Embroiled in another losing streak, the Oilers are just too easy to play against

Gene Principe and Mark Spector discuss how hard the Oilers' leaders went during battle drills at practice after their 6th straight loss, also discuss Stuart Skinner going into Covid protocols, giving another big opportunity for Mikko Koskinen in net.

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers weren’t supposed to be this team. A team that can’t get a grip on a six-game losing streak, or doesn’t work hard enough to close out the Ottawa Senators in the third period.

A club that is as fragile as its 39-year-old starting goalie.

How did a mature team — one that has challenged for its Division lead in each of the past two seasons — become this team? One that doesn’t look very mature at all?

“That’s a fair question,” began defenceman Tyson Barrie, who faced the media in then stead of the Oilers leadership group Monday. “Early in the year, when things were going well, our motto was, ‘We don’t lose two in a row.’ And every time we lost a game we had a good bounce back game. We seemed to find ways to win.

“Then it snapped.”

Snapped?

The Oilers are currently embroiled in their SECOND six-game losing streak, in a season that is only 35 games old. They allowed five Senators goals in the third period Saturday, looking very much like a team that simply did not know what to do with a 3-1 lead.

Or one that wasn’t prepared to work a hard as the team that clearly wanted those two points more than they did.

The book is out on these Oilers: They aren’t deep enough, their goaltending is lousy, and they are easy to play against. So easy to play against.

After a day of battle drills at Monday’s practice, even the head coach hinted at that final criticism. He sees it in his lineup. There isn’t enough aggression, or players who find a way to make an evening at Rogers Place no fun for the opponent.

Not enough real workers. Too many phonies.

“There are ways we can be harder to play against,” Dave Tippett admitted, alluding to some of the work he has seen upon video review. Work that does not speak well for his team.

“You can be in the lane, but you can not be in the lane,” Tippett explained. “You want to block a shot? Then put a lot effort into doing that. We’re there, but we’re not there.

“There are parts of our game where … we have a guy, but we don’t have a guy. There is another element that has to get done at a higher rate, that has to happen for us to be a harder team to play against.”

This is why they moved out defenceman Ethan Bear to Carolina for big, bruising winger Warren Foegele. Bear was small and easy to play against. But as it turns out, Foegele is big and easy to play against as well. He just comes in a larger package.

Up came six-foot-two, 207-pound forward Ryan McLeod. His size was supposed to come with an increased physical presence.

It didn’t.

Derek Ryan? Nada.

Of all the additions up front only Zach Hyman can grind anyone down — and he’s a Top 6 winger. The fact that the Bottom 6 is as soft as the Oilers’ Bottom 6 has turned out to be is a failure by general manager Ken Holland.

And while we’re on that topic, so is the goaltending.

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The Oilers got the news on Monday that Stuart Skinner was placed into COVID-19 protocol, meaning Mikko Koskinen steps back in between the pipes Thursday night when Florida is in town. That Koskinen has completely lost the faith of his teammates is simple deduction, in a league where nobody knows before the players whether a teammate is a help or a hindrance.

That the Oilers went to war this season with the aged Smith and the inconsistent Koskinen — and Smith has been hurt for nearly the entire year — marks one of Holland’s poorest bets. He hasn’t given his team goaltending, so he hasn’t given them a chance — and that’s on the GM, no ifs and or buts.

Here in Edmonton, they were hoping beyond hope that Skinner would turn out to be their Jordan Binnington, the minor league hero who took the St. Louis Blues from dead last to a Stanley Cup in 2019. But Skinner fell apart in that third period over the weekend.

Even still, he would have had the start on Thursday. That’s where Koskinen stands in this organization.

Now?

Tippett, who carved Koskinen a new one after his last shoddy start, will hold his nose and start the big Finn on Thursday. That’s right — a team that has given up the first goal in 23 of its last 27 starts will go with the guy who sits second in the NHL in goals allowed in the opening five minutes of a game.

A place to start would be to hold the opposition to two goals or less. By battling, by working, by adequate NHL goaltending, and by actually playing like you want to win.

Not just skating around looking like it.

“It’s all of the above,” said Tippett. “You’ve got to win more battles to keep more pucks out of your net.”

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