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Finding The Right Balance

The Oilers will need to tinker with what works in order to rid themselves of what doesn't.

Calgary Flames v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

After a pair of uneven performances to kick off their 2022-23 campaign, some are wondering what’s up with the Edmonton Oilers. Though one could search and find shortcomings with what we’ve seen from Jay Woodcroft’s side to start the season, in reality, it doesn’t mean much of anything.

In a perfect world, teams want to go out and play their best from Game 1 to Game 82 but teams have rarely, if ever, managed to pull that off. Every season will have its share of speedbumps along the way and in most cases...October is about banking points and the collective finding their footing.

That is exactly where this Oilers team sits and it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Let’s not forget, this is a lineup that has been forced to deal with a couple of hurdles prior to their season opener. Most notably, injuries to some key personnel and uncertainty surrounding their cap situation.

The former has led to a lack of on-ice time for players to find/form chemistry with potential linemates and the latter has made this staff and front office embark on what will be a season-long juggling act. For the moment and potentially longer, the Oilers cap crunch will impact the roster we see on most nights.

Like it or not, these players and coaches will need time to make adjustments to this piece of the puzzle. Add to that, guys coming off a much shorter summer than they have grown accustom to and still looking to find their legs and you get what we’ve seen from this group in their first two games.

Despite their struggles, the things we would expect to click for this group have been clicking. The power play has been strong out of the gate and the team’s two offensive catalysts (aka Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl) have carried much of the load, with one or both being in on 7 of the Oilers 8 goals.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Jack Campbell who has looked shaky and outstanding over the course of his first two outings, something which is not uncommon for a goaltender in a new situation. Especially on a team like the Oilers, who are not exactly defensive stalwarts.

As an added bonus, Stuart Skinner played extremely well in relief of Campbell during last night’s 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames. If the youngster shows capable of playing at a similar level, it will allow his new running mate time to find his footing, just as Cam Talbot did upon being acquired in summer of 2015.

Edmonton has a ton of talent upfront but still need to figure out where all the pieces fit and the aforementioned injuries have thrown a wrench into said equation. As has Woodcroft’s want to continually go back to the McDavid and Draisaitl tandem when the Oilers are down on the scoreboard.

In my mind, the two big guys should be thrown together at even-strength on a nightly basis but only from time to time. Using them as one of his go-to duos on the regular will only hamper the staff from finding functioning combos. For this group to work, getting the “others” comfortable is a necessity.

The benefit of an 82-game schedule is having time to do just that and one would think, going down said road early on would make the most sense. Having said that, with the Oilers playing their first six games and nine of twelve on home-ice, Woodcroft is likely trying to bank as many points as possible.

Edmonton’s start to their 2021-22 campaign could be Exhibit A of just how important an early season cushion in the standings can be for a team later on in the year. It makes perfect sense but with a team as skilled as this Oilers side is upfront, they’re going to win their fair share of games on that alone.

In my mind, finding continuity would be the more pressing concern but in the grand scheme of things, not sure either one should be viewed as an overly pressing matter. Also, we can’t ignore the fact that nearly everything Woodcroft tried during the ’21-’22 regular season worked and that’s not sustainable.

Despite their playoff success, we did start to see some of his on-ice decisions go in the other direction during certain games, which is not uncommon. Same thing applies to the regular season and as this coaching staff works through things this season, some of their decisions will not workout.

It’s going to be a process, which is the perfect lead-in to this team’s defence. Anyone who genuinely believed the Oilers blue line was a finished product is kidding themselves. As the first two games have shown, this season is still going to be a train wreck of sorts in their own zone and that’s just a fact.

In order for this group to take the step they’re hoping to this year, they will need to upgrade their backend but that isn’t happening anytime soon. In my mind, a move will happen, but in the meantime, it’s about finding what works in the here and now, which will lead to more growing pains.

Again, the first two games of this season haven’t gone as fans of the Edmonton Oilers had hoped but there is no reason to push the panic button. This will be a long season of sorts, as all anyone really cares about are the games that start in mid-April. So sit back, enjoy the ride and get ready for what’s to come.