Ten Things the Oilers must do to make the playoffs Part 3
In Part 1 of this Cult of Hockey series we focused on how the Oilers have to find depth defenders and how the teams’ young stars must step up as leaders and refuse to lose. In Part 2 we looked at the need to get solid forechecking out of the fourth line and as solid goaltending from Devan Dubnyk as it got last season. Today in Part 3 we look at how former defensive stalwarts Jeff Petry AND Ladi Smid need to regain their top form and how coach Dallas Eakins must find a way to properly use Sam Gagner at even strength.

Thing #6: Petry and Smid must get better not worse
Heading into the 2012-13 season it looked like the Oilers finally had a top-pairing defence duo that could get the job done against top competition. Jeff Petry then 24 and Ladi Smid then 25 had improved steadily through their early 20s both in terms of defensive zone positional play and moving the puck. Petry a strong skater and fine passer was skating passing and taking the man with confidence at the NHL level. Smid had become a shot and pass blocking specialist and had also learned to focus on making sure quick easy passes to relieve own-zone pressure.

They had meshed together so much so that in the second half of the 2011-12 season the duo was playing strong hockey against strong co competition as witnessed in their individual scoring chances plus-minus. If a d-man is doing his job he will contribute to one scoring chance for every scoring chance he makes a mistake on. If you can do this against tough competition you’re arrived as a d-man in the NHL. Petry and Smid looked like they had arrived.

But last season under new head coach Ralph Krueger they crashed. Petry was a workhorse moving the puck (as seen in his excellent zone exit and zone entry puck-moving numbers) but was often caught out of position in his own zone. Smid struggled more moving the puck. The timing of his shot and pass blocking also seemed off.

All this was reflected in weaker scoring chance plus-minus numbers. Smid went from +0.1 scoring chances at even strength per game in 2011-12 to -0.6 per game. Petry went from -0.1 to -0.8 massive drop-offs in performance for both players.

What went wrong? They were part of a large group of players who regressed with Krueger as head coach. Maybe the team’s chemistry and strategy were both off. When a drop in performance is so consistent that’s a fair conclusion. This year will be the test of that.

It could be that Smid and Petry will get a slightly easier job this year if Justin Schultz and Andrew Ference take over with the toughest minutes assignment but the best bet is that Smid and Petry will again be called on to do the heaviest lifting on the team. If they return to their 2011-12 form all will be well.