SURE IT’S EARLY, BUT . . .

History tells us two games does not a season make, so those writing off the Edmonton Oilers after Saturday’s 6-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks are jumping the gun, even if that’s understandable with patience waning after seven years out of the playoffs.

So, no, the fate of the Oilers isn’t cast in stone after a 5-4 defeat against the Winnipeg Jets on opening night and the loss to the Canucks. That said, I’m more alarmed at how the Oilers lost in Vancouver rather than that they lost.

While the absence of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner leaves the Oilers with a gaping hole down the middle, one that Taylor Hall has struggled mightily to fill so far, that doesn’t explain why the Oilers were outworked, outhustled and outclassed so badly by the Canucks.

Since the moment new head coach Dallas Eakins arrived, his mantra has been about competing, about accountability and about new beginnings – he’s gone as far as to remodel the dressing room to emphasize the importance of looking ahead rather than back, of this team molding its own identity.

How much of that – the willingness to compete and outwork an opponent – did we see against the Canucks? Not nearly enough. Not even close. That, two games into the tenure of Eakins, is a problem.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD

I get it that facing the Canucks without Nugent-Hopkins and Gagner left the Oilers outmanned. I get it that it’s going to take time for new linemates and defensive pairings to get used to each other. It’s going to take time for the team, as a whole, to get a grasp of new systems and settle in together.

What I don’t is the almost-total lack of "compete" the Oilers showed at every turn against the Canucks in a game in which they were outshot 44-23 and weren’t close to contesting enough loose pucks and open ice. There is nothing to mitigate the lack of gumption and gusto we saw.

What we got instead are some all-too-familiar post-game regrets. Tell me is any of the following sounds familiar. If you heard the same lament under Ralph Krueger or Tom Renney or Pat Quinn or . . .

"If you’re not going to compete like every shift is your last, you’re not going to win. That was very evident tonight," Eakins said, via the Oilers Twitter feed after the game.

"We can’t play like that," said defensemen Ladislav Smid. "We have to draw the line. If we want to make the playoffs, we have to wake up and win some games."

"We got out-played right from the start of the game," said Hall, who was minus-4. "There are a lot of things we need to improve on from that effort." Added Hall: "We have to wake up tomorrow positive and regroup. All it takes is one shift, one period next game to get back on track."

RESULTS, PLEASE

"We lost a lot of battles tonight," said Hall, who could well end up back on left wing against New Jersey when Nugent-Hopkins returns to the line-up. "That’s nothing to do with systems."

I applaud Eakins for much of what he’s said and how he’s approached this season. He’s stripped away the handy excuse of the Oilers being a young team. He is insisting on results. He expects his players, be they raw rookies or budding stars, to give him everything they’ve got. To compete.

After a good measure of all the above in the game against the Jets, a loss that sits squarely on the shoulders of goaltender Devan Dubnyk, we saw precious little of it against the Canucks. Systems take time. Chemistry takes time. Effort and willingness to battle should not. You either have it or you don’t.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.

  • I really hope the whole team was suffering from dengue fever last night, or something. Brutal effort. Monday has to be better, and I’m guessing it will be. Exponentially.

    Put Hall back on wing. No other choice makes sense. There’s no way Smyth deserves to be in the top 9 while Arco gets scratched.

    Hall Nuge Yakupov

    Perron Arco Eberle

    Joensuu(if healthy) Gordon Hemsky

    Gazdic Acton Brown

    And if I’m Eakins, I sit Hall the first couple times his line goes out there. Hall is my favourite player, but he has been atrocious. And it can just be attributed to playing out of position. Every time he touches the puck he gives it away. He’s forcing things like I’ve never seen before. Just throw the puck at the net if you don’t have any other option. For all you know, the opposing goalie could pull a Dubnyk.

    Eakins needs to challenge Hall and show him who’s boss. The same goes for every other player. Wake up!

    • 2004Z06

      We’ll have to see how the season goes, but he definitely has a lot of things to improve. Way too soft in his own end. If Nurse, Marincin, and most importantly Klefbom make progress this year, and Schultz wants too much money, you absolutely have to look at moving him. Only problem is, who replaces him on the powerplay? Still, things could change and he could make some big strides this season. Too early to jump to any conclusions.

      • Joy S. Lee

        Hate to say it, but that kind of move may make the most sense. If things continue to unravel (and in no way am I condoning a move this early in the year), the talented youngster may be the best bet for a high-level return, and a chance to fill out the roster where it’s most needed.

        Not sure I’m 100% in on the move, but I’m curious about the implications, at this point. Seems they may need to explore their options, if the current results continue.

  • 2004Z06

    Didn’t they try a new defensive system last year ? Now the swarm system this year ? Why not just have your typical NHL system and work on the compete levels and getting tougher to play against.

    • 2004Z06

      The swarm system is a great defensive scheme.
      I played it with great success when I was 5 yrs old on my grandfather’s dugout near Grande Prairie. We didn’t look that much worse than the Eakins-coached Oil did last night!!

  • 2004Z06

    Getting outscored is one thing. A total a$$-whupping is another. Petry has looked dreadful all pre-season and in the first two games. Hall appears lost and Eberle has failed to show-up let alone compete. I found it interesting that the 3rd and 4th line players have played like they are glad to have a chance at an NHL gig. Apart from Hemsky against the Jets and Perron, the bottom 6 have shown up the spoiled and headstrong so-called talent.

    Has Eberle become the next Seguin?

    I didn’t think for one second that Hall could look that inept at any position on the team. He isn’t on quite as high a pedestal now.

    • Fatbob24

      I.M.O Hall looked inept because he wanted to, he wasn’t interested in playing center & his answers during interviews gave Me that impression. Just my opinion.

      • Rob...

        I think you’re giving Hall both too much and not enough credit at the same time.

        He’s a talented natural winger who is growing as a player but doesn’t have a heck of a lot of the type of spontaneity required by an offensive center to be successful.

        Hall’s compete level wouldn’t allow him to screw up on purpose, but he also can’t will himself into being a successful number one center.

  • kelownoil_fan

    …I keep thinking the oilers are like some guy who won the lottery with his fav numbers a long time ago and still keeps playing those same numbers EVERY YEAR. Even thou he hasn’t won in decades…those are his numbers and he isn’t going to pick new one because he KNOWS what winning numbers are and damn it, he’s going to stick with them.

    • Ha Ha You are so correct. Gregor is just like Eakins, one thinks he is Mike Babcock and one thinks he is Bryan Hall. Only problem is boys, those guys earned that position in life the other two are demanding pretending the earned it. Neither of them are in the same league.

  • kelownoil_fan

    It’s simple……….Eakins benches someone of note he feels is not competing…..maybe after minus 4 Taylor Hall should sit, maybe after a bad read and constantly being out of position Justin Shultz should sit, maybe Eberle sits for not looking alive out there, maybe David Peron sits for diving all over the place…..the simple point is unless Eakins does something to show the guys a lack of compete is not allowed it will continue.

    Talk is cheap…..results are needed.

    Either way this team needs to gets its head out of its ass and compete soon or it may be too late.

  • kelownoil_fan

    What is truly confounding to me is given our lack of good centres, why did we not sign a guy like Mason Raymond?

    We signed a lot of players but no one who could actually play centre ( Boyd Gordon does not count as a top two centre) and then took our most skilled player and put him into an un-natural position and expected what?

    Thank God RNH is coming back.

  • kelownoil_fan

    Same Old, Same Old…yes that sounds right, exactly my thoughts while watching the game.
    Last year I started tracking Own Zone Turnovers (OZTs)which is a loss of possession in your own defensive end when the defensive team has possession.
    It did look like “Old Times” as you and the other commentors stated.
    Here are the stats for your interest!
    -Oilers OZTs 41, SAAs due to OZTs 19, GA due to OZTs 3.
    -Canucks OZTs 13, SAAs due to turnovers 5, GA due to OZTs 0.
    The Oilers gave up 3 times as many OZTs and 3 goals due to them!
    Yep, Same Old, Same Old.
    Whos were the bad actors:
    -5 OZTs – #2, 19, 21
    -4 OZTs – #4
    -3 OZTs – 15, 57, 83.
    Of the defenseman Belov was the only one without a OZT.
    One area of improvement I’ve seen from last year is 0 OZTs by Dubnyk in the first two (1 1/2 ) games. Last year he was bad.

    • Joy S. Lee

      I find this OZT stat quite interesting…and revealing. Sums it up nicely, I think, and all you have to do is do the comparison (which you’ve just done), and the base cause of the meltdown is pretty clear. Own-Zone-Turnovers. 41 to 13! 41?? That’s 14 per period! That’s almost an Own-Zone-Turnover per minute, per period!! Yeesh, no wonder we’re losing….

      ….and here’s the thing, when you’re coughing the puck up like that, in your own zone, it’s utter chaos. As a goalie, you have no idea where the next shot is coming from, because that’s highly dependent on where and to whom you turn the puck over to. It’s a really fast game. I guess Dubnyk needs to raise his concentration to a Jonathan Quick-like level, ALWAYS being ready, because that’s the only way he’ll survive this, if as a team, they keep turning the puck over like that in their own zone.

  • Team was supposed to be built on speed, with quick breakout plays from the back end, with fast moving forwards up front.

    Problem: No quick breakout plays from the back end. Game plan is dead in the water on the first turn. Plus everyone is swarming, and forgetting to play the game.

    The same quy that was running the backend last year is still on the bench…{SMITH}.

    • Randaman

      These quick break out plays are never going to materialize with Smid, Petry & N Schultz constantly trying to chase faster forwards. Smid is a joke. He constantly reverses and goes back behind the net because he doesn’t possess the skills of passing. Not to mention that I could out skate him and I suck.

  • Randaman

    Too many coaches, systems and expectations. This team has spent the last 4 years rebuilding everything but confidence. Why is that? I kept my expectations low, but why does this team self implode. Is it the city, the fans, the mix of players, or the clusterfudge of organization, or all of the above. Frankly donn’t think the world is falling apart.

    Three changes for next game. Ryan Smyth on the fourth line, put your first line together with Hall where he should be, and sit Belov a game for all the bonehead penalties.

  • Zarny

    So exactly what’s the surprise?

    This team finished 12th last year and off-season improvements were marginal. Still no size in their top 6 F, no legit shutdown Dman and the 3rd and 4th line still lack talent and depth.

    With everyone healthy the Oilers are still only battling for 7th or 8th. With their top 2 C out they are just a bad team.

    They’ll be better than their first 2 games but Vancouver showed the Oilers are not even close to being one of the top teams.

  • Dallas Eakins is a joke. Bad hire by a bad organization. All the yung kids make mistakes and turnovers and they get rewarded with 26 minutes of ice time. Justin Schultz has no idea what his position is and he gets rewarded with 25 minutes of ice time. Eberle has no idea how to compete, this guy has never shown up in a tough game. When the Oilers were in 8th spot last year for a few days Eberle chose to sign out after that, was a none factor. Keep rewarding poor play Eakins, you’re a joke