The opening weekend in the NHL is over, and most teams have a
couple of games in the books already. The Oil have picked up two losses but I’m not overly concerned just yet. There are some positives to take away
from the matches, but when I look at the club what I see is a group of defenders
trying to get comfortable with change.
Edmonton has gone through massive change from the roster to
behind the bench and even further up the organization. These changes were
necessary, but right now things are just a little out of sorts because of
Not all the newcomers are struggling, however
the blue line is definitely trying to feel their way into the new season.
As of today Andrej Sekera is struggling the most.
He does not look comfortable out there early in the regular season. He was
acquired to be a calming force in the top four but he hasn’t delivered on
that. It’s very early for Sekera. He has new coaches, new partners, and new systems to get
accustomed to, but the Oilers need him to make better decisions.
Sekera’s partner Mark Fayne isn’t good enough to carry that
pairing if the former Hurricane isn’t playing at the top of his game. That duo hasn’t
been up to par yet and a lot of that is on Sekera making bad choices. Against the
Predators, one of the goals against occurred solely because he tried to make a
play with pressure against him at the blue line instead of putting the puck
deep. It was a boneheaded play that doesn’t fit with the reputation he’s gained
As bad as he’s looked so far, the fact that he’s been better
for a long time in other markets suggests that this is something he can bounce
back from. It just might take a few weeks before everything starts to feel
Keeping with the theme of new faces, the third
pairing is in flux as the new coaching staff figures out what they have. Game three is set to feature Brandon Davidson playing with Eric Gryba. Game two was Ference and Gryba.
Game one was Reinhart and Gryba. It’s feeling a little too much like Eakins’
extended training camp to me, especially because I thought Reinhart had won the
job in camp and played fantastic in the opening game. But all I can do about it
The coaching staff is just as new to these players as the
players are to the uniform. That’s going to mean a lot of uncertainty early on.
Gryba looks like the constant in the equation for the third pairing
but he has to keep proving it to McLellan as well. His biggest weakness so far
is his foot speed. He
is vulnerable against speedy players, but you could probably say that of most number six defensemen.
What I like about Gryba, thus far, is that he seems to know
his limitations and plays within them. I don’t have huge expectations for this
player but he looks like he can play in his own zone. I would like to see him
make better exits though. It’s something to watch develop over time as he gets
accustomed to what the new coaching staff wants.
Players adapting to change hasn’t been all bad though. It’s
too premature to get excited about it, but Justin Schultz is trying to show his
new GM and his new coach that he can be more aggressive. It isn’t just about putting
an elbow up or jumping into a scrum, but that stuff helps the perception of his play. No,
it’s more about him showing that he isn’t afraid to compete for pucks in his
own end and not afraid to shoot them in the other end.
To me it seems obvious that the changes, slight as they are,
in Schultz’ game are a reaction to the new staff. This is a case where
challenging the player to a one year deal might actually be appropriate (in
large part because Schultz isn’t a UFA in July). His partner Klefbom has been
disjointed since he suffered an injury in the preseason. I’m hopeful when Oscar
starts to look like himself that the duo will be effective in big minutes.
The Oiler defense is still the weak link for the hockey club, but
how much of the problems we’ve seen are due to the fact that half of top six are
new to the team? Sekera, Gryba, and Reinhart were all brought in to help
stabilize the defense, but so far there’s a lot of uncertainty either
from the players or the coaching staff. It’s going to take more time. Time for
them to settle into their roles on the team. Time for them to prove to the
coaching staff that they can be part of the solution.
Here’s something to watch if you’re feeling Blue (Jays)