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Streaky Oilers going through growing pains

Edmonton has run hot and cold through first two months of season

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Their fans are more than eager for change, but in the first two months of the NHL season, the Edmonton Oilers have struggled to make a smooth transition from 10 seasons out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to a team with a bright future, led by League scoring leader Connor McDavid.

This season, the Oilers (12-10-2) have been hot or cold, with little in between.

They started well, winning seven of their first eight games. They were 9-3-1 after defeating the Detroit Red Wings on Nov. 6.

The rest of November has been less kind. The Oilers are 3-7-1 in their past 11 games. This month has included a five-game losing streak followed by a three-game winning streak followed by a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).

A 4-2 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday ended Edmonton's November with a record of 5-8-2.

Video: TOR@EDM: van Riemsdyk beats Talbot from the doorstep

McDavid has been doing his part. The 19-year-old Oilers captain had a goal and an assist on Tuesday, extending his point streak to six games (six goals, six assists), and he leads the NHL in scoring with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists).

"It's frustrating going on these highs and lows, but when we're on those highs, we're clicking, the puck's finding a way in," McDavid said. "When we're on those lows, it's the mistakes we keep making that are costing us."

McDavid and his blazing speed form much of Edmonton's offense. He has been involved in the scoring play on 12 of the Oilers' past 21 goals.

"When he's not getting it done on those nights … we need a little bit of an uplift from some of the others and I think our team is still in that 'Connor will do it, let's watch him,' mode," coach Todd McLellan said Tuesday. "We need to pick it up a little bit from some others."

Video: TOR@EDM: McDavid shows off wheels, beats Andersen

Many of Edmonton's other scoring threats have been inconsistent or quiet.

Forward Milan Lucic, who signed with the Oilers as a free agent on July 1, has points in five straight games (two goals, six assists) but also has had a couple of production lulls; he has moved up and down the lines and has played with centers McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl.

Nugent-Hopkins has one goal in the past 11 games.

Forward Benoit Pouliot has no goals in his past 14 games. He was a scratch three times and hasn't scored since Oct. 26.

Forward Jordan Eberle scored twice on Nov. 23, but has gone without a goal in nine of his past 10 games.

The loss to the Maple Leafs on Tuesday was less about production and more about some old habits for the Oilers, including difficulty in their own zone.

Edmonton upgraded its defense this season with the additions of Adam Larsson and Kris Russell. Larsson has played with Oscar Klefbom and Russell has skated with Andrej Sekera to form a stable top four, but the Maple Leafs took full advantage of some blown assignments, scoring four goals on their first 14 shots.

Video: TOR@EDM: Komarov feeds Kadri to cash in on turnover

"The difference in the two teams was that they valued checking," McLellan said. "It was really important to them. And we neglected it. Usually when that happens, the team that values it wins the game.

"It's OK to not score sometimes, but it's not OK to neglect your responsibilities defensively, and that's how I look at some of our guys right now."

Other areas have not helped the Oilers take up the slack. Their power play has been similarly inconsistent; Edmonton has scored with the extra man in two of their past 11 games.

"Too fine, too slow to shoot, too cute, not working real hard to get secondary chances," McLellan said.

The transition has introduced new faces (Lucic, Russell, Larsson and rookies Drake Caggiula and Jesse Puljujarvi) and new roles, all under a new leader and captain.

Some uncertainty showed on Tuesday, Lucic said.

"It was almost like we were kind of waiting for the first thing to happen instead of going out there and making it happen," he said. "That's something we're still learning as a young group. No matter who you're playing, you've got to get up for the games, and it starts here in this dressing room, creating that emotion before the puck drops. As the season goes on, games mean more and more, so hopefully we can learn our lesson that we need the right kind of emotion right off the start."

When Edmonton lost 2-1 at home to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday, McLellan decided the mental fatigue of a 15-game November was affecting the Oilers. He gave his players an unscheduled day off on Monday and did not consider it a factor after the loss Tuesday.

Video: ARI@EDM: McGinn pops it in from the slot to take lead

"No, we played at 1 o'clock on Sunday, then had a day off," he said. "That's a lot of time to rest, so we're not going there."

For all their November inconsistency, the Oilers have bought themselves a grace period with their good start. They have 26 points, one out of first place in the Pacific Division.

And opportunities lie ahead, though the schedule continues to be demanding. After their game at the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; SNOL, TSN3, NHL.TV), the Oilers start a span of five games in seven days when the Anaheim Ducks visit Rogers Place on Saturday (10 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, PRIME, NHL.TV).

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