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."
"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.