Oilers Game 14: New York Islanders

I’ve never felt disappointed writing about a win before. I went to bed on Saturday night with relief that the Oilers played perhaps their best game of the season and finally got another win. All four of their goals were in the first period, and neither Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl got points on any of them. Stuart Skinner wasn’t very busy in net, but he was solid. Edmonton did bend a little, being outshot 9-0 in the third period. But even then, they didn’t break. Stu helped keep the lead intact and didn’t give up after allowing that one goal. Oilers fans were in a slightly better mood. Then Sunday morning happened, and news broke out of Jay Woodcroft and Dave Manson being relieved of their duties behind the bench. I’ve expressed not wanting a coaching change in the last little while. The players clearly weren’t playing to get Woodcroft fired. We all sort of expected the idea would at least be halted for now. To see it happen after the game they’d just played and won seemed like a worse slap in the face than at the Oscars. Woodcroft leaves the organization having the highest wins percentage by a head coach in franchise history, and he wasn’t even around for three full years. Below average goaltending, sub par defensive play, miniscule offense and the best hockey player on the globe playing the worst hockey of his career to start a “Cup Or Bust” year cost him his job. Unless McDavid’s injury magically goes away now, I can’t say this news put a huge smile on my face.

It’s not just the firing itself but who the replacement is. New bench boss Kris Knoblaugh was McDavid’s coach when he was still in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters. Since the summer, the Oilers have brought in McDavid’s former agent(Jeff Jackson), his former junior teammate(Connor Brown), and now his former junior coach. Will they go after Dylan Strome at the Trade Deadline? Are they waiting for Alex DeBrincat to be a UFA in 2027? The disconnect between Jackson and Ken Holland during their press conference was odd. Holland stated that he spoke to veterans on the team about the new coach. Then, 10 seconds later, Jackson contradicted him and said there were no discussions with the leadership group about who the new coach would be. Any veterans Holland was referring to don’t necessarily have to be the leadership group, but which other veterans would you instantly think about? Knoblauch’s contract is also expiring the same year as McDavid’s. Even if this team had a better start to the year, you cannot convince me that even the slightest influence from 97 had nothing to do with it. One thing Knoblaugh said that stood out most to me was committing more consistently to defense without sacrificing offense. New assistant coach and franchise legend Paul Coffey stated that he likes the team’s defense but also wanted to work on ridding them of occasional gaffes and giving them more awareness on the ice during certain situations. The first Oilers players I thought of at those moments were Evan Bouchard and Darnell Nurse. Defensemen like Bouchard don’t grow on trees. But the older he gets, the more self-aware he’ll have to be without the puck. Nurse plays miles better when he understands who he is supposed to be and isn’t trying to do too much. I’ve had mixed feelings about Coffey being put behind the bench because even he wasn’t expecting to get the job, and it just feels like another Old Boys Club move by the organization. But in his defense, the perspective he gave is something I echo from time to time. So maybe he’ll be okay in this role. He’s been around the team in different capacities, including player development. So he’s not a complete fish out of water.

Knoblaugh was a Western Hockey League champion as head coach of the Kootenay Ice in 2010/2011 and was an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017/2018 and 2018/2019. Although this will be his first real gig as head coach, he did take those reins briefly with the New York Rangers in the 2021 season when then Rangers head coach David Quinn was out with COVID. In those games that he coached, the Rangers posted a 4-2 record. His resume is not 100% a blank sheet. I still expect the Oilers to turn things around and wish they could right the ship under Woodcroft. I just remember Holland pointing out in 2022 how there’ve been too many coaching changes in Edmonton before being forced by on ice results to fire Dave Tippett. Surely, that should’ve been his only coaching change as Oilers GM. Maybe we’ll consider this our start of the season now. From here on out, it’s a clean slate. The keys to the game are…

A Good First Impression: Even if the losses weren’t the coach’s fault, making changes behind the bench motivates the roster. They look in the mirror when a coach gets fired, and then they start to play better for a little while or longer. They need to repeat all year what they did against the Kraken but for the new guy. Fun fact: Woodcroft got his first Oilers head coach win against tonight’s opponents.

More Garbage Goals: I read a stat posted on Twitter/X that I thought was absolutely hilarious. The Oilers are 0-4-1 this season when they have 40 or more shots on goal. While it would’ve been great to have more puck luck, they need to get more scoring chances around the blue paint. They were rewarded for doing that on Saturday night. Semyon Varlamov has a .940 SV% in the five games he’s played this season. You’re not gonna beat goalies like that easily just by shooting from the perimeter.

Noah’s Ark: The Islanders selected defenseman Noah Dobson 12th overall in the 2018 Draft, just two spots after the Oilers picked Bouchard. I confess that I haven’t watched many Islanders games. I do know that Dobson and Bouchard are similar in terms of point production, but I’ll really be paying more attention to the differences in defensive play in order to know what’s what.

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

Stephen Vani

Oilers fan in Toronto. Staying up past my bedtime for Western games since the mid 2000s.

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