Five on the Fly | Are Oilers as bad as their record?

Nov 12, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) reacts after missing a goal in a shootout against the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena. The Capitals won in a shootout 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Each week at Five on the Fly we’ll preview developing storylines for the NHL’s upcoming week. Today we’ll take a look the struggles of the Edmonton Oilers and wonder if they’ll ever find a way to get some secondary scoring.

Mr. McLellan, Meet Mr. Blender?

No way can the Edmonton Oilers — considered by many to be potential Cup contenders based on their “almost” run to the Western Conference Final last season—be as bad as their 6-9-2 record indicates.

But bad is what they have been through their first 17 games. Only the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres, and the lowly Arizona Coyotes have mustered fewer points in the standings than Edmonton. The Oilers boast the NHL’s most pathetic penalty kill (69.8%) and they own the lowest shorthanded save percentage in the NHL (.812).

Who knew that Andrej Sekera was the straw that stirs the drink in Edmonton? We jest, but the shifty Slovakian defenseman averaged two minutes of ice time per game on the kill last season and was one of the more instrumental drivers of possession at even strength. He’ll make a difference when he returns from offseason ACL surgery, and that time can’t come soon enough for the Oilers.

But there are bigger problems in Edmonton than Sekera’s absence, and the Oilers will not get back into the playoff hunt until they figure out a way to produce secondary scoring. After Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Capitals, Edmonton sits at the bottom of the NHL in goals produced, scoring just 38 in 17 games.

Even more alarming is the distribution of those 38 goals. Connor McDavid has had a hand in half of them, making the Oilers one of two teams in the NHL that possess a single player with a hand in half of the team’s goals.

“We need a little more scoring, that’s where were going to concentrate,” McLellan said Sunday in the understatement of the season. “It’s early in the year, our whole game has to polish up a bit.”

It seems preposterous that at this point in the season McLellan is still running out Leon Draisaitl and McDavid on the same line. The Oilers boast two of the NHL’s premier pivots and could roll out McDavid, Draisaitl and the rejuvenated Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as their top three centers, but McLellan has chosen to keep his blender behind the salad spinner at the back of his kitchen cabinet. It’s gathering dust and so are Edmonton’s playoff hopes.

It’s time for Draisaitl, in the first year of an eight-year, $68 million deal, to start driving his own line. It won’t be an easy chore because the Oilers are glaringly light on scoring punch in their middle six, especially after general manager Peter Chiarelli hastily dealt Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome this summer, but you pay a player that kind of money to make players around him better.

That’s what Leon Draisaitl needs to do, and Todd McLellan needs to let him.

It’s time for the Oilers to stop leaning on their top line and start distributing their top players around the lineup. It may not fix the penalty kill or bring Sekera back from injury earlier, but it will make Edmonton a more difficult team to match up with, especially at home, where it is 3-6-0.

Is the House of Cards Falling in Chicago?

Remember when the Blackhawks exploded for 10 goals on opening night against the Penguins and followed that win two nights later by blasting the Blue Jackets 5-1? Yeah, so do a lot of panicking Blackhawk fans, but since that blistering start the Hawks have dropped back in the pack and stand at 8-8-2, percentage points out of a wild card spot.

The tone in the Blackhawk dressing room has changed along with it.

It is difficult to say which way things are going to break for Chicago. The defense has been shaky, Connor Murphy has not been what the organization had hoped for, and the usually brilliant Corey Crawford was pulled after allowing six goals to the Devils on Sunday night. Only four goalies with 10 or more starts have faced more rubber than Crawford this season, and of all the goalies with at least 10 starts, Crawford’s .932 save percentage is the highest.

Crawford has been Chicago’s best player this season and he’ll need to continue to be until this team gets its blue line sorted out.

Boyle’s Teary-Eyed Moment Moves the Needle in New Jersey

There are a variety of things that make NHL teams go. Speed is paramount in today’s NHL, as is a mobile defense that can facilitate zone exits and flow through the neutral zone. Puck-moving defensemen? Need ’em. Speedy wingers on entry-level deals? Can’t have enough. But don’t overlook the realm of what is emotional. Don’t think for a moment that the New Jersey Devils aren’t benefiting from the inspirational nature of Brian Boyle’s return to the ice.

The 32-year-old tallied his first of the season on November 9 against the Oilers and later admitted that he cried on the bench after the goal. Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a type of cancer of the bone marrow that is largely treatable with medication, this summer. He’s back on the ice now with a new lease on life and an aura that is keeping the high-flying Devils on the right side of the scoreboard. Boyle has become an unlikely source of magic on a team that is showing no signs of falling back to the pack.

The 11-4-2 Devils currently lead the Metropolitan Division by three points. In a game that has seen fighting pushed to the fringes and goonery all but eliminated, there’s still room for good old emotion; the Devils have their source in Boyle.

Erik Karlsson Moved by Swedish Experience

It was a sweet homecoming for Erik Karlsson over the weekend in Stockholm. The Swede put up four assists and guided the Senators to a weekend sweep of the SAP NHL Global Series. The event gave Karlsson the rare chance to play an NHL game on home soil. The moment was not lost on the two-time Norris Trophy winner.

“That’s what we grew up dreaming about, is playing in front of the people here in this country,” the Senators captain said, according to NHL.com. “To be able to come back and repay that a little bit and get the response that you do and they show that they still really care and follow you over there and they know who you are, it’s something that it’s hard to explain for anybody who doesn’t come from here, growing up playing hockey in Sweden. I think it’s one of the most special feelings in the world.”

Karlsson has been his usual dominant self for Ottawa since returning from offseason foot surgery on October 17, despite that rare and glaring minus-6 against Montreal on October 30. He is currently third in the NHL in points per game with 1.55, and his 1.45 assists per game are tops in the league.

He’s making amazing plays no other defensemen even think of trying, like this:

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not?

Hot: Alex Debrincat

The 19-year-old rookie has three goals and four points in his last two games for Chicago.

Not: Brent Burns

Burns has 0 goals through 16 games, putting him on pace for… 0 goals. He had 29 last season.

Hot: New Jersey Devils

The speedy Devils lead the NHL in even-strength goals in November with 17.

Not: Patrick Sharp

After a fast start (four points in six games), Sharp has gone scoreless in his last 12 games for Chicago.

Hot: Brayden Schenn

Schenn has nine points in five November games for the Blues.

Not: Sid the Kid

Crosby has gone 11 games without a goal for the Pens. He last scored on October 20 against the Panthers and has only three points in his last 11 contests.

Hot: Pavel Buchnevich

The Rangers’ forward matched his 2016-17 total by notching his eighth goal on Saturday in New York. Last year he needed 41 games; this year he has needed just 18 games.

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