Goaltending Devan Dubnyk quickly became the scapegoat for Edmonton’s defensive woes. In previous seasons, Dubnyk had been a steady but unspectacular netminder for the Oilers, consistently posting a goals against average in the 2.60 range. Last season, that number spiked to 3.43 and Dubnyk was traded to Nashville in exchange for forward Matt Hendricks. After parting ways with Dubnyk, the Oilers tried a handful of goaltenders but none of them worked. Players like Ben Scrivens, Viktor Fasth, and Ilya Bryzgalov quickly found out that playing goalie is more difficult when the defense in front of them can neither block the puck nor take it away. Only Fasth was able to earn a goals against average of under 3.00, but in just seven games played. Scrivens is penciled in as the starter with Fasth as the backup to begin 2014-15, but it’s difficult to imagine any goalie succeeding on this team unless the defense is significantly improved. Power Play The Oilers have the forwards in place to have a potentially dynamic power play. Hall, Eberle and Perron are all prolific scorers. Ryan Nugent- Hopkins is a solid offensive player with the potential to improve greatly. New arrivals like Benoit Pouliot may be able to bolster the power play and offense in general right now. With the power play being Edmonton’s best chance to possess the puck, it should be a situation where their handful of talented forwards shine. However, just as Edmonton’s defensemen struggle badly in defense, the Oilers don’t have many great scorers on the blue line either. Justin Schultz checks in as the only decent scorer of the group, but even he only scored 33 points last year. None of the other defensemen was a significant scorer, with Jeff Petry second among the group with just 17 points. A lack of good blue-line threats has hurt Edmonton’s power play potential, making this a below-average unit. Penalty Kill Surprisingly, the penalty kill was the one area in which the Oilers ranked average or better by NHL standards. Edmonton killed 82.1 percent of opponents’ power plays in the 2013-14 season, a mark that ranked 14th in the league. This followed rates of 83.4% in 2012- 13 and 82.4 percent in 2011-12, so there is good reason to believe the relatively strong performance was not a fluke. Jordan Eberle PHOTO/NHL/Getty Images For the most part, the reason for Edmonton’s sudden competence in penalty kill situations seems like a mystery. One idea is that veterans like Ryan Smyth (now retired), Eric Belanger, and Anton Lander helped shore up the penalty kill unit on the team. If that’s the case, Edmonton’s penalty kill could be in trouble with Lander being the only player of that group remaining on the team. Either way, I would expect this team’s penalty kill to regress as long as the defense struggles in general. Three Questions 1. Can the defense turn things around? It’s doubtful that the defense will greatly improve. Most of the defensemen on this year’s roster are returnees from last year’s disastrous Edmonton defense. The only improvement comes in the form of free agent Nikita Nikitin, but he can only be so much of a difference maker. Edmonton still lacks the lock-down defenders necessary to keep pucks away from the net. 2. Will Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov fulfill their potential? This seems likely to happen eventually, but perhaps not this year. Both players will be 21 years old this season, so it’s tough to expect them to become All-Stars already. At the same time, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov have both shown flashes of potential and it’s easy to envision them becoming the star players Edmonton is hoping they will be. 3. Can Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth survive the season? Scrivens goes from being a goalie for one of the toughest defenses in the league (Los Angeles) to one of the worst (Edmonton). Fasth also had a rude awakening as he was shipped to Edmonton from a much stronger Anaheim team. Both goalies are capable of starting in the NHL, but if the Oilers defense is as bad as last year, odds are that Edmonton will find itself searching for answers in the net once again. Prediction A lack of offensive depth and defensive talent will once again doom the Oilers to finish well outside of playoff contention. However, a slight improvement on defense and further experience for Edmonton’s young talent will help make the Oilers a more competitive team overall.
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