The Edmonton Oilers struggled mightily during the first half of the 2013-14 season, with the team out of the playoff race already in January, but the Oilers can still make strides to improve throughout the rest of the season.
Fans and management in Edmonton are clearly tired of a team perennially stuck in a rebuild mode, but if the Oilers can show signs of improvement and have a strong second half of the season, all will not be lost.
Here are the five biggest areas of improvement for the Edmonton Oilers in the second half of the 2013-14 season.
The Oilers need all of the forwards to commit to playing in the defensive zone as well.
If the Edmonton Oilers are to improve at all, Dallas Eakins is going to have to find a way to get his young core of forwards to improve their defensive zone play and focus on their responsibilities in their own end.
The Oilers feature players with some of the worst plus-minus records in the entire NHL, so no matter how many offensive chances are created, the forwards can’t continue to leak scoring chances against.
Nail Yakupov is having a tough time adjusting to new coach Dallas Eakins.
After registering 31 points in his rookie season, Nail Yakupov has had a rough go of things under new head coach Dallas Eakins.
Eakins’ tough love approach to Yakupov, forcing him to try to learn the defensive aspect of the game, has had a tremendous negative effect on the talented Russian up to this point in the season.
There is no harm in Eakins trying to get Yakupov to play a more well-rounded game, but whether it is Yakupov’s attitude towards Eakins or his different role on the team, the change has yet to take place.
Yakupov is not the type of player to be languishing on the third or fourth line; he is too good and too much of an offensive threat to play with energy and role players. However if he continues to be a liability, Yakupov will continue to see his minutes decline and his share of the press box as a healthy scratch.
The Oilers need to get back to basics on their power play.
For all of the Edmonton Oilers’ struggles last season, one of the lone bright spots was the club’s lethal power-play unit. However, this Oilers have surrendered eight shorthanded goals this season, currently the most in the NHL.
Some of this is due to the fact that the Oilers are employing four forwards on their top power-play unit, but Eakins will have to find a way to utilize all of the talent at his disposal without leaking scoring chances against and taking huge risks.
The Bryzgalov experiment hasn't been all bad in Edmonton.
It is becoming evident in Edmonton that Devan Dubnyk is not the goaltender of the future for the Oilers. For whatever the reason, Dubnyk has failed to seize control of his opportunity between the pipes in Edmonton and has even regressed this season.
The Oilers don’t have one of the better defensive cores in the NHL and will need strong goaltending if they are to win some games. Dubnyk has failed to provide the team with any sort of foundation.
The addition of Ilya Bryzgalov hasn’t quite turned the fortunes around for the club, but Bryzgalov has played well, and it appeared Dubnyk had stepped up his play thanks in large part to the internal competition for ice time.
Bryzgalov’s ice time will likely serve as an audition for another NHL starting position for next season, but the Oilers need to let him play a significant portion of games in the second half of the season and try to win some games.
The Oilers need to do something to change the culture in the locker room and the attitude on the ice.
For all of the struggles over the past few seasons, one of the lone constants was that the Edmonton Oilers were a proud franchise with a deep history and a passion for the game.
With the losses mounting, it has appeared at times that the attitude has changed, and it often shows through performances on the ice.
The Oilers need to find a way to rekindle that passion and pride and try to take the steps to shed the culture of losing that has unfortunately gripped the team since the memorable 2006 Stanley Cup playoff run.