After 3 wins in October, it's time to ask if the Oilers really are playoff contenders
'That’s a lot of points that have gone by, and you never get them back,' says coach Todd McLellan
A month ago, just about everyone had the Edmonton Oilers pegged as a serious Stanley Cup contender.
The storyline went like this: After a decade in the wilderness, a young, dynamic team, led by a generational talent named Connor McDavid, would build on the confidence gained during two playoff rounds last season and continue its rise toward the top of the league standings.
Many hockey experts picked the Oilers to finish first in the Pacific Division, and many Oilers fans believed those predictions. They believed because they are fans and they love their team — except when they hate it — and because they were told to believe.
Then reality kicked in.
Ten games into the 2017-18 season, the time has come for a reassessment — and perhaps a reckoning.
With a 5-2 loss at home Saturday night against the Washington Capitals, the Oilers now have a record of 3-6-1. With seven points, they sit 29th in the standings.
They have scored a total of 22 goals and given up 33.
They have struggled in every way imaginable: in their own zone, in the offensive zone, at even strength, on the penalty kill and on the power play.
There have been too many mistakes, too many lapse and blown assignments, too many nights when the Oilers fell behind and chased the game, too many times when they outshot their opponent and still came out on the losing end.
October is behind them now. Ahead lies November, when the Oilers will play 16 games, nine of them on the road. Given their start, by the end of November this team will either have solved its problems and turned things around, or played its way out of contention.
Ten games is only one-eighth of a season. Far more lies ahead than behind.
How dire are things? It depends on who you ask.
"I think we've got to understand that's it's only 10 games," McDavid said after Saturday's loss. We've got 72 [games] left. That's a long ways away. There's a lot of hockey left."
16 playoff spots, plenty of good teams
The NHL has become the kind of league where any team can win on any given night.
Who was predicting that, by this point, the Las Vegas Golden Knights would be 8-1, or the New Jersey Devils would be 8-2, or the Vancouver Canucks would be 6-3-1?
There are plenty of good teams out there chasing 16 playoff spots.
"We're a good team, too," the Oilers captain said. "And we can't forget that. We're 10 games in. I think people need to remember that."
We're a good team, too. And we can't forget that. We're 10 games in. I think people need to remember that.- Connor McDavid, Oilers captain
Coach Todd McLellan, once again, was not happy with his team's performance on Saturday, and signaled changes are coming to special teams and defensive pairings.
The power play Saturday night had four chances against the Capitals and failed to capitalize.
"It's predictable, it's stationary," McLellan said. "And we're obviously going to have to change and move the personnel around a fair amount. We've given them enough opportunity."
Asked about his team's poor start, McLellan was blunt.
"There's nothing early about this," he said. "Let's not kid ourselves. We're an eighth into the season. That's a lot of points that have gone by, and you never get them back."
Ten games is a nice round number that offers a chance to study the tea leaves of last season to search for favourable signs.
By Nov. 1, 2016, the 7-3 Oilers had scored 31 goals and surrendered 22. They sat second in the overall standings, trailing only the Montreal Canadiens.
There is much to be learned, both good and bad, by glancing back to the start of last season.
As last November opened, the bottom 12 teams in the standings looked like this:
- Arizona Coyotes, 3-6, missed the playoffs by 24 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 2-7, missed the playoffs
- Nashville Predators, 3-6, won a wildcard spot and went to Stanley Cup finals
- Winnipeg Jets, 4-6, missed the playoffs by seven points
- Los Angeles Kings, 4-6, missed the playoffs by eight points
- New York Islanders, 4-6, missed the playoffs by one point
- Dallas Stars, 3-6, missed the playoffs by 15 points
- Calgary Flames, 4-7, made the playoffs, lost in the first round
- Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-7, won wildcard spot, lost in the first round
- Philadelphia Flyers, 4-6, missed the playoffs by seven points
- Florida Panthers, 4-6, missed the playoffs by 14 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 4-5, missed the playoffs by 25 points
The Oilers' strong start last October allowed the team to build confidence. They believed and the fans believed and the team carried that swagger throughout the season and into the playoffs, where they turned a lot of heads.
Many of those heads are now wondering: Can this team overcome a poor start prove themselves again?
November will tell the tale.