Hockey Night in Canada


Life's not fair. Just ask the Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers finally made the playoffs last season after years of lowly finishes and high draft picks. But this year, Connor McDavid and Co. have been unable to build off that success and now need a spectacular finish to make the playoffs.

The good vibrations of last spring feel like a lifetime ago for Edmonton

The look on Connor McDavid's face accurately describes the Oilers' 2017-18 season so far. (Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press)

The hockey world can be a cruel place.

Just ask the Edmonton Oilers. These days, rivals have been having a field day with jokes and jibes directed at the underachieving club.

Why are the Oilers back among the league's worst? Because they need another high draft pick.

That dig, of course, was in reference to the fact that amid a decade-long run of Stanley Cup playoff-less futility, the Oilers had nine top-10 selections in the draft, including four first overall choices in Connor McDavid (2015), Nail Yakupov (2012), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (2011), and Taylor Hall (2010).

Edmonton finally made the playoffs last season and beat up on the San Jose Sharks — the defending West champs — in the first round. It took a third-period goal from the Anaheim Ducks to eliminate the Oilers in a deciding seventh game in the second round.

But McDavid and Co. have been unable to build off the success of last season. Even though the Oilers defeated the Boston Bruins 4-2 to conclude their five-game road trip on Sunday, Edmonton needs a spectacular finish to make the playoffs.

Since the 2012-13 lockout season, the average point total for the final playoff spot in the West has been 93. That means the Oilers, who enjoyed a .628 win percentage a year ago, have to play .629 hockey the rest of the way and pluck 73 points in their final 58 outings.

They are six points back of the Vancouver Canucks, who for now hold down the final playoff spot in the West. But to get to the Canucks, the 9-13-2 Oilers have to jump over five teams, including strong outfits in the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Anaheim Ducks.

No easy answers in Edmonton

If you're an Oilers fan how do you view the recent five-game road trip? Do you look at it as terrible because they only checked in with four of a possible 10 points, because they were embarrassed 8-3 by the St. Louis Blues, because they failed to build off of an impressive 6-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings only to drop a 3-1 decision to the lowly Buffalo Sabres two nights later?

Or do you view it as positive because they won two of the last three games, the final game against a Boston club that was missing key players Brad Marchand and David Backes to injury and had a rusty Tuukka Rask back in goal after a five-game absence? 

There are no easy answers for the Oilers. With the exception of their totals for shots-for and shots-against, there are deficiencies in all areas of their game right now.

Goals per game8th (2.96)26th (2.61)
Goals against23rd (2.52)27th (3.30)
Shots per game8th (31.1)7th (34.3)
Shots against9th (31.1)10th (30.9)
Power play 5th (22.9)16th (19.7)
Penalty kill 17th (80.7)29th (74.4)

Up front, McDavid has the flu and too many players like Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon have slumped. Maybe trading too much offence in Hall and Jordan Eberle the past two years has caught up to Edmonton.

Head coach Todd McLellan moved Leon Draisaitl off McDavid's line and to the middle of the second line against the Bruins, a tactic that worked at times in the playoff run last spring.

In goal, workhorse Cam Talbot has had difficulty matching his terrific 2016-17 season.

Edmonton general manager Peter Chiarelli made a trade for veteran left wing Mike Cammalleri a dozen days ago and there has been speculation more moves will be made for blue-line help. Nugent-Hopkins has been mentioned as trade bait and if he's dealt, that means the Oilers will have dealt three of their four first overall selections.

Canadian teams struggling with expectations

Is this about personnel or is this about Edmonton meeting expectations? With the success last year more has been expected of the Oilers and they obviously are having difficulty with the pressure of building on the trip to the second round.

They are not alone. You see this with other Canadian-based NHL clubs.

Yes, the Winnipeg Jets have exceeded early-season expectations with a fantastic start. The Canucks weren't expected to pile up points either in their transition year under rookie head coach Travis Green. But they have been surprisingly solid, especially on the road.

But then there are the Calgary Flames, who were supposed to be much better with their all-world defence corps and Mike Smith in goal.

The Senators have failed to build on their trip to the East final and the Matt Duchene trade. The Montreal Canadiens have been a bust despite the off-season move to acquire Jonathan Drouin. After a strong start, the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled with their consistency, going 9-8-1 in their last 18 outings.

For the Oilers, the good vibrations of last spring feel like a lifetime ago. A five or six-game win streak would be welcome at this point. But if the winning doesn't come soon the Oilers will have another early draft pick in June and another summer of sadness, something their fans thought was behind them.


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