October 2018 – TheOilKnight.ca
 

Month: October 2018

 

 

“The Oilers have a BRUTAL schedule in the first 10 games to start the season. I’ll be happy if we go 5-5 in those games.”

 

Signed,

Just about everyone

 

Well the nightmarish part of the schedule is over and don’t look now – the Oilers are 6-3-1.

San Jose also won later last night but they’ve played 11 games so I’m not counting that right now, OK?

 

Now if you read my Game 1 summary I wasn’t happy with the system employed by Edmonton that game. In fact, for the next couple games I was highly critical of how coach McLellan’s team was attacking the opposition (I know, everyone thinks they know more than the coach but I maintain there were legitimate concerns). However, instead of complaining in a post after every game I left that to Twitter and a couple of podcasts. Plus, who has time for that? ūüôā¬† I’ve always maintained this is a talented team capable of making the playoffs but were not being utilized properly. The dump and chase philosophy that Coach McLellan seems to love so much was just taking away so much of the offensive creativity of this team one couldn’t help but get frustrated. The Oilers dropped their first two games then squeaked by a lousy Rangers team (thanks to a couple of lucky posts) but were down once again 4-1 to Winnipeg in the 2nd period and the call for McLellan’s job was loud and clear.

Can you blame them? After all, this team struggled out of the gate last year and all the coaches around him got fired in the offseason. (Ftr, I was also one of those calling for his firing). Now, they were staring down a 1-3 start with some tough opponents still up on the horizon. The Oilers were playing awful for the first half of that game trying to execute the coach’s system with unsuccessful dump-in after unsuccessful dump-in. It looked like men versus boys out there as one Twitter peep put it with the Jets just dominating possession. But then, something slowly started to change. The Jets took their foot off the gas and the Oilers just started “playing” again.¬†

The offensive gameplan for the first 10 periods of the season looked like a kid drew it up in a sandbox. The Oilers were so predictable, they were playing dump and chase 75% of the time and were getting beat to 75% of their dump-ins. They were not providing proper puck support on the defensive end and they were just ringing the puck around the boards in the offensive zone so they could get a weak shot on net from the point with no one in front. This happened time after time again. Meanwhile, their opponents were beating them to pucks, attacking their zone with speed, and constantly looking for high quality scoring chances in high danger areas. I know because I tracked every game on video. The Oilers had terrible gameplans and poor execution. But that 3rd period in Winnipeg changed the course of the season so far.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

In that game versus Winnipeg, as mentioned the Oilers were down 4-1 in the 2nd but started to put together good shifts late in the period by just attacking the Jets with speed. They stopped playing dump and chase and opened up offensively, quite often carrying the puck into the zone and attacked Winnipeg’s defence. While they didn’t score, they finished strong and then came out flying in the 3rd. After scoring 17 seconds in, the Oilers continued to press the Jets who never really pushed back and were able to force it to Overtime where Darnell Nurse scored the goal of the year so far for Edmonton and give them a huge come from behind two points.¬†

That momentum carried over to the following game vs. Boston where the Oilers were able to hang with a very talented Bruins squad, and ultimately managed to pull out another OT win thanks to Leon Draisaitl. It was a nice response to an earlier defeat to the Bruins, but what impressed me was how the Oilers mixed up their offensive strategy to throw off Boston. They changed up their lines and offensive approach by dumping the puck in less and attacking their defence more. The cycle game was still relatively ineffective but the puck support in our defensive zone was much better which led to better transitions. Todd McLellan’s history of making adjustments typically tells us it takes him forever to make any, but you could see some noticeable changes in that game that helped lead the Oilers to the win.

courtesy of NHL.com

The next game was against Nashville where basically the Oilers ran into a hot goalie who had their number plain and simple. They hung with the Preds for the majority of the game but a costly decision to put Khaira and Strome out on the Top Powerplay to start ended up costing the team a goal and it was the game winner. Even in that game though, you could see adjustments were made. In particular, how the Oilers defended the slot to prevent one-timers on the Powerplay and Edmonton’s play in the neutral zone. We lost, but it wasn’t a bad loss and the Predators were the top team in the NHL so we moved on to the next game.¬†

Pittsburgh was the next opponent. In that game, Edmonton was the better team in my estimation but Cam Talbot wasn’t his best and Sidney Crosby proved why he is a superstar in overtime by scoring the game winner. Edmonton got another point however and proved to themselves they could hang with the big boys with another strong effort. Leon Draisaitl, who has mainly struggled for the most part this season had his best game I thought. The Oilers were 3-3-1 after that game and everyone (including myself) thought even best case scenario 5-4-1 would be great but 4-4-2 would be fine too. Little did we know, Edmonton would rip off 3 straight to finish with 13 points in 10 games but that’s exactly what happened.¬†

After handling the Washington Capitals 4-1, Coach McLellan finally decided to give $2.5 Mill backup Mikko Koskinen a start in what seemed an extremely difficult spot – at Nashville. The Preds have owned the Oilers over the last few years and were leading the NHL in points. Plus, Koskinen hadn’t played a game in a month. None of that seemed to matter though as the Oilers gave a tremendous effort and were finally able to solve Jusse Saros¬†(who seemed to have their number) by beating he and the Preds¬†5-3. Edmonton then followed that up with another 2-1 overtime victory in Chicago in back to back games finishing a horrid schedule at top of the Pacific at the time. It was a ridiculously tough schedule and the results were absolutely astonishing considering the fact the Oilers started 0-2 and looked pretty damn useless for the majority of 4 games. So what happened?

 

Courtesy of NHL.com

For one, the team made adjustments. As someone who records and breaks down every game on video, you could see the offensive gameplan was tinkered with & the lines were juggled. Kailer Yamamoto was NOT working with Leon Draisaitl. Milan Lucic was NOT working with Leon Draisaitl. Matt Benning was NOT working on the 2nd pair with Darnell Nurse. The Oilers forwards waiting for the puck at the blueline while the defence wrung it around the boards was NOT working. The constant dump and chase only to not get there was NOT working. The philosophy of just keep cycling the puck until you get it back to the point for a weak shot on net with no one in front was NOT working. And lastly, the compete level and overall execution while not terrible, was not good enough to get it done.

Now, if this was last year then the odds of all that being adjusted in a short period of time would have highly unlikely. However, while Coach McLellan deserves some credit for doing it much more quickly this time, you do have to wonder how much the assistant coaches played a part in that. There’s no question the penalty kill has made adjustments and that is specifically because of Assistant coach Trent Yawney. They are technically ranked 20th right now but have given up a 5 on 3 goal and a 6 on 4 goal both on the road where they’re 27th in the league (68.2%). At home, they are 5th¬†right now on the PK at 90.9%. The powerplay, which despite having 5 lefties and their point man Oscar Klefbom having zero goals, is still a respectable 11th in the NHL thanks mainly to Connor McDavid who is tied for the most¬†PP points in the league with 8. Not sure if McLellan, Gulutzan or Viveiros is to thank there or if it is a combination of all three but it’s been relatively successful so far though it remains to be seen if this all-lefties PP setup is sustainable long-term.¬†

Secondly, the team’s overall effort has dramatically spiked since the first half of that Winnipeg game and secondary guys have upped their intensity. Drake Caggiula has been a sparkplug for this team when in the lineup. Milan Lucic is playing fast, finishing his checks and making good decisions. Kailer Yamamoto has played much better since being removed from Draisaitl’s line. Tobias Rieder has been fantastic lately at both ends of the ice while sporting a 5 points in 3 games streak entering last night’s game. Kris Russell has come in and solidified that second pair, and Alex Chiasson has scored some big goals for this team. This all while Leon Draisaitl, by his own admission needs to find his game and get better after a slow start where he has only scored 6 goals and 11 points in 10 games. LOL.¬†

Alex Chiasson scores. (Codie McLachlan/CP)

Lastly, the team now has confidence. It was such a disappointing season last year where the Oilers just couldn’t seem to dig themselves out of an early hole, and were playing catch up pretty much all season. This year, they had that big comeback against Winnipeg and it just seemed to springboard them through the rest of the trip. It was a daunting task to remain competitive in light of such a tough schedule but in hindsight it might have been the best thing for this team as it forced them to up their intensity & “play up” to their opponents high level. The challenge now moving forward will be to not “play down’ to their perceived lesser opponents and maintain consistency throughout the season – something that has plagued them over the last few years.¬†

The good news is, the worst part of the schedule appears to be over and the Pacific division is completely up for grabs. The Oilers have done a tremendous job over these first 10 games to bank as many points as they could and set themselves up for a successful season. Surely, there will still be plenty of ups and downs throughout the course of the year but to not start in that hole like last season should do wonders for this team’s confidence. But it’s not always how you start it’s how you finish and that finish line is still a long ways away. So far so good I say, if the Oilers can bring that type of intensity and effort that they have over these last few games then the sky’s the limit for this team. They have the best player in the league and a lot of talented players around him, there’s no reason why they can’t get at least 3rd in the Pacific and a trip back to the playoffs. Go Oilers go!

 

 

 

To comment please do so via Twitter @TheOilKnight. 

 

 

 

Fast. Aggressive. Hockey. 

That’s what Oilers fan could look forward to in the 2018-19 season. Or at least that’s what we were told. I know, I know, it’s only one game I totally agree with you. I’m not upset at all that we lost Game 1 of an 82 game season but I am concerned HOW we lost. You see, in the offseason we were led to believe the Oilers would dramatically change their approach. We believed that Coach McLellan took “a long look in the mirror” and that the necessary adjustments would be made. Gone were all the assistants, instead replaced with a new group that was going to tap into this roster’s strengths. The Powerplay and Penalty Kill units were going to be completely overhauled and run by the new coaches. The defence was going to focus on eliminating time and space while being more aggressive. We were going to attack teams in the offensive zone in “waves”. We were told to prepare for “The Flood“.

Well, after watching Game 1 (a couple of times over) one thing was clear Рlittle has changed since last year. Breaking down the film we saw a lot of what we saw last season. Edmonton got outworked badly, let in the 1st shot of the game (again), struggled in transition, were awful in their own zone, struggled on the Powerplay (minus the 1st one), got beat to loose pucks, had terrible puck support, and went 17 minutes without a shot. Overall, it was a poor effort that ended in a disappointing result Рa 5-2 loss. 

So what about this new attacking style of dumping and chasing in waves? How would that work against a fast team that excels at puck support and transition defence? Take a look:

As you can see, this “new” system that McLellan has instilled certainly faltered in the opener. Perhaps, it is just a poor systematic approach against such a quick team. That begs the question then why weren’t more in-game adjustments made? Defensively, the philosophy of eliminating time and space was almost completely non-existent as the Devils players were allowed to enter the zone uncontested & dominated possession all game. Puck support was a huge issue as the Oilers forwards were either too slow coming back to help the defence or didn’t bother to come back at all. This aggressive forecheck in waves we were promised was practically negated completely. Line chemistry was an issue especially on that 2nd scoring line where Draisaitl and Lucic had zero shots 5 on 5 the entire game playing with Yamamoto. The gameplan was poorly drawn up and the execution level was just as bad. Lousy overall performance but again it was just one game……right?

Guess Todd doesn’t feel the same way as Evan Bouchard and Kyle Brodziak are benched for Drake Caggiula and Jason Garrison. Jesse Puljujarvi remains in the bottom 6 potentially on the 4th line despite a terrific pre-season where we saw him get ZERO opportunity in the Top 6. Sorry Jesse, Todd has his “circle of trust” and you’re either in it or you’re not. Just ask Anton Slepyshev or Nail Yakupov all about that.¬†

Not to worry though. I’m sure the new assistant coaches will help him figure it out shortly. How’s the new assistant Manny Vivieros working out so far by the way?

So let me get this straight….. “It’s only one game” right?

  • Rookie Evan Bouchard who showed some rookie jitters but held his own for the most part is benched after 1 game.
  • 14 yr veteran & RH shot Center & penalty killer Kyle Brodziak is benched after one average game for the non penalty killing winger in Drake Caggiula.
  • Jesse Puljujarvi who lit it up preseason and who we were told “loves to play with Strome” is taken OFF Strome’s line one game in but not due to a bump up in the lineup. He is demoted. After one game. Sure, that’ll help his confidence.¬†
  • Manny Viveiros, who was specifically brought in to help ignite a stagnant Powerplay that was the WORST IN THE LEAGUE last year is NOT in charge of the PP as McLellan decides to run it himself and with 5 left-handed shots. SMH.¬†

I admit, I was one of the people who was calling for McLellan to be fired after last season. I also promised he would get a clean slate this season and I would give him the benefit of the doubt. I still believe this is a very talented team but I have real doubts about TMac as coach that I just can’t shake. For one, he is ridiculously stubborn in his ways. If you don’t believe me, read this article about his time in San Jose and pay attention to how many times the word “stubborn” is used. Now we hear he is not even using Vivieros who was brought in to run the PP? Todd has also been notoriously slow at making adjustments throughout his career. I’m curious to see what systemic changes he makes on the ice or if we just see more of the same with similar results.

Regardless, we already knew this was going to be a bumpy first 10 games or so in the schedule. The question is, can they survive in the month of October and will McLellan be around to see it? I’m not sure but I can’t wait to see what happens in Game 2.¬†

 

Please check out our Podcast 

“Late Night with the OilKnight”

if you haven’t already where we go into further detail regarding the Oilers and the coaching staff.

 

 

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