Edmonton Oilers need to rediscover their defensive dominance

An inconsistent February was highlighted by a porous defence which the Oilers must fix if they are to be a genuine Stanley Cup contender come playoff time.

Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers
Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

The Edmonton Oilers managed to finish February on a winning note, courtesy of a 3-2 overtime victory versus the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night. It also meant the Oilers were able to secure a winning record for the third consecutive month. (For what it's worth, they went .500 in November, with a 7-7-0 record.)

However, whereas the Oilers went 9-3-0 in December and a stunning 11-0-0 in January, they finished with a less convincing 6-5-1 record for February. This understandably leads to wondering why Kris Knoblauch's team was more inconsistent compared to the two previous months?

The main reason comes down to a porous defence which allowed 46 goals in 12 games, for an average of 3.83 per contest. Compare this to January, when the Oilers allowed just 14 goals in 11 contests for an extremely impressive average of 1.27 per game.

Even the month before in December was better, with Stuart Skinner and company allowing 31 goals in 12 games, for an average of 2.58 per contest. In fact, the only month this season when the Oilers averaged more goals against per game was back in October, when they allowed 4.00 per contest during their disastrous 2-5-1 start to the 2023-24 campaign.

Will the real Oilers please stand up?

This leads to the question of which month better represents the real version of the Oilers' defensive prowess? It's an important question to ask, given the answer may help Ken Holland and company decide what to do ahead of the Mar. 8 trade deadline.

In truth, the answer probably lies somewhere in between the respective defensive efforts of the two previous months. For the season as a whole, the Oilers are ranked 12th in the NHL with an average of 2.98 goals per game, and tied-15th with a .901 team save percentage following Thursday's slate of action.

For some further context, consider the collective defensive performance during the 2022-23 regular season. The Oilers ranked 17th with an average of 3.12 goals against per contest, and tied-16th with a .903 save percentage.

You can make a case that the Oilers are overall a better defensive team compared to last season, particularly since Knoblauch took over. Although, as shown during February, still not as good as some might have thought they were.

Necessary to make a move by the trade deadline

The point is, the Oilers do need to improve the team defensively prior to the trade deadline. Certainly, something akin to the deal with netted Mattias Ekholm last season from the Nashville Predators would be ideal.

At the same time, you can also make an argument for another goaltender to share the load with Skinner, who has been solid for the most part but is in danger of wearing down from overuse. In fact, a top-four defenceman and a tandem goalie would be even better.

Of course this is easier said than done, given the Oilers' tenuous salary cap situation. As per Cap Friendly, they are projected to have a deadline cap space of just $2,373,102 as things stand.

Next. 3 Assets the Oilers can trade away at the deadline. 3 Assets the Oilers can trade away at the deadline. dark

At the same time we do know the Oilers has several assets to offer, including a first round draft pick, Cody Ceci and prospect Philip Broberg among others. It's just a case of Holland being able to work his magic, especially with this set to be his final season as general manager (and president of hockey operations) in Edmonton.

We know the Oilers can score with the best of them, but as previous seasons have proven it won't matter one bit if their defensive game isn't up to scratch. What they do between now and 1 p.m. MT on Mar. 8 will tell us a lot about just how invested the team is in trying to win it all this season.

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