Monday, January 05, 2015

Baby Steps

From a public perception standpoint, the Edmonton Oilers organization would have loved nothing more than to watch their team respond to the firing of Dallas Eakins with a string of victories. With that said, something tells me no one in the front office team is overly disappointed with how things have played out since bringing Todd Nelson on board as interim head coach. 

Following last night’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Oilers have now gone 1-3-4 over his first eight games behind a National Hockey League bench and in all honesty, it is likely the exact outcome Craig MacTavish and company were hoping for. 

The lifeless performances have essentially become a thing of the past and outside of couple of rather unflattering showings against the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames, this group has been competitive on a nightly basis. With five one goal losses under their belt and an apparent far greater willingness from the majority of these players to at least try and play “the right way”, could anyone have realistically expected anymore from this group? 

Let us not forget that while the Oilers may not be as bad as their record indicates, they are still not a very good hockey team. The fact they have nothing resembling even average goaltending, are defensively challenged, struggle to score goals with any sort of regularity and have a lineup that features almost no impactful veterans, is something that cannot be ignored. 

This roster was not good enough to compete for a playoff spot with Eakins steering the ship and following yesterday’s trade of David Perron to the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is absolutely no doubt that they are that much worse. Yet here we sit with the Oilers having earned points from seven of their last eight games and still nicely buried in the basement in the Western Conference standings. 

As things currently sit, the chances of this team finishing ahead of anyone other than the Carolina Hurricanes and maybe the Buffalo Sabres are almost none and as the intensity starts to pick up down the stretch, they will have an even tougher time staying in games. Add to that the likely trading away of defenceman Jeff Petry prior to the deadline and Edmonton is will surely be going nowhere when it comes to the overall standings. 

However, if Nelson can find a way to have these players continue to show even marginal signs of improvement on the ice, while staying competitive in vast majority of their remaining forty-three games, not a single soul inside that organization would be disappointed. Quite frankly, it would be the best of both worlds and in all honesty, it is not that far-fetched to think this team might just pull it off. 

For instance, take a look yesterday’s loss to the Avalanche. It was your run-of-the-mill, uneventful mid-season game between two teams that have had rather disappointing 2014-15 campaigns and one in which the Oilers did not seem to be “overly enthused” about through two periods. Yet to their credit, Nelson’s crew bounced back with a solid third period and thanks to Benoit Pouliot, managed to get into overtime and eventually a shootout. 

Obviously it was not the outcome they were looking for but again, it comes down to realistic expectations. Good teams generally play more than twenty minutes a night but guess what…the Oilers are not a good team. While the duo of Taylor Hall and Nail Yakupov had poor showings against the Avs, Pouliot was very good in his return to the lineup and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins played another solid game, despite his line being badly outworked on the Daniel Briere’s icebreaker midway through the second. 

Though he has shown no signs of being able to maintain it on a nightly basis, Ben Scrivens was good in between the pipes for the Oilers and considering they were coming off the news of losing Perron, it was far from an awful performance. Even before they decided to show the previous head coach the door, Edmonton had started to hold their own against the better teams in the league and generally struggled with lesser likes. 

While that may not exactly be a good sign, the fact they are no longer getting killed by the likes of the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings or San Jose Sharks is not a bad thing. Again, this season is long gone but if Todd Nelson can continue to lose games in an effective manner and possibly change the mentality inside that dressing room, while still helping the organization secure one of Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, everyone should come away from this disaster of a season with something positive and at this point...that is all anyone can ask for.

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