The Edmonton Oilers are looking for a little Holiday Cheer to close out their schedule before Christmas Day as they host the Minnesota Wild Thursday night at Rexall Place.
After a hot start that saw the Oil post an 8-2-2 record to the start the season, the team has plummeted down the Western Conference standings winning just two of their last 11 games.
It is pretty clear that while the Oilers trio of young gunners: Jordan Eberle
, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Taylor Hall
continue to contribute offensively, the team needs more offensively out of their key veterans to help jump start a turnaround.
Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins remain in the top 20 of NHL scoring both with 34 points, with Eberle picking up six goals and 11 points during the Oilers 2-8-1 struggle, and RNH chipping in with three goals and 10 points.
The dynamic Hall has been the Oilers best player over the last three games scoring twice and adding two assists; after missing six games with a shoulder injury.
Unfortunately, the Oilers have seen little production of late from the trio of Ryan Smyth
, Shawn Horcoff
and Ales Hemsky
Smyth started the season in brilliant fashion in Edmonton picking up 12 goals and 24 points in the Oilers first 22 games, but he hasn’t scored in the last 11 games and has registered just three assists.
Prior to this 11-game drought, Smyth was on fire with 10 goals and 19 points in his previous 13 games.
Horcoff has not picked up a point in his last six games, and has just four assists and has gone -7 over the last 11 games.
Like Smyth, Horcoff was going before this cold patch, with four goals and seven points in the four previous games.
In the case of Smyth and Horcoff, both of whom kill penalties and see power-play time, you have to wonder if playing 20 minutes a night has caught up to them.
Personally I am belief that of the two, Horcoff at 33 is more capable of handling that amount of playing time, more than Smyth at 35.
Whereas Smyth and Horcoff both have had some good stretches this season, the same cannot be said for the talented Hemsky who has seemingly has never gotten untracked this year.
After picking up 64 points in 69 games over the last two injury-plagued seasons; Hemsky is clearing fighting it offensively with just three points in the last 11 games.
In Hemsky’s case and for that matter puck-moving defenceman Ryan Whitney
as well, I think a little patience is going to be needed.
Hemsky is no longer on the Oilers top power-play unit with the emergence of Nugent-Hopkins who is third in the NHL with 17 PP points.
Given that the Oilers are currently 5th in NHL at 20.6% on the PP it is hard to argue with who the team is putting out there.
Also, it has always been my belief that Hemsky is a better five-on-five player than on the PP anyways, where he can be stubborn in his desire to look for cross-seam one-timers for the likes of Horcoff or Petr Sykora over the years.
The fact is though, Hemsky is too good of a player not get it going.
Once he and Whitney get a little more comfortable after dealing with prolonged absences due to injuries, my guess is the Oilers will string some wins together.
An illustration of the importance of strong veteran play has occurred in St. Louis.
As much as Ken Hitchcock is being credited with elevating the play of the St. Louis Blues since coming aboard as head coach, people close to the Blues will tell you that the key to their success has been that the veterans have started to roll.
The Oilers have better top-end kids then the Blues, but they will need their veterans going to get them out of this slump.
Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” weekdays Noon to 2:00 PM on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED.