NHL Week in Review (December 14-20)

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The halfway point of the NHL season is approaching and for some teams it is desperation time as they need to figure it out now if they want to be in the playoff hunt. Plenty of teams are sitting right on the edge trying to find another gear that will give them a boost. These teams are only a winning streak away from entering the playoff conversation but there are still those handful of teams that need a lot more help. They are the few teams that have fallen so far back of their division races and the eventual wild card race that they will need some major changes if they hope to be in the playoff hunt. The Edmonton Oilers were one of these teams as they have had a historically bad year, which was only the latest in a series of terrible years. The Oilers used to be the City of Champions, a nickname gained after winning five straight Stanley Cups from 1983-1990. That reputation has given way to a team that continues to finish among the worst teams in the NHL. They have been unable to make the playoffs since they lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. Since that time they have selected some of the top players in the draft year after year and have a team that, on paper, seems like one of the best young teams in the league. With names like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, Nail Yakupov, and Leon Draisaitl the Oilers should be a powerhouse with great young talent that can score plenty of goals. Yet something has happened to all of these can’t miss prospects when they enter the Oilers system, they lose what made them great. The explanations for it have been many as some have blamed coaching or that they were evaluated in the wrong way or that they needed more time to develop before being put into the NHL lineup. Whatever the reason the Oilers have yet to figure it out and can’t seem to find anyone to help them get back to the playoffs, or at least a winning record. Two years ago they thought they may have done it though as they hired Dallas Eakins from the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. While under Eakins the Marlies had risen to be one of the best teams in the AHL. He was a master of getting the best out of young players and seemed like he was being groomed for the Toronto Maple Leafs head job in the near future. Before the Leafs could promote him though, the Oilers hired the rising coach in what seemed like a perfect match. A coach that knows how to coach young players was handed a team full of young players. Even Eakins couldn’t figure it out though as the Oilers remained one of the worst teams in the league and this week he was fired. With General Manager Craig MacTavish taking over coaching duties, his second time around in Edmonton, the Oilers are looking for something to change. The good news about the firing for the Oilers is that they are making a change before it is too late and before a change will have no realistic effect on the team. The bad news is that Eakins only coached for less than two years and really had not time to try to develop a proper system. If that is the way the Oilers are going to go through coaches the problem will never be solved. Without providing a coach a good amount of time they will never turn a team around. Not to mention that the players will never be given the chance to develop and see what that coach can do for them. The management may not have seen what they wanted or may have heard from the players that Eakins was not getting through to them but in the end he did not get too much time to attempt a turnaround. The Oilers are once again a mess this year and although there is some time to figure it out before they are officially eliminated from the playoffs, they don’t seem to be on the right path. If they reach the halfway point playing like they have so far it is going to be another long off-season for the Oilers and Oiler fans. One of the NHL’s great franchises continues to stay in the basement and are hoping that a coaching change this week will bring a spark to the rest of their year.

(Extra Thoughts on this week in hockey)

A Marathon Game
The Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals were facing off in a game that wouldn’t mean a lot to either team but the game ending up being one of the biggest of the year after a 20-round shootout breaking an NHL record

Hartley Extended
The Calgary Flames have been much like their provincial rivals sitting in the basement but instead of firing their coach this week they gave Bob Hartley an extension showing faith in a coach that they believe can turn things around

Vokoun Retires
Tomas Vokoun will never make the Hall of Fame and was rarely considered one of the best goaltenders in the game but he was a rare breed, a solid backstop that could play starter or backup and give you the same effort but that type of player is rarer now after Vokoun announced his retirement


Key Scores:
Toronto Maple Leafs 4 – 3 Los Angeles Kings (SO)
– The Leafs and Kings have a small rivalry going for many reasons as the two teams on either coast and in different types of hockey markets faced off again this time with the Leafs taking a shootout win

Florida Panthers 2 – 1 Washington Capitals (SO)
– Staying tied throughout the game the Panthers and Caps went to overtime, which solved nothing, and a shootout where after 20 round it was Nick Bjugstad who ended the marathon game to the relief of everyone involved

Pittsburgh Penguins 1 – 0 Colorado Avalanche (OT)
– The Penguins weren’t going to let the mumps get them down as they welcomed the Avs to Pittsburgh but couldn’t seem to get by Calvin Pickard, who had 47 saves, until overtime when a rebound found Blake Comeau to get the win

Philadelphia Flyers 7 – 4 Toronto Maple Leafs
– The Leafs seemed like they were turning things around after a rough start to the season but they met another team that has been getting hot entering the midway point of the season and showed it in beating the Leafs 7-4 on Saturday

Next Week:
Colorado Avalanche vs. Detroit Red Wings (Sunday December 13th; 6:00 pm ET)
– It is an old rivalry that has grown a little stale but the history is still there as the now rare matchup between the Wings and the Avs takes centre stage on Sunday with the Avs trying to get some momentum going and getting out of the bottom of the division

San Jose Sharks vs. Anaheim Ducks (Monday December 22nd; 10:00 pm ET)
– It’s a battle for the Pacific Division lead and one that could be important in the long run as both the Sharks and the Ducks seem like strong teams this year and will likely battle all year for the division title

Washington Capitals vs. New York Rangers (Tuesday December 23rd; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Caps are heading into the Christmas break with a big game on their minds but they will try to keep their good season going by focusing on the Rangers and trying to get the win before they go home to celebrate the holidays with their family

New York Islanders vs. Buffalo Sabres (Saturday December 27th; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Islanders are one of the hottest teams in the NHL but can they continue that after the Christmas break heading into the new year, they will get a chance to show that against the Sabres

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