The Edmonton Oilers have gone from losing games they probably should have won to winning games they probably should have lost in treating the faithful to a roller-coaster ride on the way to a 4-4-1 record as the Nashville Predators come calling Wednesday.
What was angst and consternation after a 0-4-1 stumble out of the blocks thanks to defensive lapses and bad goaltending looks somewhat brighter today after a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens and a four-game run against the weak-sister Eastern Conference.
The Oilers are about where I thought they’d be after nine games. I just didn’t see them getting to where they’re at by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Canadiens. In the end, it doesn’t matter how – underlying numbers suggest the Oilers often played better during the 0-4-1 stretch and haven’t been as good top to bottom during the four wins — just how many. Results.
No matter what happens to close out this seven game homestand against Nashville and the Vancouver Canucks (Saturday), the Oilers will hit the road in considerably better shape than it looked like they would four games ago when it was threatening to get ugly earlier than last season.
Crazy train, this team.
THE CULT OF YAK
Oiler fans are a passionate mob. That’s a good thing, but I’ve got to admit I’m often puzzled and dumbfounded by the venom they direct at members of the media when it comes to Nail Yakupov. The latest episode of Leave-Yak-Alone unfolded Monday when Mark Spector of Sportsnet asked Yakupov about his defensive play for an item he wrote here.
Yakupov went off just a little and let it be known he was tired of answering questions about his defensive play. Fair enough. What I don’t get, with the pre-amble and questions Spector asked in context, is the reaction by fans to this event and, for that matter, anything deemed criticism of Yakupov.
There are two common themes. The first is that media types are singling Yakupov out for criticism, picking on him, while others escape the same scrutiny. We want to “run him out of town.” The second is that Yakupov gets a rougher ride because members of the media don’t like Russians.
— DJ Dray (@Oiler_dude) October 27, 2014
@Robin_Brownlee we aren’t backing Yak for no reason. Seems lots of hostility towards him and other Russian players.
— craig minnice (@craigminnice) October 28, 2014
I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know first-hand that if I question or criticize Yakupov, I don’t get arguments based on the merit of what I’ve written about him. What I used to get is, “What about Sam Gagner?” Now, I get, “What about Jordan Eberle? He sucks right now.” Without fail.
The implication is Yakupov wasn’t/isn’t getting the exact same treatment as Gagner and Eberle or pick-a-name. News flash: players on NHL teams are not treated the same. Generally speaking, proven veterans get more slack than rookies and younger players who have not yet proven themselves. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the way it works.
As for “you guys don’t like Russians,” I’d suggest Spector was trying to get insight into the jarring contrast between Yakupov’s obvious offensive gifts and the holes in his defensive game – Yak has improved to the point where he’s gone from atrocious to merely not good enough – rather fixating on his birth certificate. Likewise, any reservations I have about Yakupov have nothing to do with where he was born.
I’m on the record multiple times this season as saying I want to see Yakupov put into a position to succeed, so I’m not going to re-visit that ground. We don’t yet know what Yakupov will be as a finished product. Here and now, I’d rather have Alex Galchenyuk, featured in the Spector piece that got the venom flowing again yesterday. I think Galchenyuk is the better player now and will be the better player long-term. Oh, and he’s a U.S. citizen of Russian heritage.
BY THE NUMBERS
- Whether it’s talk around the water cooler, letters to the editor (remember those?) at the local newspaper or the comments section at websites like this one, history shows fans would rather piss, moan and vent about defeat and failure than discuss wins and success.
- It’s not surprising, then, that’s reflected in the comments section of the GDB Wrap-ups we’ve been doing after Oiler games this season. The comment count after the Oilers went 0-4-1 to start the season: 229, 192, 186, 254 and 132. The count after these last four wins: 88, 111, 95 and 149 (as of noon today).
- Here’s a news bulletin – teams that get great goaltending win more games. Ben Scrivens is 4-0-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average and a .940 SV% in his last 4 starts. He had a 4.11 GAA and was .857 in losing his first three starts.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260.