Jay Woodcroft recalibrates Edmonton Oilers’ line-up after beatdown in Calgary


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Game Day 67: Arizona at Edmonton

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“We’re a team, we’re all in this together, and there were a ton of breakdowns that led to those goals against. Bottom line is, to a man all of us weren’t good enough tonight… we’re going to process it, we’re going to learn from it, and we’ll be better come Monday night.”

So said Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft after his club received a massive wake-up call in Calgary on Saturday night to the tune of 9-5, with an even worse beatdown of 9 goals to 2 when the teams were at even strength.

To put the game in historical p[erspective, it was the first time the Oilers allowed more than 8 goals in a game since an infamous 10-2 drubbing by the Buffalo Sabres on 2009 Jan 27. The complete disintegration that night included 6 goals against at even strength, 3 Buffalo powerplay tallies and 1 shorty.

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The 9 even-strength goals allowed tied to a franchise record set just twice previously, both in the 1980s. The last time was way back on 1986 Jan 08, when the dynasty Oilers fell 11-9 to Toronto (despite 6 points each from Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri!).

To reduce Saturday’s defensive play to a single word, maybe “fugly” is the best choice. The forwards provided little to no back pressure on many scoring plays, the defensemen couldn’t make a stop and neither could the goalies for that matter. Echoing Woodcroft: to a man, they weren’t good enough.

Until that sobering performance there had been lots of positive buzz about the improvement of Edmonton’s 5v5 play under Woodcroft. Funnily enough, I decided to wait until after Saturday’s game to do a statistical review. The reasoning being that it was Edmonton’s 66th game of the season and Woodcroft’s 22nd, allowing the season to be split into three equal parts in an effort to review the coach’s impact. One gigantic “correction” later, the new coach’s results are significantly diminished but the same split of games still applies so let’s go there anyway.

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Three distinct portions of the season here: the hot start, the collaplse that led to the firing of Dave Tippett, and the rebound to something near normalcy under Woodcroft. Boom. Bust. Threw out.

The first block of numbers are game results, where the Oilers had the 5th best points percentage in the NHL through 22 games, crashed all the way to 27th in the next 22, and now have bounced back to 10th through Woodcroft’s first 22.

The next block is 5v5 results, expressed as a percentage of shot attempts, shots on goal, high danger chances, expected goals, and finally the all important goals. Under Tippett shot results were all over the map, actually improving significantly during the dismal second segment. We can identify score effects as a major player there, as the Oilers had such consistently poor starts throughout this part of the schedule they held the lead just 16% of the time at 5v5, while trailing 46% of the time. But in both of Tippett’s segments, his team was outscored at even strength. Whereas under Woodcroft, even including Saturday’s debacle the Oilers rank in the top 10 in the league in all 5 of these categories, which suggests that 54% goal share has been bought and paid for.

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Third block of numbers involve conversion of those shots into actual goals. The Oilers shooting percentage cratered during the second segment and their PDO right along with it. Meanwhile, the save percentage was flat at .911, .911, .912, persistently ranking outside the top 20 in the NHL. Not good enough.

Finally, special teams are encapsulated in two stats, the net conversion rates of the powerplay and penalty kill. Both units were white hot in the first third of the season to date, then crashed and burned in the second. Both units have recovered under Woodcroft to a little better than break even.

Overall, promising results under the new bench boss even after Saturday’s correction which saw the club fall from 2nd to 8th in 5v5 goal share during his tenure.

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Tonight’s line-up

Significant changes up front, where all four lines have a new look. Jesse Puljujarvi you have gotten the push from the third line to the first, where he will line up with Connor McDavid and Evander Kane. meanwhile Kailer Yamamoto has been bumped down to the second line with Lion Draisaitl and Zach Hymanwith the latter flipping back to left wing.

Both healthy scratches from Saturday have been inserted with Josh Archibald drawing in on the third line alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Derick Brassardwhile Derek Ryan will line up on the right side of Ryan McLeod and Warren Foegele.

Benched for tonight are Devin Shore and Zack Cassian. Call it a wake-up call for Kassian in particular. I had graded the robust winger as a “6” in Saturday’s game, in which he recorded a secondary assist, 4 hits and an even plus/minus, but got plenty of pushback from readers who thought that may have been a couple of points too high. So I went back and reviewed every one of his shifts from him and those readers were not wrong.

In a high-intensity game where Calgary pushed hard physically — including cheap shots on both McDavid and Draisaitl (by Mikael Backlund and Blake Coleman respectively) within seconds of one another, the Oilers’ response in that department was inadequate. That’s not all on Kassian of course, but it’s fair to say he’s a player who is expected to bring the physical game, especially when the circumstances warrant. Instead, his hits from him were all of type vanilla, routine finishing of checks where the puck had already moved along and no physical price was exacted. No sign of the heat-seeking missile that Kassian can be when on top of his game.

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Chris Russell was already serving as the #7 defenseman, but his now-enforced absence means there will be no changes on the blueline, which will feature the same pairings as had a very tough night Saturday. Attention will particularly focus on the top pairing of Darnell Nurse and cody ceci, both of whom had abysmal nights on Saturday. The play of Nurse has been particularly concerning: in his last 3 games he has played just 51 minutes at even strength, during which time the Oilers have allowed 41 shots and an atrocious 9 goals. At the other end of the ice, he didn’t muster a single shot on net in those 3 contests, this after recording at least 1 shot in 51 of his prior 56 games and 175 altogether.

Whether he’s playing hurt, struggling through a serious slump or perhaps both, it’s a major concern. The Oil need way more from Darnell than they’ve gotten this last while and that’s a fact.

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Another Oiler under the microscope tonight will be mikko koskinen, who gets his second straight start despite being lit up for 5 goals on just 12 shots on Saturday. Fair to say he was the victim of some horrendous defensive breakdowns by the Oilers and some opportunistic sniping by the Flames, but he was himself more problem than solution. This represents a show of confidence by his coach from him, now it’s his job from him to inspire some of the same in a fan base which has become jaded by subpar netminding in recent times.

Tonight the Oilers will host an Arizona Coyotes club that has lost its last 5 games, including a 2-1 loss in Winnipeg in the dying seconds of overtime last night. The ‘yotes have scored just 8 goals in those 5 games after erupting for 35 tallies in their previous 6 GP.

Not telling which version of the Desert Dogs we will see tonight, but of more concern to local hockey fans is which version of the Oilers will we see?

Recently at the Cult of Hockey

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