Edmonton Oilers

Why are the Edmonton Oilers choking away games?

Since January 25, the Edmonton Oilers have a baffling 5–1–5 record. It is incredibly unusual to see a team with so many overtime and shootout losses compared to regulation wins and losses. This comes much to the frustration of Oilers fans as watching this stretch has been mind-boggling at how the games are concluding. It begs the question, what is happening here?

For starters, the Oilers are giving up leads late in games. On more than one occasion in this stretch, a multi-goal lead has been squandered away, sending the game to overtime with momentum in the opponent’s favour. Is there anyone, in particular, to blame for this?

Next, there seems to be a change in how 3v3 overtime plays out this season. Teams like the Oilers are struggling a bit more than one might expect as strategies league-wide shift. Are the difficulties that Edmonton is experiencing in overtime a result of this?

Holding onto leads and winning in extra time will obviously be crucial components to the Oilers’ game down the stretch and into the playoffs. Especially with how tight the Pacific Division’s playoff race is. So, it will be important to understand where the issues might lie and what need.

Let’s take a deeper look into why the Oilers might be having trouble closing out games and struggling in overtime.

How are the Oilers giving up their leads?

Giving up leads, especially multi-goal ones, even just once is frustrating. But over this 11-game stretch, the Oilers have given up leads in the third period three times (to the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Colorado Avalanche). All three of those games led to overtime/shootout losses.

At least Edmonton secured the single point by getting the game to extra time, but that is three additional points they’ve essentially choked away in the standings. In the Pacific Division, three points has been the difference between first and fourth at times over the past couple weeks.

For a team with regular defensive and goaltending issues, there are probably a multitude of reasons leading to giving up leads in the third. So, to help pinpoint some areas of concern within the Oilers’ game, let’s take a look at some shot maps of the third periods courtesy of IcyData.Hockey.

January 25 versus the Columbus Blue Jackets

This game was quite simply a must-win game against a bad team that the Oilers generally dominated. But one miscue, one bad play, and the entire tide of the game shifts.

In the middle of the third period, the Columbus Blue Jackets got a few shots in short succession and capitalized on a rebound. Other than that, the Oilers kept shots away from high-danger areas and even generated a majority of the chances themselves. The result of this game might be more attributed to the overtime struggles instead.

February 17 versus the New York Rangers

The Oilers appeared to be comfortable after the first period, ending the opening 20 up 4–1 over the New York Rangers. But the Rangers clawed their way back through the rest of the game, with two goals in the third to tie and eventually win in a shootout. This was a game in which the third period was a nightmare for the Oilers in terms of generating any pressure in the Rangers’ zone.

Edmonton had two shots in the entire third period, compared to ten for the Rangers. This is not a game plan destined for success. Especially against a team as offensively potent as the Rangers. The Oilers did a decent job at keeping shots in low-danger areas. The Mika Zibanejad goal, which is the blue square in between the high circles, was the highest quality chance the Rangers got.

In the case of this game, even though the defence mostly did their job at keeping shots in low-danger areas, the offensive side of the game struggled and could not generate any pressure or momentum to keep the Rangers at bay. The team sat back to try and protect the lead. And it clearly did not work out.

February 19 versus the Colorado Avalanche

Things were falling into place for the Oilers as they looked to have a hold on the game, with a three goal lead less than halfway through the second. But the Avalanche slowly chipped away at the Oilers’ lead, tying it late in the final frame with three third period goals.

This game is another case of the Oilers generating most of the shots and higher quality chances in the third period, but still giving up a disproportionate amount of goals. One would lean towards poor defence and goaltending in these cases. Especially reflecting back on the Artturi Lehkonen deflection goal that was a result of weak defence leaving the attacking player’s stick free to deflect the shot.

In this game, the offence did their job to try and continue generating chances and momentum. But it looks like the defence and goaltending did not fill their end of the bargain.

Looking back on these three key games suggests no real consistent cause as it ends up being a combination of different things in each game. Which, on one hand, is mostly just the chaotic and random nature of hockey. But on the other hand, it would be nice for the whole team to be able to gel at once. Or for one facet of the team’s game to be able to pick up the slack for deficiencies in the others, like the offence picking up the slack for the defence in the 2022 playoffs.

Why are the Oilers losing so much in overtime?

When a team possesses the fastest player in the league in Connor McDavid with a few other of the most talented offensive players around as a supporting cast, a reasonable assumption would be that said team would dominate the rink when playing 3v3. And that those same players would be able to utilize their skill to win in the shootout.

With a 2–8 record in extra time (2–4 in overtime and 0–4 in the shootout), that assumption could not be farther from the truth. Is this just a string of bad luck in extra time? Or is there a bit more at play here?

It seems that over time, as 3v3 play has developed and grown within the game, the strategy and approach teams take has changed. Where 3v3 was once a high-event, action-packed, back-and-forth style of play with an up-tempo pace, it has begun to quiet down.

Teams have learned how to settle the play down as they realize how important possession is in the extra frame. Instead of constantly playing a high-pressure game featuring chances at both ends in quick succession, overtime is now approached as a slower-paced chess match.

The Oilers are a team that generates a lot of offence on the rush or counter attack. If the opposing team is not taking risks, not making mistakes, and not giving Edmonton a chance to create a turnover in the Oilers’ favour, the advantage swings to the opponent.

Edmonton is in a unique situation trying to find ways to counter this. With some of the fastest players in the league, they could push and challenge the opposing puck carrier a bit to pressure a quick decision in the hopes it leads to an errant or intercepted pass. And if the pressure does not work out, the Oiler will still be fast or well-positioned enough to defend properly.

Despite giving up a few too many leads in the third period in the last 11 games, there is no consistent cause for the late game collapses. Instead, it seems that a league-wide shift in how teams approach 3v3 strategy has led to an environment that the Oilers struggle with.

Luckily, this particular game situation is only relevant through the rest of the regular season. But in the meantime, Edmonton needs to figure out how to capture as many points as possible as they find themselves in the middle of a tight playoff race in the Pacific Division.

Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire

Sean Laycock

Sean is a stubborn, lifelong Oilers fan who lives by the motto "There is always next year".

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