Good grief, what on earth is happening with the Edmonton Oilers?

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Well, it didn’t take long for things to start getting serious here in Oil Country, did it?

With the Edmonton Oilers piling up pre-Halloween defeats at a troubling rate, each one more gruesome than the last, it’s almost time to stop whistling in the graveyard and give some thought to genuine fear.

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The dismissive “it’s still early” responses we heard when the Oilers were tip-toeing into the first week of the season like a gazelle deciding whether or not to cross a croc-infested river aren’t so reassuring anymore.

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Not with the Oilers off to their worst start through six games since Dallas Eakins led them to the 2015 draft lottery.

This is nothing a two-game win streak can’t cure, and it’s true that six games is still pretty early, but it was also pretty early a few minutes after Titanic hit the iceberg.

The way the Oilers are losing some of these games — admitting they were outworked in 8-1 and 4-1 losses to Vancouver and Philadelphia, totally abandoning the front of their own net in Tuesday’s 7-4 loss in Minnesota and being outscored 10-1 in the third period this year, when most games are on the line — speaks to root causes that maybe can’t be shrugged off as summer rust.

As bad as the numbers are — and they are disturbingly bad (31st in the standings, 19th on offence, 31st on defence and 11 points back of the Vegas Golden Knights) — the bigger concern is how they are arriving at them.

There are some very visible cracks in what many people thought was a championship-calibre lineup, starting with a defence that went to the front of its own net in Minnesota with less enthusiasm than kids going to the dentist.

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Beyond point shots, transporting the puck, outlet passes and D-zone recoveries, the absolute most important part of a defenceman’s job is defending. It’s right there in the name!

Protecting the slot area and the back door is priority No. 1. And all it takes is being aware of what’s happening around you and being determined enough to make sure any threat is either tied up or knocked on his ass.

In Minnesota, the Wild scored FIVE goals by players left open on Jack Campbell’s doorstep. In a statement game from a team trying to show how it can survive without Connor McDavid, being that soft in such a key area of the game is a bad sign.

It’s also a bad sign that Evan Bouchard, who they were counting on to pick up where he left off last season and establish himself as a top-pairing defenceman, remains a defensive calamity.

He was directly responsible for three of Minnesota’s goals — letting five-foot-nine, 182-pound Marco Rossi win the battle for slot position on the first one, turning the puck over on the fourth and making the bad pinch to set up the sixth. He wasn’t exactly Scott Stevens on the second one, either.

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That he can have a goal and two assists and still be minus-three for the night and minus-eight for the season tells you how things are going in his own end.

He started slowly last year, too, before finding his groove, so the hope is that he’ll get up to speed again at some point. But whatever confidence he built up during last year’s epic stretch drive and post-season (17 points in 12 playoff games) is bleeding fast.

Head coach Jay Woodcroft will have to manage this very carefully, the balance between not losing the star defenceman and not losing too many more games.

Up front, more concern. No team wins a Stanley Cup without depth, balance and an excellent bottom-six, and so far the Oilers are severely lacking on that front.

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It’s six games into the season and half of their forwards don’t have a point yet. They don’t generate offence. They don’t impose their will physically. They’re just there. And just being there isn’t good enough.

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Nothing this team is doing right now is good enough.

Tuesday in Minnesota was supposed to be all about a contending team, desperate for a win, unveiling its determination and depth in the absence of its captain. But with the game on the line in the third period, the Oilers surrendered the front of their own net, faded away offensively, made the big mistakes and got outscored 5-1.

That’s a little scary. 

It doesn’t mean disaster. The Oilers are still making the playoffs and there is still plenty of time to address the areas of concern and make the necessary fixes.

But it’s starting to look like they might need a lot more fixing than anyone imagined.

E-mail: [email protected]

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