In 65 days the Edmonton Oilers will play their first game in their new arena. The place will be magnificent, and while you will enjoy the comfortable new seats, spacious concourses, new food and the utterly massive scoreboard, the players will have to focus on ensuring they rack up some wins in their new home, and the schedule maker has put extra pressure on the Oilers to win at home in October.
The Oilers have a very odd schedule this season regarding home and away games.
In March and April they play 13 of 18 games at home, while they start the season with six of their nine October games at home. They bookend the season with 19 home games and eight on the road, meaning between November-February they’ll play only 22 of their 55 games at home.
The Oilers have been awful on the road the past three seasons, winning only 34 of 123 games outside of Edmonton. In order to avoid missing the playoffs for an unprecedented 11th consecutive season, they must ensure they get off to a strong start in October.
Very few teams can afford a slow start in October and expect to make the playoffs, but the Oilers’ schedule makes it even more imperative they show up early in the season.
And October has not been kind to them recently.
2013: 3-8-2 (five home games)
2014: 4-5-1 (seven home games)
2015: 4-8-0 (six home games)
They’ve been a ghastly 11-22-3 the past three seasons when the calendar turned to November. You know what happened the rest of the way. The Oilers finished 28th, 28th and 29th in the standings.
The Oilers simply can’t afford another slow start, and they must take advantage of a heavy home schedule in October. The Oilers were 19-20-2 at home last year, the most home victories since they won 23 in 2007/2008, so that is a positive, but it is far from a guarantee of success this season.
The players will be extremely excited to play in their new rink, and everyone in and out of the organization is hoping the new rink represents a new era of Oilers hockey. The building will be rocking for the first few games. The excitement will be the highest we’ve seen in a decade, and the Oilers will need to use that to their advantage.
Todd McLellan will get last line change in two-thirds of the October games. He and the players proved last year that when he gets the matchups he wants, their chance of success increases immensely. You would hope that continues this season.
NEW RINK SMELL
Only five teams have had brand new rinks since 2003. I went back and looked how they played in their first few games at home.
The Coyotes moved to Glendale in 2003. Oddly enough they played their first 13 home games at America West Arena in Phoenix, going 6-5-2, before they moved to Glendale for their final 29 home games. They lost their first game in the new rink 3-1 to Nashville and were a dreadful 5-14-9 in Glendale. They finished 26th overall in the NHL with 68 points.
The NJ Devils opened their new rink in 2007/2008. They started the season with nine road games, before their fans welcomed them home. They lost 4-1 to Ottawa in their home opener, but finished the season 25-14-2 at home and were sixth overall in the NHL with 99 points. It was their 11th consecutive playoff berth, so they were truly at the opposite end of the spectrum as the Oilers are now.
Pittsburgh had their season opener and home opener in the new Consol Energy Centre on October 7th, 2010. The Pens lost 3-2 to Philadelphia that night, but they were a dominant 25-14-2 at home in their new rink.
The Jets returned to Winnipeg and the new MTS Centre in 2011. The MTS centre was deafening when the Jets returned on October 9th, 2011, but they lost 5-1 to Montreal. The Jets loved playing at home though, and finished the season 23-13-5, but a shoddy road record of 14-22-5 had them finish 22nd overall.
Last season the Islanders moved to Brooklyn. They lost their home and season opener 3-2 in OT to Chicago, but had a solid home record of 25-11-5 in Brooklyn.
The last five teams all lost their first game in their new building. The last team to win their first game in a new building was the Dallas Stars on October 5th, 2001, when they defeated Nashville 4-1.
The Oilers will welcome the Calgary Flames on Wednesday, October 12th to the grand opening of Roger’s Place, and they’d love nothing more than to send their provincial rivals back to Calgary with a loss. A win on opening night isn’t a must, but if the Oilers want to be in a playoff hunt on March 1st, they need a strong October.
Playing 33 of 55 games between November and February on the road means the Oilers must come out of the gates ready to play. They aren’t good enough to overcome a slow start.
- The NHL’s new “bye week” begins this season. The NHLPA recieved this while the NHL got 3-on-3 at the All-Star games. The Oilers, like all teams, get some time off at the AS break, January 27th to 30th for the Oilers, and their five day “bye week” occurs February 6th-10th. The Oilers will play an afternoon game in Montreal on Sunday, February 5th, fly home that night and won’t return to the ice until Saturday, February 11th when they host Chicago.
- I’m curious to see how teams react to the extra break. In theory it should make for better hockey, because the players are more rested.
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