Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers have fallen back to earth

What happened to Connor McDavid and the Oilers?

What happened to Connor McDavid and the Oilers?
Image: Getty Images

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars. Although apparently if you’re covering the Edmonton Oilers or a fan of them, that’s the main theme. Maybe after years and years of the same problem, Oilers watchers are just tired of complaining about the same things, so they’re looking for things that aren’t there just for the sake of variety.

Five weeks ago, Andall Milhouse was coming for oilers. They beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on December 1, bringing their record to 16-5-0. They were at the top of the Pacific Division, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisitl they were sitting on top of the scoring contest (still are, to be honest) and the MVP discussion. For a brief second, it looked like the Oilers could finally live up to what McDavid has deserved since arriving in town.

Silly rabbit …

Since then, the Oilers have gone 2-8-2 and have barely clung to a wildcard point, with several teams at their heels and with games in hand. As you can see, everyone is doing well.

The temptation is to label the Oilers a complete disaster, rot to the ground, and once again restart the “McDavid Demands Trade” clock, which appears to be more of a doomsday clock training (in Edmonton, these are probably the same thing).

However, we can do better than panicked, wind-blown hockey experts to see what’s really under the hood.

A big problem for the Oilers since that December 1 date is that their Omega-13 of a power play has cooled in the past month. Before December 1, the power play was connected at a rate of 35 percent, which cures many ailments but is not sustainable for an entire season either. Even with that, the Oilers were creating by far the most anticipated goals on the power play as well, so it was full value for their galactic scoring rates. The thing was, he scored 21 percent of the shots the Oilers made in power play. It’s pretty crazy.

Since that date, the Oilers’ power play is generating even more chances than it was before the crash (10.46 xG for 60 minutes from 1/12 versus 10.1 before). He just saw hers the percentage of shot drops from half to 10%. There is nothing structurally wrong here aside from the opposing goalkeepers doing last month’s occasional save. It happens.

There is nothing wrong with even strength either. Even during this winter of discontent, Oilers Corsi’s percentage and five-to-five expected goal percentage are both above water, each at 51 percent. So even if they can’t buy a win with love or money, they are doing almost all the things they need to do to win games. You can’t ask for much more than getting more tries and better chances from the net.

So what’s wrong? Well, their head coach seems to know:

Maybe Dave Tippett can’t stand the fact that his GM has provided him with two wildebeest full of quaaludas as a pair of goalkeepers throughout his run behind the bench in EdMo. Here’s what Mikko Koskinen has been managing since December 1st, as far as save percentages per game are concerned: .875, .846, .903, .800, .897, .857. This is over 90 percent game. He gave everyone a brief summary of his “genius” last night when he gave Rangers their first goal in the 4-1 win:

Mike Smith has returned from an injury / makeover Matlock recently, and missed 10 goals in his two games as a starter in December. The Oilers have the fourth worst match-strength save rate in the league, and the three teams below them – the Devils, the Coyotes and the Kraken – are the league’s plankton. It is truly impressive that the Oilers managed to get past this court jester who has been a goalkeeper for so long.

Because everywhere you look, the Oilers are just as good as they have been over the years. They finally have a top four in defense, as the best pair Darnell Nurse and Evan Bouchard have been deployed as offensive weapons. Fans of the Oilers haven’t stopped complaining about Duncan Keith since he arrived, but he and partner Cody Ceci are taking turns of the dungeons (38 percent offensive zone start) and constantly overturning the ice. There isn’t much more you could ask of them.

Yes, as is always the case with the Oilers, they have a hard time producing targets beyond Draisaitl and McDavid. But the two were mostly split over the season and Draisaitl was able to be second in the league in scoring, starting far more rounds outside the offensive zone than ever before as center No. 2 instead of McDavid’s wing.

Yes, the Oilers completely miss the last six in the forward set. This is not new or a surprise. They have no goalkeeper. They haven’t done this in years, as they keep trying a new magic potion or spell to summon something that resembles Smith’s proficiency. But the idea that this is a rot that cannot be overcome is ridiculous. They need a goalkeeper and they should call Marc-Andre Fleury or Semyon Varlamov (or real chaos, Carey Price) yesterday. Or maybe they just need to hand things over to Stuart Skinner (.916 percent savings in nine starts this year) on the net and leave Smith in the woods with a bone in the marrow. They need another striker or two beyond the first two lines. But this has always been the case.

Whatever their flaws we have known, structurally the Oilers have been good or better all season. But no structure holds up when the simple suggestion of a counterattack shot ends up becoming a goal. Their coach says so. Maybe if GM Ken Holland manages to stop talking to the nurse from his Detroit days that always seem more like a fluke than a genius for five minutes, he could do something about it.

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