November 05 2013 11:59AM
It won't matter what the line combinations are if the Oilers elect to sleep walk through tonight's game like they did Saturday vs. the Detroit Red Wings. Hockey fans, coaches and players can accept losing, as long as you put forth an effort, but the Edmonton Oilers barely registered a pulse vs. the Wings.
Whatever happens tonight, the Oiler must show they care.
I watched the game on Saturday with some diehard Oilers fans and they were distraught during and after the game. These are fans, like many of you, who buy tickets, jerseys and have supported the Oilers through seven years of sucking. They love hockey, and as long as the Oilers put forth an effort that satisfies most of you.
What you saw on Saturday was pathetic.
The Oilers showed no desire. Not one player looked remotely annoyed that they were getting embarrassed in front of their home fans and on national TV.
I rarely will say players don't care, because you don't make it to the best league in the world without caring, but on Saturday night their "care meter" barely registered.
It is obvious this team lacks confidence right now. No one is shooting the puck with any authority, and it seems most players are scared to make a mistake. The harsh reality is that no other team is going to feel sorry for them. If they want to start winning, they simply need to roll up their sleeves and compete.
They did lose another player to injury on Saturday, Anton Belov, but two Oilers will return to the lineup tonight.
Devan Dubnyk's ankle has healed and he'll make his first start since October 24th. Dubnyk is the best goalie they have, and the Oilers must be hoping he can make some big saves early and inject some confidence into a lineup that looks beaten down.
Ryan Smyth also returns after injuring his groin vs. the Senators on October 19th. At this point in his career, Smyth isn't a go-to guy, but he at least knows how to play hard and go to the net. The Oilers need more guys willing to do the small things, if they ever hope to start winning.
They have to realize that they can't beat teams with skill. You need more than just skill to win in the NHL.
Eakins moved Yakupov back to the right side with the hope he'll be more comfortable and start producing. With Smyth on his wing, Yakupov is clearly the shooter on that line, and if he uses his heavy shot, while Smyth stands in front, the Oilers might get an ugly goal or two.
Eakins has three new pairings. Taylor Fedun will make his NHL debut, and every fan is pulling for him to complete an incredible comeback story. Smid and Petry haven't looked in sync for a few games, so it can't hurt splitting them up.
As I stated earlier, the pairings won't matter if the Oilers don't play with passion.
We can discuss the system, the line combinations, which wing Yakupov is playing or many other aspects of this team, but ultimately if they don't play with desire or passion it won't matter.
Remember when the Oilers of 1997-2004 had little proven talent, yet they managed to be competitive. Why?
Because they had players like Ethan Moreau, Todd Marchant, Jason Smith, Mike Grier, Steve Staios, Ryan Smyth and others who played hard. They weren't the most skilled team, but the worked their ass of every night. This team has more natural skill, but if they don't work hard, or work smart, it is irrelevant.
If the Oilers show a willingness to compete tonight, they will have a shot at beating a team that isn't very good.
- Craig MacTavish, Kevin Lowe and Mark Messier were scouting the Rangers/Ducks game last night, and since it is safe to assume they weren't watching Dustin Penner, it seems likely they were watching the Rangers. The Rangers, like the Oilers, are struggling and the Rangers need offence. Rick Nash is still suffering concussion-like symptoms and he isn't close to returning, so the Rangers will be looking for some offensive help.
Ales Hemsky's name has come up again, and so has Nail Yakupov. A deal involving Hemsky would likely have the Oilers eating part of his salary, since the Rangers don't have much cap space, and no one they would trade that is close to $5 million cap hit.
If a deal involved Yakupov, then we are looking at a major trade, and I'd guess Ryan McDonagh would need to be involved. The Oilers are in no rush to move Yakupov, but to even consider it; they would need a solid D-man coming to Edmonton. McDonagh is a $4.7 cap hit until the end of the 2018/2019 season.
- It is interesting to notice the difference between Eskimo fans and Oilers fans, many of whom are the same people. Many Eskimos fans ripped Ricky Ray and wanted him traded, yet in hockey most of the venom is directed towards the coach or GM. I've never seen a key Oiler player take as much criticism from the fans as I did Ray. Any idea why that is?
- The Oilers couldn't have asked for a better place to start their road trip than in Florida. The Oilers have won their last four meetings in Florida dating back to 2003 and they've outscored them 13-6.
- If you need some positives to convince you to watch tonight's tilt:
Dubnyk has a career .963 SV% and 0.93 GAA vs. the Panthers.
Ben Eager has four goals vs. the Panthers, the most he's scored against any team.
Ryan Jones has two goals in three career games vs. Florida.
Smyth has 21 points in 18 career games vs. the Panthers.
The odds are good one Oiler will register their first career goal vs. Florida tonight: Acton, Arcobello, Eberle, Fedun, Ference, Gagner, Gazdic, Larsen, Nugent-Hopkins, Petry, Smid and Yakupov have never scored a goal vs. the Panthers.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Just when you think you are about to stop caring, the Oilers will find a way to draw you back in with a 3-1 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers play better than they did on Saturday. ***Really bold prediction.***
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Fedun scores his first NHL goal. Right now the Oilers and their fans need a beacon of hope. Something to make them believe this 87-month losing drought will eventually end. That's right; you've just entered your 87 months of losing hockey since September, 2006. You need something to make you believe their is hope, and if a local boy, who shattered his leg two years ago can score in his NHL debut, then damn rights the Oilers can eventually return to the land of winning.