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.
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.