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Halfway To Anywhere

The Oilers are going to have to ramp it up in the second half if they're going to make noise in the playoffs.

Colorado Avalanche v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images

The Edmonton Oilers are officially midway through the 2022-23 NHL campaign and, it hasn’t been the smoothest of rides. With an important stretch games coming over the next nine days, Jay Woodcroft has to find a lineup he cannot only trust on nightly basis but one that can actually help win games.

As of this morning, the Oilers sit in the final playoff spot in the Western Conference but are actually in eleventh from a points percentage perspective. With half a season still to play, whether you prefer to believe they are currently in or out of the playoffs is of little to no consequence.

The next three months will determine everything and getting a win in tonight’s tilt with the Los Angeles Kings would go a long way in helping turn this ship in the right direction. Over the next week and half, the Oilers play five different Pacific Division opponents, all of which are winnable games.

After paying the Kings a visit this evening, Woodcroft’s crew will take on the Anaheim Ducks Wednesday, the San Jose Sharks Friday, the Vegas Golden Knights Saturday and return home to face the somewhat surprising Seattle Kraken on Tuesday night at Rogers Place.

There are ten points on the table to be had and for the Oilers to come away with any fewer than eight of possible ten, would have to be viewed a major disappointment. Yes, this roster has its issues and is dealing with injury (as are most teams) but now is the time for this coaching staff to start doing its part.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a team falls onto the players but the collective need to be put into spots that give them a chance to be successful. Through the first half of the season, in my mind, Woodcroft and co. haven’t done this with anywhere near enough regularity and it has to stop.

Does missing the likes of an Evander Kane and the trio of Warren Foegele, Jesse Puljujarvi and Kailer Yamamoto being unable to score made things challenging? It certainly has but this notion of playing four forwards to death and not finding roles for the others to make an impact is sheer lunacy.

For much of the Oilers 41 games, this has been the approach to the forward group upfront and outside of pumping up the offensive numbers of Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it’s accomplished almost nothing. This team needs to win games and the current approach isn’t working.

Make no mistake, there are guys on this roster who have had rough years. However, that doesn’t mean you just cast them aside as if they don’t matter and continue down the same path that keeps failing the group. The scary thing about this group, they have started to find different ways to lose games.

Early in the season, Edmonton was still the team fans having been screaming about for years about always getting scored on first. However, as this season has moved along, they have now morphed into a side that blow two goal leads on the regular and appear clueless as to how they should protect a lead.

Does the construction of the backend play a role in this? 100% it does and that is on Ken Holland and his team in the front office. That being said, for Woodcroft and Dave Manson to continue to simply throw out the same pairings and not change the mix is inexcusable. Try something different.

Their hands are tied to a certain degree but how many teams to we need to see the top pairing of Darnell Nurse and Cody Ceci being ripped to shreds and have no semblance of support below them? It’s a terrible mix and while a trade would help, that doesn’t change the here and now.

When Manson took over the blueline last season, closing gaps on opposing players became a thing overnight. Whatever the reason, this group has gone backwards and once again resembles the group they were during the Dave Tippet and Larry Playfair tenure. Not good.

Some in this market continue to bring up Duncan Keith as if he was some kind of linchpin to the Oilers backend but in my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. Keith had good and bad in his game but he wasn’t what some are making him out to be but to each their own.

Puljujarvi is without question the most polarizing player on this roster when it comes to fans and media. No one would argue that the talented Finn hasn’t had a rough go of things over the past calendar year on the offensive side of the equation. Problem being, the Oilers don’t have an in-house replacement.

Instead of using the elements in his game that the player has continued to bring to the table (defensive zone awareness, creating turnovers and being a menace on the forecheck) to their advantage, this coaching staff uses him as an afterthought. For a team that can’t defend, it is an odd approach to take.

It’s not just a Puljujarvi thing. Game in and game out, the ice-time and responsibility for certain players is all over the place. Take a guy like Dylan Holloway, who has started to show signs of becoming a more impactful piece. Yet, he almost never will hit the double digit mark in ice-time but others will.

Has Foegele had a tough season? You bet he has but for him to be the one who gets healthy scratched in back to back games is a tad perplexing. Go take a look at the Oilers roster upfront and can you find 11 or 12 players who are better than him? I know I can’t and this sort of thing continues to happen.

Instead working with what he has and getting some kind of impact from the secondary guys on this roster, Woodcroft gives players (who have far less to give) much more rope and continues to out more onto the plate of his best players. At some point, that dam is going to break.

Don’t get me wrong, playing Connor McDavid a ton is something that should be happening, though finding him the odd breather now and again would be nice. The same goes for Leon Draisaitl, who has been hampered by some kind of alignment for much of the season but the minutes just keep coming.

The most troubling thing about Draisaitl, he’s looking more and more like the player we saw during last year’s playoffs. If that’s going to be the case, for the betterment of the group, he may need to be on McDavid’s wing to maximize what that duo can produce for this team. Not ideal but stuff happens

Which makes getting the other forwards going and in positions where they can make an impact (whatever that might be) imperative for this group. Again, the roster is flawed and not having a healthy Kane throws things out of whack. Anyone who thinks it doesn’t isn’t paying attention.

Struggles aside, with the players on this roster, there is no reason why the Oilers can’t put together three lines that work. They have enough pieces in place to make that happen and once Kane returns from injury, they’ll be that much better. The guy behind the bench controls that lineup card.

That is no excuse for what we have seen thought the first half of the season and Jay Woodcroft has to own that. This is a mess he has created and in order for the Edmonton Oilers to turn their season around over the coming weeks, it is one he is going to have to clean up on his own and in a hurry.