved — that’s what drives the minutes up more than anything,” Tippett said. “I don’t mind where our forward lines are right now. That being said, when you’re chasing the game, if they’re sitting there rested, you probably put them on the ice.”
It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
There simply isn’t enough support among this forward group underneath the two superstars. So when they tire, and the Oilers trail the way they have of late, the coach goes to the whip on Draisaitl and McDavid — because they represent his best chance to win, by a large margin.
That causes McDavid and Draisaitl to tire, they get less productive, and the Oilers continue to trail in games. So McDavid and Draisaitl play more…
“I think the last two games probably could have gone either way,” Draisaitl said of losses to Minnesota (4-1) and now Boston. “I thought we were the better team tonight, but that’s the NHL. We’ve won games too where we got outplayed. We just have to find a way to keep that last one out of the net and take it into overtime and give ourselves a chance.”
Zack Kassian continues to check in with a crippling defensive miscue every second night, this time missing his check that began the sequence that ended in Matt Grzelcyk's game-winner with less than three minutes left. He is the epitome of what ails this team: a third-line player whose contributions are more negative than positive on most nights.
The Oilers haven’t had a goal from their third or fourth line in nine games. Nine games!
You want to talk about this team’s playoff hopes? Until that gets solved, there are no lengthy playoff runs in this club’s future.
“There are some plays that need to get made out there,” Tippett said. “Some difference-maker plays that aren’t getting made right now. All through our lineup. You get an opportunity for a shot? Shoot it wide or shoot it in the net.
“We need more in the net than wide.”
The old cliché states that you always win a couple of games you don’t deserve to at the end of a hot streak, and lose a couple you deserve to win at the end of a slump.
Is that the case here? Maybe.
The Oilers ran their losing streak to four while outshooting the Bruins 43-30, directing 77 shots at goalie Linus Ullmark to the Bruins’ 47 at Stuart Skinner. There is no doubt Edmonton can not buy a break or find a lucky goal. But doesn’t every losing team sing the same sad song?
You know you're slumping when every goalie who comes through town looks like Georges Vezina himself.
Quick, Talbot, now Ullmark playjng lights out in net.
— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) December 10, 2021
“Sometimes you get a lucky one, sometimes you get a real nice one and everything in between,” said McDavid. “Obviously we need to find a way to produce at five-on-five. We just need to keep painting the right picture, doing the right things, getting pucks to the net, bringing bodies to the net and banging in an ugly one.
“When you are slumping you just need to find a way to get it done and get a win any way you can and go from there.”
All that is true.
But so is this: There is no cavalry in Edmonton. This team is waiting around for their two superstars to dig them out of this slump. Other than a nice game by Warren Foegele, there is no virtually no offensive threat that does not begin with or involve Nos. 29 and 97.
It’s still a two-man team, and the two men can not continue to lead the NHL in ice time, playing 26 minutes per night, and continue to function at their best.
“You have to find a way to win,” said Tippett.
His boss, GM Ken Holland, has to find more players who can help McDavid and Draisaitl find a way to win.
Because right now, it’s all on them.