EDMONTON – It’s no great mystery to the Edmonton Oilers that their special teams have been less-than-special during a six-game losing streak. Knowing it is one thing. Doing something about it is quite another.
Kick-starting a tepid power play and shoring up their porous penalty killing is the challenge for the Oilers heading into the latest instalment of the Battle of Alberta with the Calgary Flames at Rexall Place on Monday.
Be it a man up or a man down, the Oilers haven’t been nearly good enough during a half-dozen losses that have seen them plummet to the 15th place in the Western Conference.
“We know what will work. What you’ve got to do is do it,” coach Pat Quinn said. “Execution is what counts.
“You identify your jobs. Then, you’ve got to do them correctly. We have, as a group, been identifying our jobs as far as systems are concerned. We do it right for awhile, then a bad thing happens and our mental stability, our toughness if you will, isn’t there to ride through it.”
The Oilers gave up two power-play goals and failed to score on three man-advantage attempts of their own in a 4-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place on Saturday.
The goose egg on the power play in Vancouver sends the Oilers in against the Flames scoreless in 11 straight attempts and with two goals in their last 19 tries during the losing streak. The penalty killing, meanwhile, has allowed eight goals on 28 attempts during the same stretch.
“That’s a lethal combination,” said Dustin Penner. “When your special teams aren’t performing, and you aren’t scoring goals and you aren’t preventing goals, it doesn’t matter how well you play 5-on-5.
“If you win the special teams game, you’ve usually got a pretty good chance of winning the game.”
The math is straightforward – the Oilers are minus-6 on special teams in their last six games. Edmonton’s penalty killing is ranked 27th in the NHL, which is right where it finished last season. The power play, in or near the top 10 much of this season, sits 16th after this 2-for-19 slide.
The Oilers gave up four power-play goals in a 7-2 loss to St. Louis Dec. 21. They allowed two more against the Canucks and singles in losses to Nashville and Minnesota. On the flipside, the power play has been blanked in five of the six games. Both goals came in a 6-3 loss to the Predators.
“With the exception of maybe Nashville, I can’t think of a poor game we’ve played 5-on-5,” captain Ethan Moreau said. “Our special teams have to win us games. That’s been the difference.
“Our energy is good every night, but we won’t win games until we start to score power-play goals and get some stops on our PK. That’s the easy solution right now.”
Power-play goals 18 seconds apart by Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler in the second period were the difference Saturday. Sedin made it 1-0 on a 5-on-3 advantage before Kesler tipped a shot past Jeff Deslauriers to break open what had been a tight, even game.
“We’ve had opportunities to win every one of the last six that we’ve lost, in my mind,” Penner said.
“It comes down to those moments where either define you or you define the moment, to steal a line from Tin Cup. We get scored on with that 5-on-3, which isn’t too outrageous because that’s supposed to happen, but it’s the one 18 seconds after.”
Getting the special teams straightened out against the Flames won’t be easy. Calgary has won the first three meetings of the season and has scored four power-play goals on 10 attempts. The Flames have held the Oilers to three power-play goals on 16 attempts.
“We are dry right now,” Quinn said. “We’re playing some teams that are pressing us a little more quickly.
“Our guys, and most players, when they’re given a little time can find some plays. Our guys haven’t responded well to the quickness that they have to start moving the puck. They think they’ve got time and it’s not there. We haven’t made the mental transition to beat a forceful penalty kill.”