Edmonton – The Edmonton Oilers were not considered this team. A team that can’t hold on to a six-game losing streak, or doesn’t work hard enough to close out the Ottawa Senators in the third period.
A club as fragile as its 39-year-old starting goalkeeper.
A mature team – one that has challenged for its division lead in each of the last two seasons – how did this team come to be? One that doesn’t look mature at all?
“It’s a fair question,” began defenseman Tyson Barry, who confronted the media on Monday at the then-place of the Oilers leadership group. “At the beginning of the year, when things were going well, our motto was, ‘We don’t lose two in a row.’ And every time we lost a game, we had a good bounce back game. It looked like we were looking for ways to win.
“Then it broke.”
The Oilers are currently embroiled in their second six-game losing streak, in a season that is only 35 games old. He allowed five Senators to score in the third period on Saturday in what looked like a team that didn’t know what to do with a 3-1 lead.
Or one that wasn’t prepared to work as hard as a team that clearly wanted more than those two points.
There’s a book out on these oilers: they’re not deep enough, they aim poorly, and they’re easy to play against. It’s so easy to play against.
After a day of combat practice in Monday’s practice, even the head coach hinted at that final critique. He sees it in his lineup. There isn’t enough aggression, or players who find a way to make an evening at Rogers Place are no fun for the opponent.
Not enough real workers. Lots of phonies.
“There are ways it can be hard for us to play against,” Dave Tippett admitted, pointing to some of the work he saw in the video review. Work that doesn’t bode well for his team.
“You can be in the lane, but you can’t be in the lane,” Tippett explained. “You want to block a shot? Then try hard to do it. We’re there, but we’re not there.
“There are parts of our game where … we have a boy, but we don’t have a boy. There’s another element that has to be done at high speed, which makes us a tough team to play against. “
That’s why they took defenseman Ethan Bier to Carolina for big, injured winger Warren Foegele. Bear was small and easy to play against. But as it turns out, the Foegle is bigger and easier to play as well. It just comes in a big package.
Up came six-foot-two, 207-pound forward Ryan McLeod. His size was about to come with an increased physical presence.
Derek Ryan? Nada.
Of all the extras, only Zach Hyman can knock anyone down – and that’s a top 6 winger. The fact that Bottom 6 is as soft as Oilers Bottom 6 turns out is a failure by General Manager Ken Holland.
And when we’re on that topic, so is the goal.
The Oilers received news on Monday that Stuart Skinner had been placed in COVID-19 protocol, meaning Miko Koskinen steps back in the middle of the pipe Thursday night when Florida is in town. That Koskinen has completely lost the trust of his teammates is a simple deduction, in a league where no one knows before the players whether a teammate is a help or a hindrance.
The Oilers went to war this season with an aging Smith and the inconsolable Koskinen – and Smith has been injured almost all year – marks one of Holland’s poorest bets. He hasn’t given his team a chance to score a goal, so he hasn’t given them a chance – and that’s up to the GM, if and or but.
Here in Edmonton, they were hoping beyond hope that Skinner would become their Jordan Binnington, the minor league hero who last took the St. Louis Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019. But Skinner fell apart in that third period. Weekend.
Still, he would have started on Thursday. That’s where Koskinen stands in this organization.
Tippett, who gave Koskinen a facelift after his last poor start, will hold his nose on Thursday and start the big Finn. That’s right – a team that has scored the first goal in 23 of their last 27 will go with the person who is second in the NHL in the number of goals allowed in the opening five minutes of the game.
To score two or fewer goals a place to start must hold the opposition. By fighting, working out, scoring enough NHL goals, and really playing like you want to win.
Not just skating around looking like this.
“It’s all of the above,” said Tippett. “You have to win more battles to get more pucks out of your net.”