If it feels as if we’ve seen this movie before, it’s because we have. Come playoff time, nothing comes easily for the Edmonton Oilers and this year’s post-season has fallen perfectly in line with said narrative. They have run out of wiggle room to figure things out but winning this series is still well within their reach and the next two games will tell us a lot about these players and this coaching staff.
Fans and media will continually point to a lack of physicality whenever the Oilers lose a game but that isn’t what is wrong with this group. If you are one who genuinely believes this team’s problem revolve around playing harder and giving a better effort, all I’ll say is you need to look elsewhere. Sorry but this has nothing to with effort and everything to do with being smarter.
Be it the players on the ice or coaches behind the bench, the collective need to simplify things and get out of their own way. Focusing on throwing their weight around the rink is what has this team in the spot they are in and it needs to be recognized by everyone on the Oilers side of the ledger. For me, the problems are rather obvious: player deployment, puck management and poor decision making
If they can fix those three things, Edmonton will win these next two games and move onto the second round for the first time since 2017. In order for that to happen, the approach behind the bench needs to shift. Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson have rightly been given a ton of credit for this group’s turn around but this coaching staff needs to stop trying to be the “smartest kid” in the room.
While last night’s desperation move of reuniting the duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was the right the one to make at the moment, it’s everything prior that’s become an issue. The Oilers have been at their best when they use their players in situations that fit their skill-set. For months, it has become the norm with this group and suddenly that has been thrown out the window.
Yes, the second line hasn’t been very good at evens this series and as things have moved along, finishing around the net has become more of an issue for guys not wearing 97 or 29 on their backs. However, if the response is to blow up the lines and go into an all-out blender mode after a poor first period, you are going to get exactly what we saw last night.
By all means, tweak things up but the lines were a complete and utter cluster during the second period and it was the most disjointed this team has looked throughout this series. In order for the Oilers to be the team who gets to four wins first, they have to have some semblance cohesion and we saw none of that with the approach Woodcroft took last night.
At various points, we saw Kailer Yamamoto, Derek Ryan, Zach Kassian, Josh Archibald, Jesse Puljujarvi and Warren Foegele being yo-yoed all over the lineup and the last two didn’t see the ice at all over the final twenty plus minutes of action. Sorry but that second period was a disaster and having the coaching staff go into panic mode, made things that much harder on the players.
We saw something similar along the backend and the results were just as underwhelming. On evening when none of the Oilers defencemen were any good, we got a steady diet of the most experienced/veteran types, despite those players being among the worst of the lot. Again, this team functions best when deployed in a controlled and thoughtful manner but it was absent in Game 5.
As far as the players go, it’s up to them to play smart, patient game and just like the coaching staff, their decision making has started to waiver. Over the past couple of games, the collectives on-ice reads haven’t been good and their puck maintenance has been downright dreadful. The Kings have taken advantage of it time and time again and all we hear about is the Oilers not playing hard enough.
Running around the rink looking for hits is not what this group needs to be focusing on in the here and now. The fans may want to see it but adapting to what Los Angeles is doing and making the best decisions to combat the 1-3-1 system they are facing is of far greater importance. The only way that occurs is by making puck management the group’s priority and that didn’t happen in Games 4 or 5.
For some reason, many felt the Los Angeles Kings were going to be a cakewalk of sorts for the Oilers but that was never going to happen. So here we sit, with Edmonton currently staring at a 3-2 deficit but this is still their series to win. If their goaltending doesn’t self-destruct over these next two games and everyone else reverts back to doing what they’ve been doing for months, it’s there for the taking.