Oilers offence limited to power play so far
Colorado Avalanche Greg Zanon looks on as Edmonton Oilers Sam Gagner, Ryan Whitney, Teemu Hartikainen and Nail Yakupov celebrate a goal during first period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Alta., on Monday January 28, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
EDMONTON - Scoring goals has not been a problem for the young Edmonton Oilers so far in this abbreviated season.
How they're scoring, however, is a bit of an issue.
With the likes of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ales Hemsky and No. 1 draft pick Nail Yakupov, it was safe to expect that the Oilers would have an impressive offence this season.
So far that has proved to be true. The Oilers have scored 15 goals in five games, and with three wins they sit atop the Northwest Division.
The problem is, only three of those goals have been scored five-on-five. Monday night all four of their goals in a 4-1 win over Colorado came on the power play.
Only one of Edmonton's three even-strength goals has had any impact on a game's outcome. Yakupov scored with five seconds left in the third period against Los Angeles last Thursday to force overtime, where the Oilers won with a power-play goal.
Their other five-on-five goals were scored by Hall, late in a 6-3 loss to San Jose, and by Gagner, with two seconds left in a 4-3 loss in Calgary.
"The power play has been awesome, creating a lot of goals," Eberle said prior to the team heading out on a three-game road trip that will see them play Wednesday in Phoenix, Thursday in San Jose and Saturday in Colorado. "When you're struggling five-on-five it's great to have that. The five-on-five goals will come, but in the meantime if we're scoring (power-play goals) and we're winning games you don't have to worry about it."
That's certainly the attitude of the players: why worry about even-strength goals when they're scoring enough on the power play to win three of five games?
"If we were losing games it would be an issue but right now we're winning games with the power play and keeping the puck out of our net," said Eberle, who has all three of his goals on the power play. "It doesn't effect us in this locker-room. We're winning games, but if we weren't it would be an issue for sure."
The Oilers have been using their speed to force opponents to take penalties. Edmonton has had 28 power-play opportunities and are scoring at a 36-per-cent rate with the man advantage, second only to San Jose.
The young guns remain confident the even-strength goals will come when needed.
"We feel that if we take our power-play game into our five-on-five game eventually it's just going to turn out for us," Hall said. "We do feel like we're creating a lot of chances and getting a lot of shots ... it's just not going in for us five-on-five. Maybe our power play is not going to be clicking at one point but if we can keep spending time in their end eventually pucks are going to start going in."
Gagner agreed the players have to take their power-play play and mentality into their five-on-five game, and that means showing a little more grit around the opposition goal.
"We have to take a page out of what we're doing on the power play," he said. "We're scoring goals by getting the puck to the net and creating traffic. That has to be our mentality five-on-five. We were doing that at certain times five-on-five and creating chances, but for whatever reason it's not going in. I don't think we can look at it too much. The main thing is winning games and it doesn't matter how you do it as long as you do it."
However, he said, there will be times when the need that five-on-five to produce goals "so it's important for us to shore that up."
NOTES: The Oilers put backup goaltender Yann Danis on waivers Tuesday, indicating that veteran Nikolai Khabibulin, who underwent hip surgery last April, is ready to return to the roster. ... Yakupov played his fifth NHL game Monday night meaning he is no longer eligible to return to his junior team in Sarnia, Ont.