Special teams to blame for the Oilers' struggles?
EDMONTON, Alberta -- The resurgent New Jersey Devils boast a spotless 5-0-0 road record. The Edmonton Oilers are a disappointing 2-5-0 on home ice.
So, when former Oilers forward Taylor Hall and his Devils teammates visit Rogers Place on Friday night, they will have road-ice advantage, correct?
The Devils (9-2-0) enter the game on a three-game win streak. The Oilers (3-7-1) have dropped two in a row, both on home ice.
New Jersey, which has endured a five-season playoff drought, is off to its best start in franchise history. For a team that always was known as a defence-first organization, it is stunning to see the Devils scoring an average of almost four goals per game.
"I think we want to continue to build an identity and try to get stronger and stronger as the year goes on," Devils coach John Hynes said.
"We don't seem to break too often or too easily," New Jersey goalie Cory Schneider said. "There might be some moments where we get running around or are on our heels a bit, but I think mentally we've had that resolve this year. We don't get down, we don't get discouraged, we don't look lost and just wait for something bad to happen. When we've needed responses, we've gotten them."
Meanwhile, with just 24 goals in 11 games, the Oilers have the worst offensive ledger in the league. This was a team that was expected to light it up with the league's top scorer from last season, Connor McDavid, leading the offensive charge.
The Oilers' penalty kill is running at a dreadful 68.3 per cent. The power play is at 13.2 per cent. The wisdom in hockey is that your penalty-kill and power-play percentages should add up to more than 100; that means you're scoring more with a man advantage than you're giving up short-handed. The Oilers' total barely adds up to more than 80.
Edmonton has scored two goals or fewer in eight of 11 games. Eleven of the players on the Oilers' roster have yet to score. It is not as if the Oilers have one major issue that is leading to such a disappointing start; the team has a large number of things to address -- but the special teams come first.
"We're still trying to solve the special teams issue," Edmonton coach Todd McLellan said after practice Thursday. "There's improvement, but not where it needs to be. We've only won that battle once this season, and we happened to win that game. And if you're not winning (the special-teams categories) you've got to at least be able to tie. A lot of our time was spent dealing again with situational play on penalty kill and power play."
"It's a sore spot, for sure," Oilers veteran Mark Letestu said of the team's poor penalty kill. "We've got to fix it, and fast. It's costing us hockey games. There's nobody coming, the guys in this room can fix it."
Adding to the Oilers' woes, Hall, traded by Edmonton to New Jersey before the start of last season in exchange for defenceman Adam Larsson, is off to a flying start. Hall has 15 points, a total that would put him on top of the Oilers' scoring chart.
Also, Devils rookie defenceman Will Butcher has 11 assists in 11 games. That's more assists than McDavid has right now.
The status of Devils forward Marcus Johansson is unclear for Friday. He left the team's 2-0 win over the Canucks on Wednesday after crashing into boards and did not return.
Friday will mark Brian Boyle's second game as a Devil. The centre made his debut Wednesday after missing all of New Jersey's October games following a leukemia diagnosis. He is still taking medication.