Normally, it would be cause for celebration. The Oilers are 8th in the NHL in goals scored. That means they should be within striking distance of a playoff spot, right? Not so fast. Even though the Oilers have over 80 goals, they are so transparent on defense that they have let in the most goals against in the league, with well over a hundred.
In the first game back after the latest road trip, the Oilers laid yet another goose egg, allowing the Phoenix Coyotes to embarrass them with one of their worst efforts of the year, losing 6-2. Further adding to the frustration is the habit the Oilers have losing the first game of a home stand, something they do almost every time they return from a road trip, short or long. Regardless, it was a blown opportunity to move closer to 8th place in the first phase of a five game stretch at Rexall Place.
Those that caught Dallas Eakins post-game comments after the Coyotes game heard him talk about the fact his players don’t call one another out on the ice.The next game they played a superior team in Patrick Roy’s upstart Colorado Avalanche, and eviscerated the visitors, pouring on the offense for an 8-2 shellacking that was mostly defensively sound. their focus.
It’s as simple as it sounds. Let’s say Nail Yakupov (who has gone cold once again–not one, ONE, five on five goal as of yet) is streaking up the wing when Gagner yells “YAK!” Just the simple mention of his name, snaps the player into focus. Eakins said that he didn’t see that happen as a habit, and is trying to instill that in his players.
Sure enough, in the beatdown of the Avalanche, an astute observer would’ve seen and heard the players doing just what Coach Eakins asked of them. The result? Eight goals. Obviously, other elements of team play helped craft the dominating win, but can the boys sustain it? Prior to the offensive outburst, Eakins had Anton Belov sent to Oklahoma City, and Jeff Petry stapled to the bench. In their place, Philip Larsen and Martin Marincin (in his first NHL game) were recalled. So as to not start a revolution with his players, he brought the exiled players back into the line up for the game Saturday December 7th against the Calgary Flames. The Oilers scored a massive amount again–ONCE.
Clearly, the Oilers are in need of a skilled, forceful defenceman. Of course, Edmonton’s need for a d-man is well known and has been a need for some time. But it is interesting that when Eakins recalls players, they tend to contribute to a win. Often, fans clamor for more time for the youngsters. Philip Larsen and Taylor Fedun, especially, have made an impact on the score sheet.
Eakins knows they need more time to refine their game. It’s got to be maddening, though, when your veteran defenders are sometimes worse than those who have been toiling in the minors. They are getting paid millions to do their job, and so Eakins has an obligation to play them. However, I think the rookie coach has made it abundantly clear that players with bloated contracts will be asked to step aside if their play deteriorates.
Over the next few weeks, leading up to the Olympic break, the Oilers will need to assess their blue line. Bryzgalov, Dubnyk and Labarbera should be able to shoulder the load in net. But, they need to nail down their defense. It’s too much to ask to expect our young core to carry the team. The team is scoring, and you can’t ask for much more. You can, however, ask a LOT more of the defense. They need to stonewall our opponents. Breakouts are happening far too often, and the goalies can only do so much.
Long and short of it, the Oilers either need a more complete effort from their current defensemen, or they rebuild the blue line by trade and free agency this year. No one is prying Weber away easily, but there are tenacious d-men across the league who can be had by a savvy GM. Craig Mactavish was on the ball trading Pajaarvi for the explosive David Perron, perhaps he can perform another feat such as that. By the way, Tom Gilbert is having a great year in Florida.