It’s been a tale of two seasons so far for the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers were 7-1-0 on October 30. That night, they lost an emotional game versus Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators. Since then, it’s been tough sledding for the Oilers. Including the Senators game, Edmonton has gone 2-5-1 in the last eight games.
Their recent losing streak has shown a tough tendency: the Oilers have been scored on in the first two minutes eight times so far this season. Six of those early goals have been scored in the last eight games, including the last three games straight.
It’s not clear why the Oilers keep surrendering early goals, but they do seem to be able to score their way back into games. Despite being down so early in half their games, they’ve only trailed at the first intermission twice in those eight games.
Perhaps no player embodies the Oilers recent struggles as much as Jordan Eberle. The longest-serving Oiler has five points in his last five games, but besides a two-goal outburst in last week’s loss against the Penguins, he hasn’t scored a goal since October 18. He spent his summer working on his shot and one-timer to help him playing with Connor McDavid, but Eberle’s shot hasn’t looked any better or helped him score on the power-play.
Eberle was pulled off McDavid’s wing during Sunday night’s loss to the Rangers., and coach Todd McLellan told reporters post-game that “based on tonight, Ebs wouldn’t get a passing grade in my books. Or else he would have stayed [on McDavid’s wing]. You earn your keep, and Ebs didn’t earn it tonight in my mind.”
Having a $6MM sniper like Eberle struggle like this is tough for any team, let alone one with little depth behind him. Beyond Eberle, the Oilers have Jesse Puljujärvi, Zack Kassian, and Tyler Pitlick.
Kassian has looked solid this season, but isn’t suited to playing above a third line checking/ depth scoring role. Pitlick has been a pleasant surprise for the Oilers, making the team in his sixth pro season and working his way up the lineup. His five goals tie him with McDavid, Milan Lucic, and Eberle for second-most on the Oilers behind Patrick Maroon. Pitlick was the one to replace Eberle on McDavid’s line during Sunday night’s loss.
Puljujärvi appeared to be getting the hang of the NHL game before missing a game with a Charley horse. He’s been held pointless since and looks like he could use a stint in the AHL to get his confidence back. That may not happen, unless the Oilers move Leon Draisaitl to the wing or add a veteran NHLer. TSN Edmonton radio host Allan Mitchell (aka Lowetide online) wrote that the Oilers “problems are identifiable, but the solutions will cost assets — and I wonder if Peter Chiarelli is willing to make those sacrifices at this point in the season.”
The Oilers appeared to be counting on college rookie Drake Caggiula to play third line center and move Draisaitl to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ wing, but Caggiula suffered a hip injury in pre-season action and has been out since. It will be interesting to see how Chiarelli handles the Oilers season: despite a tough stretch, they’re still tops in the Pacific Division and are probably two or three pieces away from being a contender. If Chiarelli can add a veteran right winger and an offensive-minded defenseman to help the power-play, then Oilers fans can be confident that the team’s first eight games are more indicative of their real ability than the last eight games.