I'm seeing a tired team out there. Just over a year ago when McDavid returned from a 35 game injury, Leon Draisaitl, who had previously been lighting it up with Taylor Hall, fell off the map. His conditioning level didn't seem to keep up with the other players. He wasn't skating as well. His scoring touched dropped. (DSS) Drai-Settle Syndrome was here.
This aspect of his game worried me back then and it's been worrying me for a couple months now. He's giving away the puck more. He's leaky on defense. His faceoffs have been terrible. These are all indicators of a tired player, perhaps slightly injured one.
Don't let it surprise you that, yes, many players have been stick-hacked to near death by this point in the season--where their wrists, forearms, and shins all have bruises on top of bruises.
And this is what pisses me off about the NHL reffing this year. It's been horrible. They've allowed or missed all these hacks and slashes because the players are taking matters into their own hands to hold opponents accountable. The inconsistency of penalty-calling has been atrocious, so much so that the Flames organization had to meet with the refs to talk about why they're penalized more (not that I mind the Flames being penalized more, but they're only 4 points back of the Oilers.)
And those offside challenges. Yikes. Brutal.
The Oilers need to be careful and not take so many lazy penalties, especially with inconsistent reffing. Getting called on a lazy penalty means you're tired. Then coupled with tired penalty-killing units, you're doomed because you're not as focused, nor as threatening as a defender.
Road trips can do that to you--especially for Western teams and the much longer haul in miles travelled and Edmonton is one of the furthest. Then think about the climate switch. So many factors can nibble away at your ability to remain on your game. It tends to happen to younger players who aren't used to the toils of a long 82 game season. Draisaitl's not there yet. Nor can I imagine is McDavid, Caggulia, Benning, and Klefbom--none of whom has yet to play a full 82 game season.
McDavid is likely an exception. He's superhuman. Nobody gets hacked as much as him though. No body. He's literally a man of steel. Teams are trying to find their krptonite against him. Some succeed some periods, but most don't. He actually finds a way on the ice to get at least a point per game. His home is on the ice. Just like Superman. But don't anybody put him in the isolation chamber, so he can be human and love his girlfriend. Please. I don't know her name, but I hope it's not Lois.
But then there's the playoffs. Grueling--especially mentally. Now think about Talbot. Is his game losing some lustre of late? I'd say it's less consistent. I worry about him too.
Veterans know how to manage all this grueling season travel stuff. Look at Lucic. Have you noticed he's upped his game lately? He should know that the real season starts mid-April.
This is where some smart trades at the trade deadline can help. While I don't expect Chiarelli to pull off a Maroon trade again, he must be looking at the following to fill the gaps, which are:
- 3rd line centre or middle-six right wing (Letestu is not this guy for some reason)
-Brian Boyle (TBL): 3rd line centre, left-shot faceoff specialist. Hanzal now with Wild.
-Radim Vrbata (AZ): 2nd line right-wing
-Jaromir Jagr (FLA): 45 year old middle-six right-wing. One last shot? He certainly gives his all every game.
- Backup Goalie: Brossoit going into the playoffs is not an ideal situation
-Bishop is now in L.A. So who? Brian Elliott from STL for $2.5m?
- 2nd pair defense right shot power play specialist: formerly known as Justin Schultz
-Not a lot out there except Shattenkirk on the rental market. I believe Oilers should go for him here as they can stay under cap while McDavid still under ELC. I think they've danced before and it didn't happen then and it won't happen now. But hey, why not ask again?
Who and what do the Oilers have in assets to trade for a rental without heavily deflating the roster?
- Brandon Davidson (3LD) - although trading him exposes other D-men to the expansion draft
- Jordan Oesterle (3LD) - excellent prospect with NHL experience
- Anton Lander (4C/LW) - the most called-up and sent-down utility player in NHL history. He just won AHL player of the week springing the Bake into the playoff oven picture. He's UFA.
- Anton Slepyshev (3RW) - fast, skilled, but shooting selection isn't the greatest
- Griffin Reinhart (3LD) - Oilers gave up two first round picks to gamble on him. He's having a good turnaround season in the AHL, but can he keep up in the NHL?
What the Oilers do have going for them in March is a huge homestand with a couple against the Avs, who are playing like their name.
As it stands, the Western Conference playoff pictures looks like:
WILD (1st Central) 84 points vs BLUES (Wild Card #2) 67 points
SHARKS (1st Pacific) 79 points vs. FLAMES (Wild Card #1) 70 points
BLACKHAWKS (2nd Central) 83 points vs. PREDATORS (3rd central) 71 points
OILERS (2nd Pacific) 74 points vs. DUCKS (3rd Pacific) 74 points
Either way you slice it, I predict the Oilers and McDavid will end up with the same number of points as McDavid's number, and they'll play the Ducks. Thing is, who gets home-ice advantage? Way too tight to call, but right now, at 63 games in with 19 remaining, the Oilers are on track for 96 points and McDavid 94, so both will have to slightly up their game to match my season-opening prediction.
Even then, if the Oilers want to beat the Ducks in the first round, which they can, they'll need more veteran depth to match with the Quack.
And this makes the play for Brian Boyle all that more important. Make it happen, Pete.