Drawing by Kayleigh Semeniuk.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins makes his season debut tonight hoping to add some colour and competitiveness to a lacklustre Oilers lineup. Dallas Eakins didn’t hesitate in re-uniting Nugent-Hopkins with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. Eakins stated earlier this year that he has four lines, not a first, second, third or fourth, but it’s pretty obvious that 4-93-14 is the most talented and dangerous trio.
Tonight it is up to the three of them to prove it.
The Oilers were dominated for 60 minutes in Vancouver. They didn’t match the intensity level of the Canucks, and they made numerous mental mistakes. Sound familiar?
Eventually the players need to realize that the coach can’t make them play harder or smarter. The organization can’t keep blaming the coach for lacklustre efforts. Until this group commits to playing hard every night, they will not be a playoff team. They lost too many battles, made horrible passes and didn’t come close to competing as hard as Vancouver.
I understand this is their third new system in the past three years, but their overall effort shouldn’t be compromised due to learning a new system. I suspect Eakins is realizing that it is easy to say his team will compete every night, but it is much harder to convince them to actually do it.
It is a long season, and average teams will have off nights, but it is painfully obvious the Oilers need to play better. With the return of the Nuge, Eakins switched up his top three lines.
Eakins said Hemsky has been his best forward through two games. It is a small sample size, but that is why he is ahead of Yakupov on the depth chart. When your team is struggling I don’t think you put your best forward on the third line, just so you can possibly jumpstart Yakupov. Yakupov will need to earn more icetime.
Eakins mentioned that Smyth was one of five guys who could have been sat, but he chose Smyth because he knew he would handle it like a pro. After practice Smyth admitted it is a tough pill to swallow, but he’ll practice hard and vowed he’d be better when he returns to the lineup.
I’m sure there was more to it than who would handle it better, Smyth hasn’t played great, but I think that was Eakins first subtle message that his young players need to play better. Specifically, Hall, Eberle and Yakupov.
- Jesse Joensuu didn’t finish Saturday’s game and he wasn’t on the ice at practice yesterday. His back flared up in Vancouver, and there is no timeline for his return. Backs can be very finicky.
- The Oilers recalled Brandon Davidson yesterday. Ladislav Smid and Andrew Ference didn’t practice, but Eakins said they were just getting maintenance days. One of them likely has a minor tweak, so Davidson was recalled, but he won’t play.
- The Oilers must have slid Jesse Joensuu to the IR, because they have 23 players on the roster with Ryan Hamilton and Davidson up from the farm.
- LaBarbera gets his first start as an Oiler. He has a career record of 59-70-25 with a .909 SV% and 2.83 GAA. He stopped all 12 shots he faced in Vancouver and he just needs to be consistent tonight. Make the routine saves.
- Ryan Smyth had 11:25 of TOI in Vancouver. I think he’ll play between 11-13 minutes when he gets back in the lineup.
- Marty Brodeur will start in goal for the Devils. He hasn’t won a game in Edmonton since December 21st, 2007. He’s only started one game since then, but the Oilers will try to extend the future Hall of Famer’s losing streak to two games in Edmonton.
- The Oilers and Devils are two of the seven NHL teams without a win. Brodeur lost 3-2 to the Islanders in a shoot out in his only start of the season.
- The Oilers have started a season 0-3 three times. In 1980, they lost to Quebec, Colorado and Buffalo before tying the Islanders. In 1992, they lost to Vancouver, Calgary and Vancouver before picking up a tie vs. Toronto. Their franchise worst start came in 1996, when they lost four straight to Detroit, St.Louis, Detroit and Philadelphia, before beating the Devils.
- Will Acton has shown he understands his role and he’s played well. Goading Ryan Kesler into a fight late in the first period was an excellent trade off. Acton isn’t a scrapper, but he and Arcobello are playing like guys who know every game could be their last. Many of the other forwards need to play with the same determination.
- I understand people are sick of losing, but it is a tad early to suggest the season is over. The Oilers started 4-0 in 2010, only to finish last. It is a long season.
- That being said, Saturday was another tough day for Edmonton sports fans. The Eskimos got embarrassed at home, while the Oilers stunk in Vancouver. Neither team showed much desire. I am always amazed at the passion and loyalty of Edmonton fans. Since 2004, you’ve had little to cheer for, outside of one miracle run to the Stanley Cup, yet you still support the teams. It is time the player’s effort level matches your loyalty.
- I think it is time we start talking about this fight. It is becoming a serious issue.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers can’t play worse than they have in the last four periods, and the return of Nugent-Hopkins sparks them to a 5-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall, RNH and Eberle combine for two goals.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Boyd Gordon has never scored a goal in three consecutive NHL games. This is the fourth time he’s scored in back-to-back games, but never this early in a season. Gordon scored in consecutive games on March 16th and 18th, 2007, Dec 30th, 2008 and January 1st, 2009 and then on February 2nd and 4th, 2010. He sets a new goal scoring steak tonight, and he also ties his career-high with a three-game point streak.