March 23, 2023

It’s become a trend the past two seasons that the Edmonton Oilers do not start games on time. They give up the first goal more often than not and it generally comes early in the game. This causes them to constantly be playing from behind, a place where no team wants to be.

Leon Draisaitl made some comments about the team’s defence, penalty kill, and inability to start games on the right foot following the team’s three-game losing streak that has since been snapped. Sometimes exactly what the team needs is for players to know what’s going wrong, take responsibility, and work at fixing it. Things started to change for the better in the Oilers’ game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oilers Slow Starts & Poor Team Defence

If there are two things that consistently keep the Oilers from becoming an elite team, it’s team defence and slow starts. The odds are never as good for teams once allowing the first goal of the game, regardless of the time remaining in the game. One reason for poor team defence by the Oilers is the team always having to change their game to be more offensive after constantly falling behind early. This forces not only the forwards to think about offence first, but the defence as well. It leads to odd man rushes and high-danger chances against more often than not.

Leon Draisaitl Edmonton Oilers
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Draisaitl’s postgame comments after the loss to the Washington Capitals were, “We give up goals on the kill. We give up 2-on-1s. It’s just not good enough right now.” He isn’t directly responsible for the team giving up 2-on-1s though. That’s on the defence who should be back and in position, despite pushing for goals. He also spoke on the Oilers’ inability to start games on time, saying, “It’s getting old, battling back. It’s exhausting; it’s tiring. We just give up too many goals.”

Related: Oilers’ Top-6 Forwards Are Carrying the Team This Season

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The Oilers started the season 1-2-0 but trailed very early in each of the games to kick off their 2022-23 season. The Vancouver Canucks scored two goals in the first 2:40 of play in the first game. In the second game, the Calgary Flames scored 1:13 into the game, followed by a second goal 4:34 in, and four total goals in the first 10:18 of play (from ‘Player grades: Oilers’ comeback effort falls short after another putrid first period,’ Edmonton Journal, Oct. 16, 2022). In Game 3 the Buffalo Sabres scored exactly four minutes into the game.

The Oilers have a record of 3-5-0 when allowing the first goal while they are 5-1-0 when scoring first. They were extremely strong last season when scoring first, almost breaking the NHL record for most consecutive wins to start a season. This season they also started 4-0-0 when opening the scoring before their streak ended with a third-period collapse against the New Jersey Devils in their 11th game. They haven’t only given up the first goal early in the first three games of the season; there are four more examples already:

  • Oct. 22 – St. Louis Blues scored 5:04 into the game.
  • Oct. 29 – Flames scored 4:29 into their second contest against the Oilers this season.
  • Nov. 1 – Nashville Predators scored just 34 seconds into the game.
  • Nov. 5 – Dallas Stars scored 6:15 in.

Not only do the Oilers normally not have the jump to start games, they constantly lose their coverage in the defensive zone and don’t block enough shots. The team is 25th in the league in goals against per game with 3.50. If it weren’t for their third-ranked offence, they would be in a great deal of trouble. Shot blocking can be a big factor on the penalty kill as well, something we’re going to discuss now.

Oilers’ Penalty Kill Horrible but Improving

The Oilers rank 30th in the league on the penalty kill. That’s no recipe for success and their offence will only be able to keep them in games to a certain extent. We’ve already seen how the penalty kill has lost the Oilers games this season, but the team also needs to be more disciplined. Draisaitl also stated, “Way too many penalties. It’s every game. It seems like we’re killing 10 minutes every game.” The Oilers took five penalties against the Capitals and were scored on four times. The Oilers lost that game 5-4 and weren’t able to overcome the horrendous penalty kill despite a solid five-on-five performance.

Dave Manson Edmonton Oilers
Dave Manson, Edmonton Oilers assistant coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In six of the 14 games, the Oilers have taken at least five minor penalties. They have allowed 10 power-play goals against in those games but have somehow come out with a 5-1-0 record. Two of the games were outrageous with the number of penalties called as the Oilers took eight in the first game of the season against the Canucks and 10 against the Chicago Blackhawks. “I’m no penalty killing juggernaut. Right now, we’re a little hesitant. We don’t really know when to pressure. We just sit back and teams just find a way to take advantage of us there. It’s something that needs to be cleaned up,” Draisaitl said.

The Oilers followed up their horrible performance on the penalty kill in Washington and Draisaitl’s comments by going 5/5 on the penalty kill against the Lightning, who are no slouches in that department. It’s a work in progress for the Oilers to improve their game, and it’s not going to come overnight. There have been times under Jay Woodcroft when the team has looked absolutely dominant in every area of their game. I believe they can once again get there this season by tightening up their defence, starting strong, and pressuring more on the penalty kill.

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