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Is a new defensive system to blame for Oilers poor start?


Looking to find a way to push his team over the playoff hump to the Stanley Cup Final, Edmonton Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft installed a new defensive system in training camp.

With the Oilers sitting at 1-4-1 through five games, it would appear the early returns have not been positive. 

Woodcroft defended the new system Wednesday, one day after the Minnesota Wild picked up a 7-4 win over the Oilers.

"Last game, we gave up some d-zone coverage goals and I think it gets magnified by the fact that our record is what our record is right now," Woodcroft said.

"Anytime you go to something new and you're working through something, there are growing pains. Can we be better? Yes we can, and we don't make any excuses for it."

The 47-year-old said the new system has "a lot of similarities" to the one the Boston Bruins run. 

While the Bruins, who set NHL records in wins and points last season, are off to a 6-0 start, the Oilers have allowed 27 goals over six games to start the year. Woodcroft said Tuesday's loss to the Wild was an outlier, with the majority of the teams goals against previously coming off the rush and on the penalty kill. 

"I think through the first five games we gave up one defensive-zone goal," he said. "Last night, it wasn't good enough.

"Part of that's on us, part of that's on the other team that did some unique things, some good things, and their top players found a way to break it."

ContentId(1.2025887): Is new defensive game a factor in Oilers slow start?


Bouchard's ups and downs

Woodcroft was asked specifically about the play of defenceman Evan Bouchard Wednesday, with the 24-year-old owning eight points and yet being minus-8 through six games.

The head coach called on 2018 first-round pick to play a stronger game in his own paint, but also extended that message to the entire blueline. 

"Do I expect a little bit more [from Bouchard] around our blue paint? A little more firmness, competitiveness, hardness in that area? Yeah, I do. But he's not alone," Woodcroft said.

"Our entire group can be harder in that area."

Bouchard's minus-8 is tied for a team-worst with winger Evander Kane, with Leon Draisaitl and Cody Ceci leading the team at even. The Oilers have been outscored 27-17 to start the year.


McDavid remains sidelined

The Oilers will play their second game without superstar Connor McDavid on Thursday against the New York Rangers.

The team's captain was ruled out for one to two weeks on Sunday after sustaining an upper-body injury in Saturday's loss to the Winnipeg Jets

With the Heritage Classic looming against the Calgary Flames this Sunday, Woodcroft said he could not commit to an updated timeline for McDavid.

"I would never want to put a timeline on him and his healing ability," he said. "He's (a) a pretty determined individual so we'll see.”