NEW FACES, NEW LEADERSHIP

Jesse Joensuu made a solid first impression in his new Oilers jersey last night. He scored, had five shots, won lots of battles and showed a willingness to go to the tough areas. Dallas Eakins admitted one of his coaching mistakes last night was not using Joensuu more, and if he keeps playing with the type of desire he’ll get more icetime.

Joensuu, Ales Hemsky, Boyd Gordon and the 4th played well, while some other struggled, mainly Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk had happy feet on the first goal and lost his net, and then whiffed on Jacob Trouba’s long-range knuckler. Dubnyk needs to be better if the Oilers want to win, and more importantly if he wants to remain a starter next season. Goalies will have off nights, however, it will be magnified when it happens on opening night.

The bottom line is Dubnyk can’t have many more games like that. He knows it and the Oilers know it. He’s proven he can play better, but he needs to do it consistently. He’ll be back between the pipes on Saturday, and he just needs to make the routine saves.

Hall made some great plays, but he also made some really bad decisions with the puck. He’ll be better, and he better get used to playing a lot of minutes. Hall played 23:30 last night and Eakins said he would have no problem playing a forward 26-27 minutes. He wants his guys to be in great shape, and believes Hall can handle 26 minutes some nights.

THINGS I NOTICED…

  • The best change was the Oilers willingness not to just dump the puck out and lose possession. Often they would turn back, or pass it deep into their own zone. There are certain times you dump and chase, but too often in previous years the Oilers would just hammer it off the glass into the neutral zone, or dump it in when no one was forechecking, and basically give away possession. When Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner return they should be even better at holding onto the puck.
     
  • They got engaged. Joenssu and David Perron didn’t back down in scrums. Anton Belov got slashed after the play, and rather than just stand there or skate away he looked straight in the eyes of Andrew Ladd and skated towards him. For far too long we’ve seen players just back down, and once you do that the other team will keep trying to take advantage of you. Every inch of the ice matters and I thought the Oilers did a much better job of showing a willingness to fight for space.
     
  • Hemsky was flying. I’ve long been a fan of his ability and skill, so I’m not surprised to see him play like this. He is still one of the few Oilers who can beat defenders one-on-one. It sure would be nice to see him shoot like that more often. His speed makes him dangerous and having him on the PK kept him in the game.
     
  • I understand Smyth will look slow playing with Hall and Hemsky, almost every player would. Smyth was average last night. At times he tried to hard to get the puck to Hall, and then he made some stellar plays like the great pass to Arcobello with a minute remaining. Arcobello couldn’t finish. Smyth won’t play every shift with Hall and Hemsky, and that makes sense.
     
  • I don’t see how anyone couldn’t have felt great for Luke Gazdic last night. He scores a goal in his first NHL shift. Skilled players like Mario Lemieux do that, not sluggers like Gazdic, but there he was celebrating 2:21 into his first game. One of the best parts of sports is watching those moments. For good measure he got the best of Chris Thorburn in a fight later on, but he’ll never forget that memorable first NHL shift.
     
  • Nail Yakupov never seemed to get in the game. His linemates were flying, so the suggestion that he has to play with Hall is bogus to me. Joensuu and Gordon were around the puck, but I never saw Yakupov match their intensity last night. Eakins did move him to Hall’s left wing for a few shifts, but that didn’t jumpstart his game. Yakupov plays best when he’s mixing it up, but I didn’t see that last night. I expect he’ll be better in Vancouver.
     
  • Overall I thought the Oilers outplayed the Jets, but some costly turnovers and subpar goaltending cost them. If they can shore up those areas they will be competitive most nights. I really liked their new swarm defence, but most importantly I liked how they didn’t just give away possession of the puck by dumping it out of the D zone, or into the offensive zone. They looked to make a direct pass first, and only as a last resort would they dump it out or in. I love this strategy.

THE CAPTAIN SPEAKS

Yesterday on my radio show, I asked Andrew Ference about playing his first game as an Oilers, wearing the "C" and how he will lead his new team.

Gregor: When you signed with the Oilers you tweeted out a picture (above) of you in an Oilers jersey. Like most young boys in Edmonton, you dreamt about being an Oiler. Did you ever think about being the captain? 

Ference: I don’t know if I ever let my imagination run that wild on the ice out back. I definitely scored a couple of game seven winners out on the tennis court, but being captain never really crossed my mind. That was obviously a great honour, but as I’ve said a few times, and it’s not a cliché, that it (being captain) is trumped just by the chance to put on that jersey tonight. It’s a special thing, I come back and I have a lot of family here that are obviously very excited for me to be back here in town and for myself, this is just a great thing.

I was in this locker room before it looked this nice. I got to hang around guys like [Mark] Messier and [Petr] Klima and just be exposed to that so young and attend so many great games in this rink. For it to all come together now, at this point in my career, I can be fully aware of how lucky that is as a player.

Jason Gregor: You’ve had a lot of season openers, is it important that guys have the enthusiasm for a home opener similar to the excitement you had when you were seven, eight or nine years old and getting ready for that first game?

Ference: Even further than that, it’s important as a hockey player to be excited for all of the games. It’s easy to get yourself up for these ones, or your first playoff game or the big rivalry game, but the next step is realizing how privileged you are to be on the NHL ice every night, it is. I think that it’s easier to understand that the further you get on in your career and not take it for granted. As you see friends and other teammates what they go through and sometimes injuries or sudden retirements or being forced out of the game, suddenly you start to realize how fortunate you are. Obviously you work your ass off to get here, but there is a lot of other stuff that goes into it. Home opener is easy, it’s a blast for everybody, but to continue on and to realize the privilege every night of being in the NHL is what we are trying to achieve.

Gregor: I watched your feature with Ryan Rishaug and you talked a lot about doing more than just being a hockey player. Your younger teammates are coming in at a time when the fans are going to love those guys. Can you pass on that belief to be more than just a player and ensure that not only are they great players, but they become involved in the community?

Ference: I think that living by example is the best way that you can do that. I’ve always believed that you can’t force people into situations and you can’t just sit there and tell someone how they should be. It doesn’t work. People have to be their own people and they learn and they acquire a way of life; they don’t have it forced upon them.

I think that it’s good to lead by example and to show guys this is what you can do, this is what is out there and this is how you can enrich your life by doing it. I think that guys pick up on that and they see that. I think that is an important thing for older guys on the team to do; they lead by example because people will follow and people will emulate what you do.

It’s important for me to be open about it, share with guy and show guys and include them as much as they want to be included, but forcing it on people doesn’t work. I think that hockey players, you’ve been around locker rooms enough, they’re good guys. They really are. I think that sometimes in certain environments you just get locked into a certain way of life just because that is what everyone else is doing. If the leadership dictated that everyone is private and a bit of a recluse, and not really being out there, then that is what the young guys will follow and do. I’m sure that just by example a lot of guys will hopefully start to open up.

Gregor: All of the young players have talked openly about how they are sick of losing. How can you help them become winners?

Ference: I think that everybody has to be their own harshest critic and when you can reach a level where you can hold yourself accountable before the coach has to, before your teammate has to, that’s when you can really start to make progress. If I look at the really good players that I’ve played with, the coach is never on top of them, because he doesn’t have to be. They’re there before anyone else, correcting what needs to be corrected, working on what has to be worked on and so that’s what really good players do.

Talking about it and all is very easy. It’s very easy to say that you’re sick of losing; the next step is proving it night in and night out. It’s a lot of hard work. There are clear examples throughout the league of the most respected guys that are very skilled, but work their asses off. You look at [Sidney] Crosby, you look at [Pavel] Datsyuk, you look at a guy like [Patrice] Bergeron those guys have enough skill to just float through the games and make a lot of money and have a lot of points and be famous. But they choose to put in that extra effort to be winners and to be known as winners. That’s the difference, that’s the choice.

It almost goes back to the last question; you can’t force a player to change, you can’t force them to work as hard as they can. That has to be a personal decision that everyone makes, and everyone chooses to commit themselves.

If they do, there are clear examples of not only the respect that you earn throughout the league, but the hardware that you’ll get to have fun with in the summer. 

WRAP UP… 

That type of experience and honesty is why Ference was named captain. He’ll be a great role model for the young player, and I believe how he conducts himself on and off the ice will have a positive impact on the young stars.

It will be intriguing to watch the players morph from saying they hate losing to showing that they despise it.

RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR   

  • smiliegirl15

    I was at the preseason game against Winnipeg and to me, Yak wasn’t really in the play in that game either. He seemed off and after his non performance last night, I wonder if he’s hurt? His sophmore slump? Or is he pouting? Come on Yak! You’re better than that!!!

    I also loved that Joensuu said, oh no you don’t!, when the Jet tried to smash Eberle into the glass with his elbow. Love that Joe-Joe!!!

    • Oilers Coffey

      Yak and Arcobello were benched in the second, because Hall, Joensuu, and Gordon were double shifted.

      Yak has decent chemistry with Joensuu, but absolutely none with Gordon. Gordon isnt a puck distributor, plays to North-South. Joensuu can play both styles so fits with Gordon or Yak.

      When the Nuge and Gags return, Yak will get a skilled centre to play along side, and Hall will slide down to the three spot and stay with Hemmer.

      Yak will lite it up from there, as will Hall and Hemsky as they will be playing against weak opposition.

  • For 35 minutes we looked like a team and a contender , the last 25 minutes we started to look like last few seasons – choking/sputtering and finding ways to lose . We need to gel early this season , something we have not seen for many a season , but looks like we might this year . Too bad Dubbie had such a poor game , we deserved better than a loss from how rest of team played . Mistakes are prevalent early season for all teams , but they will diminish more as we gel as a team . If not , then we might have to re-evaluate the building process put in place by Tams . Maybe the young stars are not quite what we hoped they’d be ?

  • Rob...

    Where is the accountability on Hall — I see all this about Dubnyk, but everyone is tip-toeing around Hall.

    He had his usual game, trying to do too much, forcing the play and causing turnovers. Same as with Team Canada when he got benched, same as last year when he didn’t. Only difference was that last night two of his turnovers resulted in goals against.

    As bad as Dubnyk was last night we still would have won 4-3 had Hall not turned the puck over.

    Fine, he is a so-called superstar so he gets different treatment. But how on Gods Green Earth do you justify double shifting him and sitting Yakupov (played only 2 mins in the second) when he turns it over like he did.

    It was so obvious on the first one that he was out of gas taking on three defenders, yet he got rewarded with double time….

    Eakins, what was this accountability thing you spoke of??? As far as I’m concerned, Ference would have earned my respect that much more if he labelled Hall by name rather than politely speaking in riddles while clearly describing Hall’s play last night.

    And no one in the media will touch him, yet all believe he should be shortlisted for the Olympics … go figure.

    He is a quality player, but should leave his ego aside and show more compete with his head and less with his braun.

    IMO.

  • Rob...

    When you look at the best goalies
    They only have 5-9 4+ goal games in a season.
    The best the last 2 years is lundquist. @10%
    Dubnyk since taking over as the Starter role is 12%
    3rd in the game.
    if he plays 58 games he has 6 more games of 4+ goals. before goes above 12%.
    which will still be 3rd best in the game.

    • Dan 1919

      Lol, too bad those stats don’t help him stop the puck when he needs to. He has to be better, and it has to happen quickly, he’s had a far better opportunity than most young goalies could ever wish for.

  • Ryan Smyth was average!! Wow you have to be joking.
    It seemed Smyth couldnt step on the ice without turning the puck over or falling. He played over 17min, about 12min too much.

    Other than Dubbie he was the worst player on the ice

  • Dan 1919

    After taking the time to step back and think about the game, I feel a lot better. We should have never lost that game and we did enough to win. If Dubnyk is even average in that game, we win. He will be better. Hall will be better. Yakupov will be better. The three day break is what’s killing me right now.

  • Oilers Coffey

    Dubnyk bad bad bad bad bad game!
    Smyth was out of gas by the 2nd period, that was obvious; more so than him and Duby say the word “obviously “!!!

    Love Ference’ compete!
    Joensuu was very impressive!
    Yakupov getting benched already, he was clearly disheartened after 64-27-6 were the most dangerous line in the 1St!

  • What you think you see , you may not be getting . Joensuu and Gordon given additional shifts at expense of Arcobellos line . Coach thinks he made a mistake by not giving Joensuu more time . Really ? Then how come both Joensuu and Gordon were our two worst forwards minus players (-2) for the night ? Players may have learning curves , but I think you can add that to coach as well , until he garners positive results . No free rides without results – lets see you and MacT. justify why/how your better than Tams and Kreuger . Earn our respect in other words .

  • Rob...

    I am a diehard Oilers fan, but I have to say I am happy we lost.

    In recent years, we would win the opening night. To make it worse, for a few years, we have a winning streak going right off the bat. Of course, as a fan, I want to see us win EVERY GAME. 82-0 is a dream for any fan, but we all know it is impossible. The Oilers have so many faults and still many holes to fill, and even this season, there are still question marks all over the ice for our team. We have matured and became a way better team verses recent years, and a few acquisition like Joensuu and Gazdic has made our team tougher, but it isn’t enough to make us a contender or a power house.
    In recent years, we would win our opener, hopes up for fans, and the team is confident and believe they can go far. A few games later, the luck runs out, the bounces go the other way and boom! we go on a losing streak. The reason why I said I am glad we lost right off the bat, is so that our team can address our problems early. In recent years, when you win the opener and the few games afterwards, you DO NOT want to change anything. You want to keep playing the way you did, or else people will question why you made changes when everything is going your way. I think we are better off to lose right off the bat, and it is a bonus to have 4 days off, and this 3 games in 9 days schedule will help us address all the problems we need to fix before the schedule get more hectic!
    I am sure in a few years, when we finally become a powerful winning team, we can then start the season with a win and on a good note……

    • Rob...

      Do you honestly think at this level teams dont work on their shortcomings after a game that they win?

      Get real. If Dubnyk were able to shut the door and the Oil won 4-2 or 4-3 im pretty sure Eakins would have adressed their failts just as easily.