Brand New Season, Same Old Oilers

It's only four games into the season...but it's already four games into the season. And some very familiar bugaboos are showing up in northern Alberta.
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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers aren’t competing hard enough in the defensive zone.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers are getting below-average goaltending.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers’ bottom six forwards are aren’t accomplishing much of anything.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers’ superstar players are running hot and cold and when the best player in the world and the reigning Hart Trophy winner run cold, the Oilers have almost no chance of winning the game.

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but some of the Edmonton Oilers’ promising young players have hit a bump in the road.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the Edmonton Oilers are 1-3-0 and are in danger of digging themselves into a hole from which it could be very difficult to emerge.

Sure, it’s only four games into the season, but it’s already four games into the season. All anyone has talked about for the past couple of months is how important it will be to get off to a good start in a truncated season. And for the Oilers, if you’re trying to change people’s perception of you being a top-heavy group that plays it fast and loose when it doesn’t have the puck, well, you might want to, you know, establish that early on. But the Oilers have done anything but that. In fact, they’ve reinforced every one of those notions. They have a minus-5 goals differential and in games when they’re not carried by the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, they lose. In a two-game set against the Montreal Canadiens, they were outscored 8-2. The fact that their power play went 0-for-10 in those games probably isn’t a huge concern, since the Oilers power play was historically outstanding last season. The fact they gave up a shorthanded goal in each of those games should be.

They should also be concerned about a couple of other things. We’re four games into the season and already coach Dave Tippett is trying to find a spark by juggling his lines. He’s already sat out Caleb Jones and Ethan Bear, two young defensemen who are supposed to be part of the solution in Edmonton. He was particularly pointed in his criticisms of Bear, not only for his defensive lapses, but his compete level.

And if there’s anything – beyond the power play, beyond goaltending, beyond the lack of production from secondary players – that should alarm Oilers fans, it’s that. Bear was the one who sat out, but it’s pretty clear Tippett is not pleased with level of compete up and down the lineup. Just four games into the season with a team that is supposed to be young and hungry and there are already questions about their commitment and willingness to compete? That’s a tad scary.

After the Oilers’ 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens Monday night, Tippett mentioned his team’s competitive level several times. In the Oilers’ only win of the season, a 5-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on the weekend, he liked it. And there have been stretches in games where that high level of compete has been there. But too often it is lacking, particularly in the defensive zone.

“The competitive level in defending,” Tippett said when asked what concerns him the most. “Defending the front of our net, winning battles in our own zone, that’s where we’re having some issues. For the most part our team works hard, but there’s a competitive level of winning battles, winning stick battles, winning loose-puck battles and defending the front of your net and that’s the area we need to improve. There was more of a mindset to do that (Monday night) and more people were engaged in doing it, now we’ve got to turn that into wins.”

And they’d better start soon, like starting Wednesday night and Friday night on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And, like most teams in the NHL, the Oilers play every other night pretty much for the next two weeks, so there will be precious little practice time to correct their errors. But as Kyle Turris pointed out, what the Oilers are doing wrong is because of what is between their ears, and there’s no amount of practice that’s going to change that.

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