McDavid's illness symptomatic of Oilers' rough start

Connor McDavid gets stopped by Red Wings goalie Jimmy HowardSomething is definitely wrong with the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers appeared to turn a corner last season after making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, but a quarter of the way into 2017-18, they are once again one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. There is no simple answer to Edmonton’s struggles, which now include an ongoing illness affecting the team’s captain and best player, Connor McDavid.

McDavid has been battling a cold for more than a week, losing 5-10 lbs off his already small frame in the process. He has yet to miss a game for the Oilers in spite of his illness, and he continues to lead the team in scoring by a sizable margin. McDavid’s 28 points are 11 more than any other Edmonton player, and nine of those points came in the last five games.

Edmonton’s inability to generate much offense outside of McDavid—even when he is sick—demonstrates a surprising lack of scoring depth for a team once flush with offensive prospects. The Oilers dealt Taylor Hall for defenseman Adam Larsson two offseasons ago and moved Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome in June, and while Larsson has proved a solid addition, Hall was Edmonton’s offensive engine before McDavid, and Strome has yet to contribute on a level comparable to Eberle, who was a consistent 20-goal scorer with the Oilers. Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the only remaining Edmonton players besides McDavid making major contributions on offense, with 17 points apiece.

The Oilers’ limited scoring wouldn’t be as big of a problem if they were better at keeping pucks out of their own net, but that too has been an issue. Cam Talbot is far from the statistical pace he set in his first two seasons as Edmonton’s starting goaltender, sporting a bloated 3.13 goals-against average and a save percentage hovering around .900. Talbot’s numbers are skewed by the Oilers’ dismal performance killing penalties. Edmonton is one of the worst teams in the NHL shorthanded, with a 73.3 penalty kill percentage, and it is also one of the league’s most-penalized teams, averaging more than 12 minutes per game in penalties.

The Oilers snapped a three-game losing skid with a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, with an under-the-weather McDavid contributing two assists in the victory. Six different players scored Edmonton’s goals against Detroit, which is the kind of balanced performance needed to string together more wins and perhaps salvage the season. The Oilers visit the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Friday.