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A Look into the Oilers' Early Season Struggles

Photo courtesy of Darryl Dyck via The Canadian Press

Perhaps one of the biggest shocks so far in the 2023-24 NHL season is the record of the Edmonton Oilers. After finishing second in the Pacific Division in the 2022-23 regular season, just behind the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Vegas Golden Knights, the Edmonton Oilers were favored to win the Stanley Cup before being eliminated by Vegas in the playoffs.

During the offseason, there was lots of talk about how Edmonton would dominate again in the 2023-24 season. With the star power that is Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it seemed as though there would be no stopping a vengeful Edmonton team, but that has been far from the case.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Scott via Getty Images

Edmonton's Issues

The Oilers have currently played 15 games and have a 5-9-1 record, and with only 11 points, are ahead of only the 2-13-1 San Jose Sharks for second to last in the entire league. The Oilers actually ended up losing their recent game against San Jose, which marked the beginning of the end for their former head coach, Jay Woodcroft. 

One of the biggest issues with the team so far has been the goaltending. The team announced a week ago that they were sending goaltender Jack Campbell down to their American Hockey League affiliate after some lackluster performances to start the season. Campbell played five games and had a poor 4.5 goals against average record, with an .873 save percentage. Confidence plays a big role in how well goaltenders perform, and Campbell’s play hasn’t gotten any better in the AHL with three games played, 13 goals against, and an .819 save percentage. Hopefully, Campbell will be able to get over his slump and regain his confidence enough to rejoin the Oilers later in the season. 

The team’s other goaltender, Stuart Skinner, also hasn’t had a great start to the season. Through 10 games, Skinner has a 3.27 goals against average and an .876 save percentage, compared to his .914 save percentage last season. Skinner seems to be playing better than his statistics show, though, and it should just be a matter of time before the numbers reflect his game. 

Overall, the entire offensive-minded roster has struggled to find a solid defense, and that has cost them 52 goals against so far this season. If they want to start having a more successful season, they will need to find a more well-rounded game. 

Photo courtesy of Andy Devlin via Getty Images

Coaching Changes and Star Frustrations

After McDavid was injured on October 21, nerves were high for Edmonton fans. Even though it felt like a long time, McDavid was only out for two games, although he has been in a scoring slump since the season started. With expectations for this team extremely high entering this season, everyone on the team and in the front office has been frustrated with how the season has started. 

After the Oilers’ rough start, the front office made the decision to fire the head coach, Jay Woodcroft. This decision came as quite a shock, especially after his immense success during the 2022-23 season. Connor McDavid spoke openly about this in an interview with team reporters, where he stated that “He [Jay Woodcroft] never lost the room.” 

Both McDavid and Draisaitl expressed their displeasure with the decision, and blamed themselves and their teammate for the firing, saying it was because they weren’t playing to the standards and that it had nothing to do with the way that Woodcroft was coaching. In an article with Sportsnet, Draisaitl stated, “Obviously us players, we're the ones on the ice and we were as prepared as any team in the league for any given night. It's on us to obviously be better.” Though Draisaitl isn’t experiencing the same kind of scoring drought as McDavid is, he still believes that both him and the rest of the team can be doing a lot more to make sure that they can still have the successful season that everyone in the league has been expecting from them. 

The Oilers ended up hiring Kris Knoblauch as head coach. Knoblauch is no stranger to McDavid’s insane abilities on the ice; he was McDavid’s coach when he played in the OHL, and has most recently been coaching in the AHL. Even though he had only been coaching the team for a few days, the Oilers ended up winning their first two games with him behind the bench with a 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders and a 4-3 overtime win against the Seattle Kraken.

Though this coaching change wasn’t necessarily about something the past coaching staff did wrong, it certainly woke up the players and made them aware that their play has to change as soon as possible in order to save the season.

Photo courtesy of Lawrence Scott via Getty Images

How Can the Oilers Find Success?

 In order for the Oilers to turn their season around, they are going to need Connor McDavid to do exactly what he is known for, and start scoring those big-time goals again. During their most recent game, it seemed that McDavid and Draisaitl have finally started to find their rhythm again, so this is very hopeful news for the team. The Oilers have been known for their star power for quite some time, so they will need their magical offense to start producing again. During the 2022-23 season, McDavid was their top point scorer with 153 points on the season, and Draisaitl is currently leading the team with 19 points in 14 games. If this duo can get their production back, there won't be much stopping the team from being successful.

The Edmonton front office has also been in talks about looking to trade for better goaltending. As all hockey fans know, good goaltending can greatly impact a season, and the Oilers are definitely most concerned about this aspect of their game. If they can manage a trade with a team with more goaltending depth, then they will become a much more well-rounded team that can have a deep playoff run. 

Overall, the team needs to find their rhythm again. They have the players and the staff to be successful, and now they need to focus more on  playing as a team and less on the individual players. If they can start winning a few games in the next few weeks, we can certainly expect them to be Stanley Cup contenders again soon. 

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