|Ales Hemsky battles with Vancouver's Keith Ballard during Tuesday's shootout loss to the Canucks (Photo by Getty Images). |
The Edmonton Oilers hit the All-Star break on a bit of a high, putting together strong back-to-back performances against division leading teams in a 2-1 shootout victory over the San Jose Sharks on Monday, and a hard-fought 3-2 shootout loss against the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday.
The Oilers elevated play was much needed after a poor stretch that saw the team play three of their worst games in five-game stretch that I can recall in the last five years or so.
A week ago Friday Edmonton dropped a 5-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on a night where they didn’t compete.
Last Thursday the Oilers were outshot 39-15 by St. Louis and were lucky that Nikolai Khabibulin
was on his game; otherwise the Oil would have been blown out.
The Oilers followed that up with another poor performance as Khabibulin fought the puck in a 6-2 home ice loss in a nationally televised game on Hockey Night in Canada against archrival Calgary.
The Oil though have earned a bit of a reprieve though with their performances against the Sharks, who lead the Pacific Division, and the Canucks, who are a top the Northwest.
Now that the All-Star break has hit, there is a good chance we might get a better indication what the team can do out of the break with the imminent return of the Oilers #1 center, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
along with their top defenceman this season Tom Gilbert, and defenceman Cam Barker
Since RNH (shoulder) and Gilbert (knee/ankle) were hurt on January 2nd against the Chicago Blackhawks the Oilers have gone just 2-8-2 and they have not scored more than two goals in their last nine games, scoring just 12 goals during that stretch.
The return of Ryan Whitney
against Vancouver Tuesday greatly enhanced the Oilers' ability to transition the puck as the veteran rearguard, who had missed the 14 previous games, connected on several stretch passes.
Whitney’s foot/ankle issues remain a wild card but the return of Gilbert and Barker should give the Oilers coaching staff some options on 'D.' At minimum the team should in theory spend far less time in their zone.
|Jeff Petry has collected 1 goal & 10 assists in 42 games this season (Photo by Andy Devlin / Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club). |
Hopefully it doesn’t halt the progress that Jeff Petry
has made over the last couple of weeks.
Petry has played too much (22+ minutes in 11 of the last 12 games) but has improved by leaps and bounds even over the last few games and is clearly showing signs that he can become a legitimate top four NHL defenceman.
The return of Nugent-Hopkins also should greatly impact to the hockey team. RNH has already proven to be a powerplay maestro and the Oilers are a very different team when Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall
and All-Star Jordan Eberle
In fairness, the Oilers' PP continued to click at better than 20% (6 for 29) with Nugent-Hopkins out but the Oilers were completely dominated 5-on-5 in several games over the last month.
If the coaches elect to throw the kids back together and then reunite Ryan Smyth
, Shawn Horcoff
and Ales Hemsky
the Oilers should be able to attack on a couple of different fronts.
A healthier Oilers line-up will also give the organization a better opportunity to elevate the job the coaches are doing as well, and I am not just talking wins here.
Personally, I would like to see at least three things occur over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.#1
. The time has come for the Oilers to have their best players at least be a part of the penalty killing rotation. Part of the reason why Ryan Smyth
and Shawn Horcoff
look so fatigued right now is that they are often on for two shifts each when the team is killing off a full two-minute penalty.
Hall and Eberle are capable of killing penalties and would provide a counter-attack threat as well.#2
. Barring injury, Devan Dubnyk
needs to start 60% of the games, so we can find out if he is the Oilers' goaltender of the future.#3
. The Oilers have to ensure they have some form of functional toughness in the line-up and not just make the Ben Eager
’s and Darcy Hordichuk
’s the sacrificial scratches when the line-up needs a change. It is not like the Oilers are getting a ton of production from some other bottom six forwards at this time either.
Bob Stauffer is the Oilers Radio Analyst and Hosts Oilers Now on 630 CHED daily Noon to 2:00 PM