Two areas of concern for the Oilers

Jason Strudwick
October 06 2013 12:02PM

Saturday night’s game in Vancouver against the Canucks was an early season opportunity for the Oilers to show on Hockey Night in Canada that this is a new team. A team poised ready to make the next step and become a playoff team. The game did not leave that impression on Canada or the rest of the NHL.

The Obvious Stuff

It is very early in this NHL season. The Oilers are playing without their two top centers, and as a result they’re pretty green. Mark Arcobello played his third game as an NHL center Saturday, Will Acton his second and Taylor Hall his second this season after briefly playing the position as a rookie. That’s not a lot of experience down the middle for the Oil.

It was obvious Saturday that those three were not ready for the challenge of taking on two of the top centers in the NHL. Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler are very, very good centermen. I don't care if you hate them, you have to respect their ability. Kesler was the best player of the ice. The young Oilers centers will have learned a lot from the game and matching up with those two.

So far this season Dubnyk hasn't played the way he would have wanted. The two long bombs and a couple of weaker goals have gotten him off to a questionable start. To me he looks like he is pressing and not relaxed between the pipes. I think he will get into a groove. He is a solid goalie. Two rough appearances to start this season are not making me think the Oilers should run out and make a move for a goalie. That being said I would give him the night off against the Devils. Let him and goalie coach Fred Chabot clean up a few issues. He will be ready mentally and physically for the game versus the Habs on Thursday.

The centers and the goaltending are the obvious issues. On both post games shows so far I have done these have been hot button topics. They have been issues but I see two areas the Oilers can clear up quickly and they don't involve either the centers or the goalies.

The Less Obvious Stuff

It was obvious this off season that general manager Craig MacTavish wanted a puck-moving group of defensemen. He wanted d-men that would get back quickly to the puck and pass it up to the swift skating group of forwards the Oilers have. It makes sense in theory; it’s better to play in the neutral and offensive zones rather than in your own end. But last night I saw the problem.

As a group the d-men were far too passive in their own zone. A defenceman's first responsibility is to play defence. Far too often last night the ‘D’ were not being aggressive and taking the puck-carrying forward of the Canucks into the wall. Eliminating or pinning the puck carrier in the defensive zone should be job one for this group. It looked to me like they were following this player around, water-skiing or just containing. That doesn't work.

I know some forwards are big and maybe the strength isn't there to man handle the guy. I get it. But then you better figure out a different approach that works. Duncan Keith isn't a giant but he is great at playing angles, using his stick and taking away time and space. These are skills the smaller guys will have to perfect. The Oilers spent too much time in their own zone; it is the job of the ‘D’ to snub out the opposition’s forecheck.

When the d-men did either pin the Canuck forward to the wall or take the puck away, too often the strong side winger was not ready for the pass. When under pressure the d-man will not always be able to make the perfect pass. The winger must be ready to not only handle the pass but make a play with it.

The winger must get his ass on the wall and stick in the middle to show a target. He cannot take his time getting into position. The defenceman has a split second to make a play, he cannot wait for the winger to slowly get into position. Once the pass is made the winger must make a strong play. Most likely the opposition blueliner will pinch down to pressure him. He MUST get the puck out. This is not a situation where fifty/fifty is good enough.

The winger has to get the puck out. He can chip it out or reverse pinch on the defence. It doesn't matter how - what does matter is that is gets done. Early in the game on the road or when the opposition has the full court press on the pressure is relieved by that puck getting out.

There is no doubt that Dubnyk has to be better and that the inexperience at center has been hard on the Oilers. Those are easy fixes. The work on the wall by the wingers and in zone play by the D are two areas that need to be cleaned up. These are habits that playoffs teams have.

If I am Eakins I crack out the old VCR today. I show specific examples of guys not getting the job done Saturday night. You don't do it to embarrass players; you do it so they see with their own eyes what they are missing.

BATTLE OF THE BLADES

I am back at it tonight. Second round of Battle of the Blades. You wouldn't believe the amount of work that makes one routine go. I am really enjoying it and proud to be skating for my charity Inner City Children's Program. You can check it out at iccp.ca or follow them on twitter and @iccpinfo

Take a second to vote for my beautiful partner Violetta and I after the show

Thanks!

5cf6b487166aced0cd781e41bfef915e
Jason hosts the Jason Strudwick show from 9pm to 12am, weeknights on the team 1260. He is an instructor at Mount Carmel Hockey Academy and loves working with the kids. Having played over 650 games in the NHL, Jason has some great stories and unique takes on life in the NHL. He loves Slurpees and Blizzards. Dislikes baggy clothes and close talkers.
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#51 Big Cap
October 06 2013, 01:15PM
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@Jay Gray

It's Only ONE game. Its only TWO games. Its only the first MONTH. Its only the first HALF. Finally, Its a another rebuild SEASON.

These types of EXCUSES must end.

ENOUGH IS A ENOUGH - There is NO excuse for last night's effort.

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#52 Cold Hard Truth
October 06 2013, 02:04PM
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Everyone relax!

We need to be more patient. This is a young team. Just think how good we're going to be in a few years when!

MacTavish tried his best this summer to address the holes, it's just that there weren't any players out there. So don't blame him you big meanies, he tried his best!

And if we don't make the playoffs this year, relax. The 2014 draft looks deep. We'll trade Hemsky up in the draft and get a top d-man!

Think of how stacked we'll be when we're cup contenders!

Tired of this? Me too.

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#53 madjam
October 06 2013, 02:36PM
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Oilers a huge business and entertainment industry that is well attended . Losing team is not a problem . so long as fans care to buy into the entertainment value they get out of it . How unlikely is that to change ?

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#54 dougtheslug
October 06 2013, 05:51PM
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Man, am I tired of hearing Smid, and Hall, and the latest coach, and whoever, say over and over "that performance was unacceptable." So for Gawd's sake stop accepting it! Just once I'd like to hear one of those teenage millionaires say, "man, that performance was unacceptable, so I simply can't accept the $75,000 that they were contracted to pay me. I have asked the team to donate my pay to a charity of their choice, and resolve to never be unacceptable again."

And to Mr. Katz, and Kevin Lowe, cackling away as you count your money and reassure yourselves that Oiler fans are patient and loyal and fanatical enough to accept this product year after year, let me say this: If you had told me in the early 1980's, when the Edmonton Eskimos were selling out Commonwealth Stadium year after year, routinely drawing over 55,000 fans, winning championships and epitomizing class; if you had told me that in 2013, after a decade of stupidity, ineptitude, incompetence, cronyism, and apathy that that same team couldn't draw 15,000 on a glorious autumn afternoon, and that people in this city just couldn't care anymore and would rather do yardwork than force themselves to watch that team bumble to another humiliation; well, I would have told you at the time that would be pretty hard to imagine.

And its true, we are Edmonton Oiler fans. We are patient. And loyal. And fanatical. But tuning you out and just not caring anymore? It's not as hard to imagine as it used to be.

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#55 Clarko
October 06 2013, 06:27PM
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Sidney frosby wrote:

When is Glenn Andersna and Grant Fuhr gonna be hired by the Oilers.... Seem like they just bring in the old teammates on Katz dollar to hang out and think they know what they are doing....

K-Lowe and Mac-t have made great great decisions.....Can't wait for Grebeshkov to be in the line up and show the rest how it's done.... Laugh my ass off.

Anderson and Fuhr are hall of fame guys. This team only brings in the role players from the dynasty years...

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#56 Batfink
October 06 2013, 07:40PM
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Results. Driven. Industry. Three words most of the ownership of the other 29 teams seem to understand.

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#57 nick
October 07 2013, 08:59PM
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@outdoorzguy

I agree this Eakins thing was a HUGE mistake. He's a minor league coach with a big mouth and nothing to back it up. This organization is in huge trouble now. Signed a completely raw coach to a 4 year contract. who does that??

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#58 Curtis
October 06 2013, 12:43PM
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Jason, your a former player, I have a question?

There are lots of arguments going that weak goals have no effects on the team? I totally disagree with this.

I know the oilers played poorly last night and the game wasn't all Dubby's fault but these weak goals IMO are affecting the rest of the team.

Any insight on this?

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#59 Spydyr
October 06 2013, 01:09PM
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Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty) wrote:

I'll go with compete and winning.

* followed closely by size and grit, in third place coaching and management

But other than that, things are headed in the right direction!

You are right. I was just trying to make a funny. It is better to laugh than to cry. After this long lots of people are getting fed up with the groundhog day rebuild.

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#60 Sean17
October 06 2013, 01:25PM
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What was Yakupov doing on Kesler's goal? That is the video that needs to be watched...

Another area of concern should be fan apathy.... I'm a big fan, went to the home opener, watched last night and already starting to care less and less... I have better things to do for 3 hours - 6 hours if you count driving in from Red Deer. At least I wasn't like the guy beside me who drove from Grande Prairie....

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#61 etownman
October 06 2013, 01:50PM
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When Dubnyk is in goal, the team plays with less confidence & grips their sticks a little harder! When Labarbera came in & after a skirmish in front of the net in which he controlled the rebound & killed play, it was interesting to see Hemmer skate by him & slap his pads! If Dubnyk could consistently make the routine plays good NHL goalies make we wouldn't be talking so much about him, but he doesn't & it hurts his team a lot!

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#62 madjam
October 06 2013, 02:24PM
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Next up, is Connor McJesus. wrote:

Why play every shift like it's your last, when you're your team has confirmed what you're worth without ever having to do that? It's a little late to hope for better after they're locked in pulling down 6 mill per for the next half dozen years. This losing was our best option management (the last 4 yrs) style is really biting them in the arse now.

Lowe knows how to wreck things, but he's shown he knows diddly squat about rebuilding a team. Good thing Lowe had hall of Fame team mates to put those six rings on his fingers.

Now , now , lets not be to hard on Lowe , as he knows how to fill the stands with a team Oiler fans like to enjoy even if they seem to enjoy/prefer a loser hockey team . Mind you , Eskimo attendance is starting to take a big tumble - maybe he should be worried it might spill onto hockey team ?

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#63 Thinker
October 06 2013, 03:03PM
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The oilers biggest hole is in their chest.

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#64 TeddyTurnbuckle
October 06 2013, 05:11PM
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Oilers recalled Brandon Davidson today. Weird. I can't see him playing up with the Oilers yet.

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#65 Poopsie
October 06 2013, 06:45PM
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Sidney frosby wrote:

When is Glenn Andersna and Grant Fuhr gonna be hired by the Oilers.... Seem like they just bring in the old teammates on Katz dollar to hang out and think they know what they are doing....

K-Lowe and Mac-t have made great great decisions.....Can't wait for Grebeshkov to be in the line up and show the rest how it's done.... Laugh my ass off.

Comment 24 inLowetide sums this MESS up perfectly!!!

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#66 Johnny Larue
October 06 2013, 07:54PM
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Oilcountry2000 wrote:

We were fed the line that Dubs was our starting goalie last year...He sucked. This year more of the same with a sub par backup. Time to let the two goalies and goaltending coach go and go fishing. What will it take? Who's out there? Maybe Mikka would do us a solid after stoning us for so many years...I'd pay to watch that.

Are you delusional ?

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#67 dougtheslug
October 06 2013, 08:48PM
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Zarny wrote:

Really?

Do you give up your paycheck when you don't perform at work?

And don't tell me you're an all-star everyday.

If my performance at work was evaluated as "unacceptable" by my paymasters as often as the Oilers is, I wouldn't have a paycheck to give back.

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#68 The Last Big Bear
October 06 2013, 09:49PM
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Sounds to me like the team needs more leadership and accountability.

Maybe try giving letters to another four or five guys. That ought to help.

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#69 oilmyoil
October 06 2013, 10:57PM
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Dave Cement Co. wrote:

No more call ups, drafts or trades for players unless they are 6'3" or bigger, 220lbs or heavier and bad competitive bad a$$es!!! Let's start trading, cutting, running out of town the stick checking fairies and DAFODILS that know make up at least half this Gutless team!!! ENOUGH is ENOUGH!!!

My thoughts exactly

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#70 Joy S. Lee
October 07 2013, 10:10AM
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Sorry, I haven't read the comments section yet, but I just wanted to say thanks Jason, you have said exactly what was on my mind, a little better than how I would have said it. I think you've absolutely nailed it. Well, we're in agreement, so of course I think you've nailed it. LOL.

There was a spot in that Vancouver game, as they cycled the puck in our zone, when the Canucks displayed a 'knowing' about how the Oilers were going to defend them. They continually handed the puck 'off' to each other, and each guy would "rag" the puck. In other words, they would go on a round-about ragging, trying to create openings for teammates. Well, you can't do that if someone is knocking you on your ass. You can, if they're not, though. And that says it all. How do you get the puck away from someone who's really good at carrying it? You separate the two, that's how. Well, that hardly happened against the Canucks. And the pinning against the boards? Hardly. As Jason suggested, we hovered, and waited, hoping to steal the puck away. Good luck with that. Chastizing Dubnyk, when we're turning the puck over like a hot potato in our own zone, is not entirely fair. When we get our defense figured out, maybe we can focus more on Dubnyk. But for now, I'm with Struds, this team desperately needs to figure out how to compete in it's own zone. That's job 1.

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#71 They're $hittie
October 06 2013, 12:25PM
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Said it before and I will say it again,

Watching one of the best wingers in the game struggle at center really makes you appreciate what RNH and Gagner do for this team.

Dont try to control him at center. UNLEASH him on the wing.

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#72 lucky
October 06 2013, 12:30PM
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And ... "Here Come The Oilers " ... Anybody getting a sense of deja vu here?

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#73 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
October 06 2013, 12:59PM
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Curtis wrote:

Jason, your a former player, I have a question?

There are lots of arguments going that weak goals have no effects on the team? I totally disagree with this.

I know the oilers played poorly last night and the game wasn't all Dubby's fault but these weak goals IMO are affecting the rest of the team.

Any insight on this?

Who said weak goals have no effects on the team?? Of course weak goals have effects on the team!

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#74 Craig1981
October 06 2013, 01:00PM
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They're $hittie wrote:

Said it before and I will say it again,

Watching one of the best wingers in the game struggle at center really makes you appreciate what RNH and Gagner do for this team.

Dont try to control him at center. UNLEASH him on the wing.

I'm with you 100% percent. I think you could even relay that to respect for Arcobello. I hear people saying Hall is better then Arcobello and they should send Mark down.

Personally I think, if you move Hall over it massively improves the 1st line as RNH is far better at center than Hall PLUS Hall is far better at wing than Smyth. You upgrade 2 positions significantly instead of just one.

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#75 oilfly
October 06 2013, 02:12PM
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Hi Struds, by the way...love your show! Watching the game last night reminded me that perhaps Petry & J Shultz need to strengthen their biceps rather than worrying about fitness levels. Their soft clearing passes or little cute chip shots are really totally unfair to the forwards they play with!!!

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#76 EricOG
October 06 2013, 02:12PM
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Another problem here is that for the fourth straight season, the Oilers are breaking rookies and/or newcomers to the league in.

Looks like (once again) they have a lot of non-factors on the active roster. Sound familiar?

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#77 otter2233
October 06 2013, 02:49PM
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Jordan Nugent-Hallkins wrote:

Just read on the Oilers site that Hall - Nuge - Ebs practiced together today and are expected to be the 1st line against the Devils. Hallelujah...

And Labarbera gets the start...

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#78 WhattaMike
October 06 2013, 03:14PM
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Hey guys before I may be trashed, but first, I want to say that I wanted Dubnyk pulled after the 2nd Canucks goal, and for sure, by the third one was in...the kid (Dubie)is not in any good groove at all and this now makes him allowing ten goals in less than two games. LaBarbera should have gone in to start the 2nd period at the least.

Then again I saw a very lousy effort from almost the whole team last night. Even yak looks off for some reason.

That being said, the only way Dubnyk works this out (if at all) is that he plays and plays thru it all. But even i dont want this going on more than three games in a row already.

Also, this team has been changed quite a bit and these guys are still learning about each other. Most have only played together for four to six games (exhibition and 2 reg season games). They are also learning of new systems and from a brand new coach/associate coach. This wont be righted overnight....so lets not panic much just yet.

Now, with the top 2 centres gone/Jonesuu injured, Smyth too slow, and with two to three AHL guys,.... this made for a bad show last night and thank goodness RNH is back to get going. Was very happy with the 4th line and Gadzic dealing with Sestito. Too bad the refs favored giving Brown a minor/misconduct when some Canucks should have gotten a couple as well.

I wont panic for three more games at least. great to hear Hall is gonna be back where he belongs. Loved seeing Coach Acton going at it with Torts too.

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#79 TeddyTurnbuckle
October 06 2013, 04:46PM
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If you watch the Kesler goal it's Yakupovs fault the whole way. He let the puck go right by him and he was way out of position. Kesler shot the puck from Yaks point and he was caught making a lazy circle. Yak has skill but he is still a train wreck in his own end.

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#80 TeddyTurnbuckle
October 06 2013, 04:57PM
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Justin Shultz sure looked like he had a hard time getting the puck away from Vancouver. All he does is follow the player around with one hand on the opponents back and the other hand is attempting to poke check from behind. Wouldn't mind seeing a body check from him once in a while.

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#81 kaz
October 06 2013, 05:11PM
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Haven't you guys read the secret. ... hurry we need more positive comments!

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#82 dv.asteroid
October 06 2013, 07:46PM
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I'll not relinquish hope until I see this line combo... I feel it will be manic...hoppy-hall&yak

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#83 Ed in Ednonton
October 06 2013, 08:14PM
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Strudwick

All of the D and wingers are professionals (maybe)and have all played the game for a good number of years. I don't believe for a nanosecond that their lack of performance last night was because they didn't understand what a D or strong side winger is supposed to do. It appeared that they couldn't be bothered.

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#84 DigDeepNBleedBlue
October 06 2013, 09:32PM
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DSF wrote:

Welcome to the Dark Side.

It's not the Dark Side. It's the circus.

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#85 Dog Train
October 06 2013, 09:33PM
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How many times do he have to get dominated to understand how hard we have to work to be successful on a nightly basis? It's getting ridiculous. If certain players haven't learned "what it takes" by now, then I am not sure that they ever will. You either have that competitive drive or you don't. We need to bring in more guys who won't take losing as an option. Mental mistakes I can deal with. Lazy and uninterested play I cannot. It's only 2 games but the more things change, the more they stay the same. One things for sure, if this doesn't get turned around then the coach sure as hell shouldn't be the scapegoat again.

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#86 Pouzar99
October 06 2013, 11:49PM
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I think it is time the players felt a little heat from a fan base that has given new meaning to the term loyal. There is only one thing that team supporters cannot and will not tolerate and that is an unwillingness to compete hard, which was on display throughout Saturday's disgraceful performance. I can remember very few occasions in which I was angrier or more upset with the players.

I will keep going to the games. I will keep rooting for the team, but I am fed up with excuses. In practical terms we have our whole team except Gagner. We should win the next two games by outplaying and outworking our opponents. We can't keep firing coaches year after year. It is on the players from now on.

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#87 Hemmercules
October 07 2013, 11:26AM
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madjam wrote:

Oilers have not gone 0-3 to start a season in 18 years . Laviolette gets fired after 3 losses with Philly . Anxious moments in Oilerland if we lose tonite .

I'm pretty sure Eakins has a "free pass" no matter what happens this season. The word Accountability isn't even in the Oilers vocabulary lol.

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#88 Sidney Frosby
October 07 2013, 11:43AM
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Petry + a draft pick to Anaheim for Hiller...and possibly Fistric ( we need some hitting back on the D!)

Oilers need to at least try and save the season...

Or maybe STL wants to move one of their goalies to make room for Allen.

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#89 madjam
October 07 2013, 11:55AM
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Coppernblue has Joensuu, FERENCE and SMYTH out with Grebs in apparently . What is going on ?

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#90 TDSM31
October 07 2013, 12:02PM
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DSF wrote:

If the Flames get above average goaltending, they will be competitive.

A hard working bunch that shows up every shift.

If the Oil had below average goaltending, they would be competitive. Right now we have an ECHL goalie as our starter.

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#91 BingBong
October 06 2013, 01:33PM
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Great read; we all know the goaltending has been weak and we lack center experience, but the insight regarding the other areas of concern is interesting. It sounds like more of the same really; we're just not willing/able to compete at the same level as other teams. Eakins better find a way to reach these guys, and fast.

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#92 morgie
October 06 2013, 01:40PM
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By god they better start Labarbarra next game

And if he looks good, play him till he doesn't

The team has to stop just giving players a free ride and make them accountable by sitting them, if we have legitimate other options

It's pretty obvious Dubnyk has been poor, and we can't afford to just play him till he finds his game, if he ever will

to just put Dubnyk in again because he's our starter, makes no sense to me, and will just prove that all this talk about accountability is lip service

which frankly has been oilers for most of the rebuild, which isn't really a surprise you could argue since lip service comes from the owner and president for years

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#93 Big Cap
October 06 2013, 02:02PM
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sizedoesmatter wrote:

Better to lose and find the weaknesses than start 6&0 and think everything is good enough. Still to early to panic

Great Point.

Who wants to start a season 6-0?

Wake Up, man!!!

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#94 Jordan Nugent-Hallkins
October 06 2013, 02:46PM
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Just read on the Oilers site that Hall - Nuge - Ebs practiced together today and are expected to be the 1st line against the Devils. Hallelujah...

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#95 Lofty
October 06 2013, 04:06PM
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Why did they recall Davidson? Who got hurt?

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#96 Lofty
October 06 2013, 05:10PM
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This may cheer up some of the Horcoff haters:

http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/watch-shawn-horcoff-two-minutes-t-video-125221233--nhl.html

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#97 mlcsellil
October 06 2013, 08:04PM
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I really bought into all the hype and the positive environment it created around the city from the GM coach and players. We were all on board for a great season, that we even paid more to see the games at Rexall. I realize we are down 2 centermen, and have new players and AHL call ups, but where in the hell is there any passion and spirit from these GD players. All I did last night was curse and swear at another effortless game. My expectation, after having 4 days off to practice, (as I'm sure everyone else had the same), was the team was going to put in their best efforts after giving the Jets the game in the home opener. Hopefully when the Nuge hits the ice tomorrow, there will be a heartbeat from the players. We need every point we can get and the earlier we get them, the better shape we'll be in. I'm not sure of the solution, but we all know the problems.

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#98 steelymac
October 07 2013, 07:55AM
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Pouzar99 wrote:

I think it is time the players felt a little heat from a fan base that has given new meaning to the term loyal. There is only one thing that team supporters cannot and will not tolerate and that is an unwillingness to compete hard, which was on display throughout Saturday's disgraceful performance. I can remember very few occasions in which I was angrier or more upset with the players.

I will keep going to the games. I will keep rooting for the team, but I am fed up with excuses. In practical terms we have our whole team except Gagner. We should win the next two games by outplaying and outworking our opponents. We can't keep firing coaches year after year. It is on the players from now on.

Pouzar don't excpect 4 points a night from RNH to start .

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#99 Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)
October 07 2013, 11:28AM
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Oilers lineup for tonight posted on Copper and Blue

Hall. Nuge. Ebbs

Perron. Gordon. Hemsky

Hamilton. Arcobello. Yak

Gadzic. Acton. Brown

Petry. Smid

Ference. J Schultz

Belov. Schultz

Lebarbera

Out. Ryan Smyth, Joeensu

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#100 Hemmercules
October 07 2013, 11:41AM
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@Old Retired Guy (A.K.A. Die-Nasty)

I almost want to cry when I think about 7 years out of the playoffs and that is the team they are icing at this point.

Has Hemsky played with the same two forwards for more than 3 games in a row in his entire career ?? lol

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