Shock and anger, apathy and frustration, disappointment and disillusionment – these are our feelings after the dismal start to this Oilers season. All of them are understandable after 7 years of futility. Although I, too, feel disappointment I don’t feel the anger as I do see some signs of encouragement. First, lets outline the basic reasons why the Oilers have started at 3-8-1.
- Power Play – It has been horrendous. The Oilers are 24th in the NHL. They pass around the perimeter. They won’t shoot and when they do shoot there is no one in front of the net.
- Penalty Kill – It has been worse than the power play. It ranks 29th in the NHL. Soft board play, sub-par goaltending, not covering the shooting lanes, and being lax on the point man – all reasons for the above ranking.
- Goaltending – For most of this young season it has been poor. Weak goals, bad positioning, and lack of the big save have all cost the Oilers this season.
- Soft play/defensive lapses– The Oilers get hemmed in their own zone. Why? They lose battles. The forward consistently fails to chip the puck out on the half wall. They are forced to dump the puck to centre. This leads to fatigue, mistakes and loss of momentum.
- Injuries – yes, I have to mention it. The Oilers started the season without Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent Hopkins. Then they lost Taylor Hall, Jesse Joensuu, Ryan Smyth, Tyler Pitlick… The Oilers are cursed with injuries to key players and by injuries in general.
Ok, this seems like an indictment. Did I not open this article talking about signs of encouragement? Ok let’s talk about those.
- Power Play – We talked about the injuries. The Oilers have been without key components on their power play all year. At various points of time the Oilers have been without Sam Gagner, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ryan Smyth and Jesse Joensuu. Smyth and Joensuu are vital to the net presence. Their absence, and the absence of other key players, has plagued the power play.
- Injuries – Injuries have been a problem. Many of these are to key players. The Oilers will have some of those players back soon – Hall in about 3 weeks.
- Goaltending – Dubnyk has improved since the start of the season. After arguably being front and centre in a few Oiler losses to start the season, he has been steady and downright good lately. I think we can assume he will be responsible for more wins than losses going forward.
- 5 on 5 play – The Oilers have 25 – 5- on- 5 goals this season. That is 5th in the NHL. Power plays and penalty kills are streaky. 5- on – 5 scoring can take you a long way.
Let’s be clear there are no sunshine, lollipops and rainbows in the Oilers future. They have dug themselves into a deep hole and there is no guarantee that they can dig themselves out. To get back into the playoff hunt the Oilers need a 5 or 6 game win streak. The Oilers defensive problems and penalty killing woes are not going to magically disappear. That hole is deep, but not insurmountable. There is hope, however small that the Oilers can turn futility to fulfillment.