The Oilers’ 3 major problems, and 3 analytical solutions

EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 21: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets on October 21, 2023 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)
EDMONTON, CANADA - OCTOBER 21: Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates with the puck in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets on October 21, 2023 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images) /
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PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – OCTOBER 19: Marc Staal #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers collides with Leon Draisaitl #29 of the Edmonton Oilers during the first period at the Wells Fargo Center on October 19, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

THE OILERS’ 3 MAJOR PROBLEMS HEADING INTO GAME 6

1.       Connor McDavid’s questionable health affects the top 6, and his potential absence would leave an immense hole down the center.

2.       Kane and Brown’s struggles have weakened the top 6 wings.

3.       The bottom 6 has yet to score a single goal in 5 games

That’s a list for sore eyes. To make matters worse, while playing against Winnipeg, Kane and Brown posted less-than-favorable results as they continued their fall from what appeared to be coming greatness as they opened the season on McDavid’s flanks.

Kane finally managed to saw-off at 5v5, posting 50.2 xGF% and 50.0 SCF%. His 53.3 CF% and 55.6 FF% suggest he did better at controlling the puck and avoiding traffic which is an improvement, but one would hope to see much more from him versus lower quality of competition on the 3rd line.

Brown performed remarkably worse. He somehow managed to post an eye-popping 1.1 xGF% at 5v5; that’s over 30% less than his closest teammate. He had a team-low 30.8 CF%, 14.3 FF% (suggesting barely any of his team’s shots were unblocked), and went 1-4 on scoring chances for. This is a big concern after his results were recently splitting hairs with those of Holloway some nights.

Kane now has 51.6 CF% on the year, which is an improvement in possession, and 35.5 xGF%, which is still unacceptable. His 40.0 SF% while on-ice is concerning, as his biggest asset was being an opportunistic volume shooter.

Brown moves to 65.0 CF%, which is great and is expected from a cycle player of his caliber, along with a 60.0 SF% and a 53.0 xGF5, both of which provide hope that success will come for him. He can’t have any more nights like he did against Winnipeg.

Sadly, Kane and Brown are no longer top 6 locks. No place in the lineup seems safe these days.

So what to do about the Oilers, a team with minus-7 goal differential, good for a dismal 30th in the NHL?

I say, bring on the speed, and bring on the offense.

GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT

Many fans took to social media to voice their disdain for the promotion of Janmark over Holloway. Janmark brought defense to the table but didn’t push the needle offensively or pose a serious goal-scoring threat despite numerous quality plays on-ice with his linemates, and even McDavid during some ice-time together.

2 goals on the night won’t win many games in the NHL anymore. In 2022-23, the average goals per game in the NHL was 6.32 as per forbes.com. What’s even more dire for the Oilers in 2023-24 is that they are averaging only 2.6 goals per game, which is on the wrong side of 3, and miles behind the league-leading Red Wings at 4.8 goals per game this season.

In the context of the 3 major problems outlined above, it’s time to take proactive steps to unleash the offense of a team that has so far appeared timid and unlucky.

As fans have suggested, Dylan Holloway has earned his chance to play in the top 6. Before the awful performance by Brown Saturday night, I was holding out for Woodcroft to promote Brown to take Kane’s place, since Woody has promoted veterans at almost every turn (most notably his signing of the 28-year-old Adam Erne and demotion of 26-year-old Lane Pederson, who has less than an NHL season of experience, and 23-year-old prospect Raphael Lavoie). Unfortunately, Brown has continued to give the coach little reason to trust or promote him.

Young players play up when injury strikes and the time is now to give the speedy Dylan Holloway more ice time.

MCDAVID POTENTIALLY BANGED UP

If McDavid is to miss any short-term time, the best option to fill McDavid’s shoes is the player with the most similar attributes to his. Yes, that would be a high-end skater and capable transition player Ryan McLeod.

Even if McDavid remains healthy enough to play, it could be wise to give McLeod a significant amount of minutes to keep McDrai’s TOI at a reasonable level. McDavid had an underlying issue that held him out of overtime on Saturday night, and Draisaitl was obviously exhausted by the end.

There are multiple advantages to promoting Ryan McLeod if needed. He is no longer an NHL rookie and has proven himself capable of handling much stronger competition than most people recognize. @Woodguy55 outlined this best when he showed that Jack Eichel posted only 31.8 xGF% versus McLeod in their 15-minute TOI against each other:

The best reason to promote McLeod in McDavid’s absence, however, is that it gives the Oilers options that no other player can.

First, McLeod’s speed and transition ability is similar to McDavid’s, and he has a history of playing alongside Leon Draisaitl. Without McDavid, the duo of Draisaitl-McLeod posted 60.2 xGF%, 60.5 SF%, and even 63.6 HDCF% in their 38:09 minutes together over the span of the last 87 regular season games. These are very impressive numbers and make sense when you consider that McLeod can act like a “McDavid-lite” in this situation.

Second, it gives the Oilers two 2nd-line options that are similar to each other and are likely to succeed in providing an outscoring 2nd line that does not contain McDavid or Draisaitl. The Foegele-Nuge-Hyman line, previously noted to be the Oilers’ only strong 5v5 line throughout this season, can be reunited with a favorable likelihood of continued success. All signs point to the Foegele-Nuge-Hyman line being capable as a 1A or 1B line at this time. Additionally, the duo of Holloway-McLeod for the last 2 years posted favorable results of 55.7 xGF%, 60.7 HDCF%, and 66.7 GF% in 160:42 TOI. This season alone they have posted impeccable stats of 70.9 xGF%, 87.5 HDCF%, but there have been no goals with them on the ice so far. All things considered, It’s quite likely that lines of Foegele-Nuge-Hyman and Holloway-McLeod-Draisaitl hold the best likelihood of scoring some goals if McDavid misses time while providing us with valuable information and player development.

On the other hand, if the coach does not trust the Holloway-McLeod duo versus stronger competition on a line with Draisaitl, Holloway can fill in for Hyman or Foegele, as one of them is moved to the McLeod-Draisaitl line to provide a more experienced, veteran presence in McDavid’s absence. Holloway has a somewhat similar playstyle to Hyman and is likely to provide some of the same benefits to a top 6 line, notably his capability to perform both dump-in recovery and offensive zone entries with puck possession. I outlined the excellent stats and chemistry of the Foegele-Hyman duo in my previous article.