Defensively deficient Oilers won’t get near the Cup with this kind of play

Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft shows disappointment towards the team's defence after blowing a lead against the Avalanche.

The Edmonton Oilers can’t keep the puck out of their net, can’t get a save when they need one, and the big boys are taking this thing back to where it was years ago: A travelling offensive circus that shows little affinity for the dirty, defending parts of the game. 

For the second game in a row, the Oilers blew a three-goal lead, losing 6-5 in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche. One game after coughing up a 4-1 lead against the New York Rangers, they leaked away leads of 3-0, 4-2 and 5-3 before losing for the eighth straight time when a game extends past regulation time. 

“We score enough goals,” began honest depth winger Warren Foegele, who had a pair of goals and kept his shifts to a tidy 37 seconds, on average. “The mentality has to be to defend. We’re definitely capable of that — it’s just having the right mindset. Like, we don’t need to score more goals. We’re up (by) three. 

“So we’ve got to take shorter shifts and stay above guys. For some reason, we’re just not doing that.” 

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Hey, Leon Draisaitl. We’re talkin’ about you. 

Draisaitl scored, but spent the rest of the night trying high-wire-act passes that landed on Avalanche sticks, forcing offence when it just wasn’t there, and making backwards passes that get picked off with teammates trapped deep in the offensive zone. 

Draisaitl averaged a team-high 57 seconds per shift, and it’s time to say this about the NHL’s second leading scorer: 

He’s not helping this team win right now, despite the fact Draisaitl has goals in four straight games and 12 of his last 18 games. And let’s not speculate that he’s hurt — Draisaitl averages a 58-second shift this season, and they’re not getting any shorter. 

Connor McDavid averages 58 seconds per shift as well, and on the rare night when the world’s best player isn’t impacting the score sheet, it’s acceptable to simply grind out a solid defensive effort and leave the points to others. 

That the two lead the league in scoring and are a collective minus-1 tells the story. 

Among other Oilers issues — Jack Campbell holding the door open for the Avs in the third period and the inability to win an overtime game or in a shootout — the defensive play of the two big guys is back under the microscope after a wholly wasted point in Denver on Sunday. 

“Normally I might dress it up and say it’s good to get a point,” said head coach Jay Woodcroft. “But I’ve got to say, that was utterly disappointing for us.” 

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The style Edmonton is playing of late — surrendering 13 regulation goals in the last three games — simply will not win. Even with the two best offensive players in the sport filling the net. 

“It’s not conducive to the type of hockey that gets played in the month of May and early in the month of June,” Woodcroft said. “It’s important we look in the mirror here, and determine how we’re going to try and win hockey games.” 

Here’s the thing: The Oilers have just one regulation loss in their past 15 games. So they’re collecting points, which is supposed to be good, right? 

Yes, but the way they’re losing then, well, this team is supposed to be past this stage, aren’t they? This growth stage was supposed to be over, wasn’t it? 

“Sometimes we extend our shifts and the forwards aren’t really helping the D much. To win, it’s a whole team effort,” said Foegele. “We score so many goals… It’s just a commitment to play defense. And we’ve shown that at times  — we showed it last year — and it’s just frustrating that we didn’t do it tonight.” 

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Edmonton had the Avalanche on the second game of a back-to-back, killed off three Colorado power plays in the first period, and had a 3-0 lead eight minutes into the second period. If you’re a true Cup contender, you have one foot on the plane at that point. 

You cycle four lines, keep the game clean, and grab the empty-net goal and a 4-1 or 4-2 win. 

Until the Oilers can get there defensively, they’ll just continue to collect Hart and Art Ross Trophies, while big Stanley makes his way to teams that can defend. And teams that get better goaltending. 

“We’d better get our act together, because there’s only there’s 25 games left,” concluded Foegele. “Points are crucial. We’ve got to start waking up.” 

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