The Edmonton Oilers aren’t Macklin Celebrini bad. They aren’t even guaranteed to miss the playoffs bad.
But, as things stand, they’re not far off. And the way things are going, it won’t be surprising if they’re in both of those categories soon enough.
The Oilers fell 5-3 on the road to the Florida Panthers in much the same manner that they’ve lost so many of their games this season. Their unbelievably awful record is 5-11-1.
Monday’s loss was a greatest hits album of the first few weeks of the season.
A blown lead. Check. A 2-0 advantage was wiped out before the end of the first period.
An undisciplined Evander Kane penalty. Indeed. He took two minors in the opening period, the first of which was taken eight seconds after he put the Oilers up two goals. A roughing infraction on old nemesis Matthew Tkachuk allowed the Panthers to get on the scoreboard.
“The PK’s obviously struggled all year for a number of different reasons,” captain Connor McDavid told media in attendance postgame. “Momentum seems to turn with that one.”
“I’m sure the guys are thinking, ‘Here we go again?’” coach Kris Knoblauch said. “We should have been happy with the lead at 2-1 in that moment.”
An inability by a goaltender to shut the door. Yup. Backup Calvin Pickard, the replacement for Jack Campbell, was making his first NHL appearance since March 27, 2022. Pickard battled throughout the game but the second Florida goal he allowed to Niko Mikkola was a stinker.
A bizarre goal against. Most definitely. Mikkola’s second goal saw Philip Broberg fall over on an errant stick before he banked an intended pass in.
“You can call it luck, but those are hockey goals,” McDavid said. “We’ve got to find a way to score a few ourselves.”
A poor read by Evan Bouchard and an unwillingness to hustle back into position. Oh, yeah. See the eventual game-winning goal by Kevin Stenlund. Every Oiler on the ice — McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Connor Brown and Brett Kulak — played a role in that chance not being stopped, too.
“When things aren’t going your way, they’re not going your way,” Bouchard said.
“I just don’t think we’re playing 60 minutes. When things aren’t going your way they just aren’t going your way.”
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 21, 2023
“Confidence — just playing the right way and not cheating the game,” Knoblauch said when asked what’s missing defensively.
Being on the losing end of the special-teams battle. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins not doing enough. Draisaitl not finishing his chances. Back to no depth scoring after Derek Ryan and James Hamblin produced in a loss at Tampa on Saturday.
This game had it all for the Oilers.
At least they finally got some production from McDavid, who’s been ineffective in five-on-five play. He scored twice in 24 minutes of action, but it wasn’t enough. Just like normal.
Back-to-back defeats under Knoblauch have put the Oilers on the verge of being on life support.
They’re eight points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. American Thanksgiving, so often a signpost to indicate the playoff-bound teams, is Thursday and the Oilers have just one game before then in Raleigh, N.C. They’re not remotely close to being among the top 16 teams in the league right now.
It would be one thing if there were obvious signs that things were getting better. There aren’t. The losses have been like “Groundhog Day” with the same mistakes happening over and over again.
In the Oilers’ version of the famous 1993 comedy, Bill Murray’s Phil Connors character was first played by Jay Woodcroft and then recast with Knoblauch. Woodcroft often called the repeated blunders the Oilers made “self-inflicted errors.” They annoyed him to no end. Knoblauch will undoubtedly come up with his own phrase soon enough as his level of irritability increases. He’s already seen the same types of mistakes pile up in successive games.
Knoblauch came to Edmonton on November 12 with a sizable task ahead of him. The Oilers needed 93 points in their final 69 games to get to 100 points on the season. That’s a .673 points percentage. Their 2-2 record since then means the Oilers must play .685 points percentage hockey the rest of the way just to maybe (probably) get in as one of the final seeds.
That’s not outlandish. Don’t forget that Woodcroft led the Oilers to a .724 points percentage from the time he was hired until the 2021-22 season ended. The Oilers got to 104 points to finish second in the Pacific Division back then. As great as that run was, however, it was over just 38 games. Knoblauch must get close to that proficiency over almost double the number of games.
If time seems like it’s on the Oilers’ side, it isn’t. They’re closing in on completing a quarter of their season.
All hope isn’t lost, though.
For starters, they employ two of the best players in the world and both have been nowhere near the top of their games. There’s a ton of room for improvement. The same goes for blown leads, the below-average goaltending, Bouchard’s level of urgency, defensive and rush coverage issues, Nugent-Hopkins’ inconsistencies, the power-play woes, the leaky penalty kill, nearly non-existent depth scoring, and so on.
“There’s lots of fight,” McDavid said. “I don’t think the resiliency’s going.”
Nowhere to go but up, but there are a lot of things to fix.
It sure doesn’t look likely that all or most of that will get sorted out in short order, does it?
That leaves the Oilers in the unfathomable position of having coin-flip odds of missing the playoffs at this stage of their life cycle — with McDavid and Draisaitl (presumably) at the height of their powers and nearing the end of their contracts.
Forget the Steve Smith own goal in 1986 or the 2006 Stanley Cup Final loss, such an outcome would be the most heartbreaking in franchise history. There’s no question it would be the most vexing and inexcusable as well.
The Oilers have a long road ahead before they even realistically get into the playoff conversation. The last two games proved it.
Let’s be real — they’re closer to having better odds for the No. 1 pick than they are to a postseason berth. It’s almost like they’ve entered a time machine back to the hellish years of the Decade of Darkness.
On the bright side, at least that Celebrini kid is pretty good.
(Photo of Connor McDavid attempting a goal: Eliot J. Schechter / NHLI via Getty Images)