Friday, November 14, 2014

Addressing The Obvious

Despite coming out of the gate with a less than an impressive performance during the opening period of their game against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at Rexall Place, the Edmonton Oilers were by far and away the better of the two teams. 

While this team has struggled mightily for some time with their starts, at what point do we start calling this ongoing mess for what it is? As tough as it may be for fans to stomach yet another ugly loss, watching the Sens leave town with a 4-3 OT victory in the fashion they did has to be far more difficult for the players and coaching staff inside the Oilers dressing room. 

There is no question this group still has major holes to deal with but let’s stop trying to pass the buck here. We are now well into the second consecutive season in which Edmonton’s goaltenders have cost this team an almost obscene amount of points in the standings. 

While much of the focus continues to be placed on the Oilers lack of depth at centre and along the blueline, and rightfully so, the biggest problem remains in between the pipes. Yes this collection of players is nowhere near good enough to compete with the better teams in the league but at no one has suggested this is some sort of finished product. With that said, at some point every team has to start taking steps forward in the standings and until this general manager goes out and acquires a legitimate starting goaltender, don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. 

Even the best teams in league would have trouble winning games if their goaltender coughed up a bad goal or two on a nightly basis and unfortunately for the Oilers, that is exactly what this group has had to deal with since the start of the 2013-14 campaign. Anyone who doesn’t believe this group plays on edge because of their goalie, simply isn’t paying attention. 

Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera were downright dreadful last season and frankly Viktor Fasth and Ben Scrivens have been even worse this year. These players are terrified to make a mistake and because of it, they make even more of them. With the makeup of their forward group and backend being what it is, expecting them to go out and find ways to earn points when whomever they have in goal wilts under the pressure is absolutely ridiculous. 

There is no question Edmonton wasn’t very good during the first period against Ottawa or the Nashville Predators but on both occasions the ugly scoreline could have been avoided had they simply received a stop or two from either one of their netminders. Instead they received the complete opposite and watched things spiral completely out of control. 

To their credit, the rest of the team fought back but it is rather difficult to assess what we saw over those four periods because the opposition generally tends to dial it back in those sorts of situations. So we are left wondering what this team really is and my guess is that same doubt runs through the heads of the players inside that room. 

In any team sport, guys need to believe in one another in order to be successful. However when it comes to goaltending and the game of hockey, it is even more essential. If you do not have confidence or trust your goalie, it effects how you approach the game and the Edmonton Oilers have been in that uncomfortable spot for some time and yet Craig MacTavish refuses to address it. 

Until he does, nothing will change. People can talk all they want about goals, assists, save percentage, shot metrics, Corsi or whatever the heck else they would like but until that issue is dealt with, this team will continue to wallow at the bottom of the National Hockey League standings. 

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