The Edmonton Oilers have their fans, and media, in a state of panic. On Saturday, the Oilers lost to the Dallas Stars in the state of Texas by a score of 6-3, as the team has dropped six of its last 10 games. The loss now has the Oilers sitting at 7-11-2 on the season with 16 points in 20 games as they have sole possession of the Western Conference’s second-to-last spot.
In short, the Oilers haven’t been as good as advertised before the start of the season, when many were calling their ascension to the top of the Pacific Division almost assured. Their less-than-stellar performance since opening the season a month and a half ago has, unsurprisingly, turned the Edmonton media and fans against one another in an effort to find a scapegoat.
For some, that scapegoat is Connor McDavid. Yes, McDavid. Who put up 100 points last season as he almost single-handedly lifted the Oilers into a playoff spot. Taking a look around Twitter after the latest loss, the subtle digs at McDavid weren’t hard to find.
Somewhere along way McDavid became a turnover machine. Gotta stop - costing a goal per game.— Mark Spector (@SportsnetSpec) November 18, 2017
Now, visibly frustrated. Not a good look for Oilers captain.
McDavid has been on for seven of the game's 8 goals— Jim Matheson (@NHLbyMatty) November 18, 2017
Captains are usually the first to be looked at when a hockey team is struggling. Just ask Max Pacioretty how his last few years have been as the captain of the Montreal Canadiens. Yet, turning to McDavid for answers when he’s been Edmonton’s best player by far feels like a case of misplaced blame by a segment of fans and media.
Through 20 games so far this season for McDavid, he leads the Oilers in points (25), goals (10), assists (15), and power play points (7) as he’s on pace to hit over 100 points this year for the second season in a row. There’s not much to fault in McDavid’s offensive game right now, but there are those that want more from the team’s captain.
This was one of those days when the Oilers best players were far less than that, as Connor McDavid managed to be a minus player while counting three points, Leon Draisaitl was not sparked in any way by being moved to another line, and goalie Cam Talbot was below average in goal.
So, while McDavid had a three-point game, a goal, and two assists, the majority of the critiques seem to be about his plus-minus, which was a minus-two by night’s end, and his overall defensive performance. Sure, McDavid may not have been as solid defensively as the Oilers would want night in and night out, but the team overall seems to have bigger problems than the play of their captain.
There’s only so much McDavid can do when the play of his line-mates hasn’t been up to par. Currently, McDavid is centering Patrick Maroon and Drake Caggiula, who combined have 14 points on the season. Caggiula especially has struggled on the year in his sophomore season, as his even strength GA/60 coming into Saturday is at 3.4 while his GF/60 is 0.5, according to Hockey-Reference. Maroon has just barely broken even, as his 2.9 GF/60 is keeping above water against a 2.7 GA/60.
It’s also hard to pin blame on McDavid when the team gave the Stars six power plays to work with, and Cam Talbot stopped 15 of 21 shots on the evening. On a season where the Oilers have unfairly struggled to score goals, the stops haven’t been there as Talbot has a .903 save percentage in 18 games played. While the goals have slowly started to come, the rest of the team has yet to catch up.
At some point, the questions, blame, and demands for explanations have to come down to general manager Peter Chiarelli. The Oilers have given up some key pieces in Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall in the last few offseasons, and the pair have done well for themselves for their respective new teams. In return, the Oilers have gotten older, slower players that have not yet been able to keep up with the style of hockey McDavid demands.
By all accounts, the Oilers lucked into drafting McDavid. Now, the Oilers are starting to face the consequences of their inability to put better pieces around him.