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Something Has to Give in Oil Country

The historic start has morphed into a nightmare at Rogers Place before Christmas. Where do the Oilers go from here?

Rogers Place was rocking after Wednesday night. But the only problem was it wasn't Oilers fans basking in a victory, it was Toronto Maple Leafs fans celebrating a 5-1 victory. 

The Oilers losing streak has now hit six games - the longest of the season - after having one of the best starts in the West, and they now hold onto the second wild-card spot in the conference.

After 26 games, almost all of the early success that the Oilers were able to accomplish has been undone by a skid that sees them on the verge of falling out of a playoff spot entirely.

The offense has dried up during this losing streak: the team hasn't scored three or more goals since the streak began in their 4-3 defeat to Seattle. Since then, it has been a run of scoring two goals or less in five straight games and that plain and simple is not good enough for a team that wants to show that this is the year they're truly all in.

The likes of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are still producing but the powerplay has started to regress as we knew it would from the historic numbers and the secondary scoring has once again been a problem.

When McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, and Draisaitl are not on the ice, the bottom six have been having tremendous problems scoring-wise. According to Natural Stat Trick, the bottom six forwards have only scored nine times this season while giving up 28 goals without them.

Colton Sceviour's goal against the Leafs which was also his first as an Oiler was the first goal by a member of the bottom six forward group since November 20th.

Getting help upfront was something that was supposed to be addressed by GM Ken Holland this past summer but the only player that has been paying off so far has been Zach Hyman is out of the lineup due to injury but has put up 19 points this season. 

Starting on time has also been a season-long problem. The Oilers have allowed the first goal in every game of this current homestand and have given up the opening goal 14 times in their last 15 games. Playing from behind has finally caught up to this group. 

Coach Dave Tippett's lineup decisions have raised eyebrows with examples being Zack Kassian being promoted to the top line on occasion when his play has constantly been inconsistent with just one assist in the past five games on the third line. 

Devin Shore and Kyle Turris have also continued to see time in Tippett's lineup but their on-ice impact has been minimal as they have combined for just four points. 

Tippett is currently in COVID-19 protocol. But many fans wonder if it's time for a coaching change anyways, whether it be Jay Woodcroft the current Bakersfield Condors head coach or another name?

The decision to also not acquire a goaltender in the offseason is also hurting the franchise in a summer that was rich with options to upgrade. 

Mike Smith has battled injuries and Mikko Koskinen's play during this homestand has been hot and cold a staple of his Oilers tenure and has failed to record a save percentage of over .900 in three of his last five starts. 

Stuart Skinner has been the more steady goaltender of the trio this season, but relying on the rookie netminder wouldn't have had to be an option if Holland decided to make a much-needed free-agent goaltending move.  

The idea of Smith and Koskinen being the tandem the Oilers on a deep playoff run once again looks very unlikely and this franchise should not be looking midseason to address an issue that should have been handled well before the season opener. 

On the blueline, Evan Bouchard has been showing that he'll be a star for years to come on the blueline. But you have to wonder how much stronger the defensive unit would have been if Ethan Bear was retained. Bear has been having a solid start to his Carolina Hurricanes tenure and is frequently on the top pairing along with Jaccob Slavin. 

Injuries have plagued the Oilers defensively this season which has had an impact on the back end but the play of veterans like Kris Russell and Tyson Barrie has been underwhelming this season. 

Tonight's game against Columbus is their final chance to avoid going 0-6 on this homestand. Edmonton's upcoming road trip sees them playing four games against divisional opponents and picking up points has to be a must. 

It's a make-or-break year for this franchise and the window to win will close quickly if the issues that continue to stand out are not corrected and quickly.


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