EDMONTON — Five games ago, the Edmonton Oilers had the best winning percentage in the NHL.
Oh boy, does that ever seem like a long time ago.
Losers of five straight — with just five goals scored in the first four games of this Homestand from Hell — the Oilers went from a team that prided itself on not having lost two games in a row this season, to a club that has now lost two games in a row four times in a row.
“When you’re slumping, everything seems so much harder. It seems like you can’t score, like you can’t make a play,” said Leon Draisaitl, who has managed to cling to the NHL scoring lead — but just barely, tied with Connor McDavid — with only two points (both goals) in his past four games.
What happened to a guy who had us wondering if he could score 50 goals in 50 games? Where did the offence go?
“It’s a hard league to score in,” he said, a matter of factly. “I said that I’m not going to score 82 goals. And I’m not going to score 50 in 50, probably, either. These slumps happen. They happen to me every year; they happen to every player, every year. It was going to happen at one point. I would love to snap out of it, sooner than later.”
A good team can sometimes skate through a bad stretch with some games against clubs that can be beaten with a 50-60 per cent effort. On this homestand, however, they opened against a Los Angeles team that threw a defensive masterpiece at the Oilers, then faced a Minnesota team on a six-game heater.
The Boston Bruins beat the Oilers 3-2 on a night when Edmonton had the better of the play, before Carolina — second in the NHL with a .722 winning percentage — smoked Edmonton 3-1 on Saturday.
Now it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are tied atop the NHL in points and are 7-2-1 in their past 10.
Edmonton could have been playing well over the past 10 days and dropped a few points. Come at this murderer’s row with your B game, and you find an Oilers team that’s been stuck on 32 points in the standings for 13 days as of Tuesday.
“I think that mentally we’re good,” Draisaitl said. “You never want to lose five in a row, there’s no secret to that. Tomorrow we have a great team coming in, but also a good chance to get back into winning.”
The biggest issue? Sink your teeth into this stat: The Oilers have only scored first in nine of 26 games this season, leaving them tied for dead last in the NHL with Arizona, Seattle and Ottawa in that category. Any time you’re living in the same statistical neighborhood as those teams, you are going to be in the low-rent district.
The funny thing is, only one team in the NHL has won every game it has scored first in. You guessed it — Edmonton.
They’d love to score first against Toronto, just to lend some belief to the feeling that a new story might be unfolding, compared to the first four games of this homestand. Truth be told, head coach Dave Tippett just wants some goals — no matter when they’re scored, or by who.
“We’ll (take) nice goals, hard goals, rush goals. … We’ll bring ’em all out right now,” the coach said. “The last three games we’ve had lots of attempts — lots of pucks going at the net. But nothing finding its way in.
“We had five or six Grade A opportunities (versus Carolina), and we missed the net or hit a foot. As much as you want to hammer that thing into the net it’s not going in for us right now. You’ve got to stick with it.”
We’ve wondered about a lot of things with this Oilers club, like goaltending, the Bottom 6 and the blue line. But seldom did it occur to anyone that a team with this much horsepower in its Top 6 would come up against a prolonged scoring drought.
For me, it starts with the Bottom 6, whose job it is to bail out the big boys and the power play every once in a while. That group has failed miserably, giving the Oilers just one goal by a third or fourth line in its past 10 games.
Draisaitl’s advice, as hockey’s last (and perhaps next) 50-goal, 100-point man, is succinct:
“You have to bear down — especially when it’s not going your way,” said the big German. “Pucks aren’t going in. Pucks are laying around the crease and we can’t find a way to get them in. That’s why you really have to bear down when you have that chance because one goal can really turn it around. One five-on-five goal can really push us to a different direction.
“So, be ready when the chances come.”
• Some injury news, with Zach Hyman not ruled out of Tuesday’s game against his old team. He left Saturday’s game late with an injury, but felt better than expected on Monday, according to Tippett.
• Duncan Keith (back) may return Tuesday after missing eight games.
• Goalie Mike Smith (lower body) “is not a player” for the Leafs game, Tippett said. But it sounds like he could be back soon, perhaps even Thursday against Columbus.
• Slater Koekkoek (ankle) practised with the team for the first time Monday. He looks like he’s very close to playing.