NEW YORK – This is not good.
In fact, it’s far from being really bad.
This is not a negative, it is able to count.
At the quarter mark of the season, the Edmonton Oilers are a . 500 team, just 10-10 and bogged down in a cycle of slow starts and defensive breakdowns that give no indication that things are about to change anytime soon.
And as we all know, .500 teams miss the playoffs by about 15 points. If the Oilers are still in this predicament a month from now, you can wave goodbye to the playoffs.
“Obviously we have to do better,” said long-serving veteran Ryan Nugent Hopkins. “Three and seven in the last 10 games is not good enough. We are a play-off team, but we have to start playing like him consistently. For the guy, everyone has to step up and find a way around this.”
There is a lot they have to work their way through. First, it’s not good enough defensively, and that part isn’t even up for discussion. In addition to the visual evidence – game after game of wide open opponents feeding around Edmonton’s net – there are stark statistical skid marks. The Oilers are 28th in the league in shots against per game, 29th in goals per game, 31st in goals scored, and 21st in penalties.
These are not the base numbers for a team on the rise.
“I honestly think our defense has been better lately than it was at the start of the year, but obviously it still has a long way to go, that’s pretty obvious,” said Captain Conor McDavid. “We have to be stingy in our area, harder in front of our net, all those kinds of things.”
Second, they won’t be ready when the disc drops. In nearly half of their games this year (eight of 20), they’ve trailed 1-0 on five shots. He also gave up a goal within the first two minutes of the second half six times.
In four of their last seven games, they have fallen behind 11-1, 11-0, 12-2 and 8-1 on the shot clock.
Thirdly, the six lowest of them have almost no identity. They don’t score much. They don’t hit much. They don’t create energy. It’s certainly hard to find traction for the bottom six players on a team riding its top two lines so intensely, but their contributions weren’t good enough.
The Oilers have hit 66 goals this year. McDavid, Leon Drassitel, Nugent Hopkins, Zack Hyman and Evander Kane have 50 of them. defense seven. The other ten forwards have nine goals between them.
Thus, the team with the league’s leading scorers is now 12th in the league in offense.
After how well the Oilers looked down the stretch and into the playoffs last year, the days of living seemed side by side. Certainly, doing the playoffs every year would be automatic. It is impossible for this season to turn into another 2018.
But here they are, teetering on the brink of a stunning relapse.
“We’re working on who this year’s edition of the Oilers is,” said head coach Guy Woodcroft. “While we’ve done some good things, we haven’t done enough good things long enough to put something together the way we’d like it to.”
Who the Oilers are is what their record says – a .500 team. You can’t ignore their strength or their schedule, which was brutal, or losing Kane for three months was a huge success, but what we saw in their first 20 matches wasn’t good enough.
“I think results are sometimes delayed,” said Woodcroft, who expects a breakthrough very soon. “We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not far from where we want to be either. That’s an important thing to realize. This is a close-knit group, and we know how to win.”
That’s what they’re counting on, that the raise they collected last season will come again and save the season.
“It’s a really flexible group,” said Darnell Nurse. “We got through last year (2-11-2) where the sky was falling on us. Everyone was pulling on us and we found a way to push ourselves into the playoffs.”
The difference between then and now is that the Oilers were first at 16-5 when they started that slide. They had 11 games of breathing room at the quarter mark. Today, there are none. They are tenth in the Western Conference.
And last year they got their adrenaline shots by firing the coach and adding Ken, neither of which are happening anytime soon.
They’ll have to fix this without adding a landscaping change. And quickly.
“It’s a quarter of the way through, we’re not sitting here in April having a recession like this,” McDavid said. “Teams have gone through consecutive losses and come back and win six or seven in a row. We have to find ourselves, hold our ground and come back to it.”
On Twitter: @Rob_Tychkowski