Photo Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

At Random: Not Just One Game

Like many of you, I wanted to open a window after the Edmonton Oilers stunk out the joint in what only be called a flat, uninspiring 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Sweden to open the season on Saturday. The fall-out from that hapless effort was predictable on both ends of the spectrum.

At one end, fans were yelling their faces off after seeing what they saw. Notably, Cam Talbot giving up a goal on the first shot of the game, triggering a “not again” response by those who watched the Oilers fall behind on the first shot 14 times last season. Then, there was an attack so feeble the Devils didn’t need to have a goaltender in the net in the first 17 minutes of the second period. Mix in what seemed to be a lack of urgency until it was too late, and you had a lot of pissed-off fans.

At the other end of the spectrum, we had the “it’s just one game” crowd. They’re right of course. It is just one game and there are 81 more to play, including the next three on road, starting in Boston on Thursday, before the Oilers even get home to face the Bruins in a rematch Oct. 18. “It’s only one game” is the hockey equivalent of telling somebody to “settle down,” which usually has the exact opposite of the intended result – especially around here.

I’m guilty, of course, of having fallen into the “it’s just one game” camp, chiding fans for getting ahead of themselves. In this case, though, I understand the sentiment — although I don’t see a need to turn everything upside down based on one result – because it’s not just one game. It’s a dozen years of ineptitude, putting aside the playoff appearance of two seasons ago, that has fans spitting mad. For me, it’s not that the Oilers lost. It’s how they lost and how bad they looked doing it the first time out of the gate.

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Mar 31, 2018; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan on his bench against the Calgary Flamesduring the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

“There were a lot of tough stretches and while the result was one thing, we’re looking at how we got there,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We were pretty good in the first period even though they scored early, but we gave a lot of that back in the second, then got desperate in the last 10 minutes but the game was out of control by then. We didn’t play with the tenacity or the pace the other team did and I’m not sure what comes first. Does tenacity lead to a faster game or the other way around?”

It’s that last part, about tenacity, that can’t sit well with anybody, nor should it. The early goal was an eye-roller, but it was a terrific shot on a Grade A chance by Kyle Palmieri. What gets me is the Oilers didn’t come storming out of the gate the way a team with something to prove should. Where was the sense of urgency? The Oilers didn’t play with pace or purpose. They talked that talk during pre-season but didn’t walk the walk. Shake off the early goal and get after it. Didn’t happen.

Teams can’t always execute. Players like Kailer Yamamoto, Ty Rattie and Jesse Puljujarvi aren’t going to produce like they did during the pre-season. Expecting that is folly. Sometimes, passes don’t click. Pucks don’t bounce your way. Defence pairings will have the kind of game that Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning did Saturday. It sucks, but it happens. Some days, even Connor McDavid looks merely mortal. This was one of those days.

That’s when good teams dig in and get stubborn. That’s when the work rate and tenacity has to be ratcheted up to compensate. We didn’t see it. New Jersey goaltender Keith Kincaid could have taken the first 17 minutes of the second period off – he faced just one shot in the period before a late flurry. Good teams, or teams like the Oilers with something to prove, find a way to stay in the game. They didn’t. There wasn’t nearly enough push-back.

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Jan 12, 2018; Glendale, AZ, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan looks on during the first period against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not for a second suggesting that hard work alone solves all. You can have the hardest working team on the planet, but if you don’t have any talent and skill, you’ll likely lose more than you win – we’ve seen teams like that in Edmonton. Even with some holes and unproven players in the line-up, this is not one of those teams, starting with McDavid. What moxie and determination does is get you past moments like that early goal. It mitigates bad bounces or a hot goaltender until the talent and flow kicks in.

At no point Saturday did the Oilers even look like a threat to win that game. It was 4-1 before they showed any urgency at all, and that’s the part that sticks with me. The Oilers didn’t get beaten by a vastly superior team, bad luck or a hot goaltender. They got beat because they didn’t compete and find a way to stay in the game the way they’re going to have to if they don’t want to be chasing the season by the time they finally get home. That’s not even close to good enough.

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • BlackJesus

    Here we go again:
    -Once again the 1st round pick starts the year in the NHL because of the Oilers lack of Depth.
    -Nurse still has to be re-taught the fundementals of playing Defence
    -The Oilers don’t come out prepared.

    Here we go again with the same results as last year.
    Nothing changes in Oil country except the price of Oil.

  • Ohlyr

    How to fix this mess, If I was GM:
    1. Fire Chiarelli, appoint Keith Gretzky interm GM.
    2. Zach Kassian to AHL, hopefully someone claims his 1.9M contract.
    3. Milan Lucic to the press box (multi-times), only plays against phyisical teams (a trade list please?)..press box.
    4. Need to find a true #1 goaltender with good size. Cam Talbot will not be re-signed.
    5. Evan Bouchard back to London after 5-6 games. Hopefully he makes world Jr team.
    6. Ethan Bear AHL this season.
    7. Need to find/trade/acquire 2 more forwards with exceptional speed (its a skating game and we are to damn slow).
    8. Matt Benning is a #7 D-man at this point, not sure how to best develop him??
    9. Try to find one more, stay at home veteran defenceman, (our defence is not good enough to compete).

    • Ohlyr

      And that is one of the biggest problems with this organization, lack of depth. No matter how poorly you perform, they dress you up and roll you out time and time again. Gifted ice…we saw it last year over and over again with Talbot and Lucic inparticular.

  • BlackJesus

    This mentality of bringing in another goalie to push Talbot to be better only works
    If that goalie is potentially better than Talbot.
    Mikko isn’t better than Talbot. So why would Talbot be worried about losing the starter position.

  • Hemmercules

    Im in the “one game” camp right now but my leash is very very short. Complete disgrace not being ready to play for a season opener. I can only hope this week off and that horrible second period effort opened some eyes. Maximum effort or get out.

    • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

      Agree. I think they’ll turn it around, and I think being in North America again will wake them up, but as positive and as upbeat I am about this team, I won’t have much patience for them this season if they continue to play like that.

      I don’t expect them to win every game, but I expect that an effort and a work ethic is present every game.

  • The Puck

    In the only one game camp but agree with comments on the parallels with last years issues. My concern lies with the extremely limited portion of the game during which the Oilers actually possessed the puck. I attribute this primarily to the ineffective (and dated) dump and chase strategy and the inability to transition quickly or breakout cleanly.

  • jesse says yep

    Scary bad opening game for the Oil but after reading through the comments, wow, very fragile fan group right now. It was game one of 82, not the start we had all hoped for but holy smokes, close the windows and step away from the edges people. We have a long way to go yet.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      I wouldnt say fragile more like we have buyers remorse, like pissed off that we get treated like we are buying a used car and how the Oilers are the dealership . Oilers keep telling us how this is the best car they have and it is far superior than the previous model year and has way way more features and is insanely reliable and is fantastic on gas and there is a ton of miles left in her and how it never left the previous owner stranded by the side of the road and how you just can’t beat this deal and price…. and we plunk down our cash sign the papers feeling all great about this car… we start it up and it’s purring like a kitten we start to pull out of the lot and just as we make it out of the corner of the lot and onto the main street the car starts to sputter and shake and craps out, we get out pop the hood trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

  • oilredemption

    I am not trying to be hard on Bouch. He played fine. The issue was the oilers did not dress the best possible lineup to win the game. I felt even before the game that Bouchard should be eased in and should have started in a slower pace game with a weaker opponent like NY. At that point they could have sent Bear down. Bouchard will be fine just I would have made a wiser choice in game selection. As for the oil clearly not making the playoffs Robin I believed that they could be somewhat competitive like 85-95 pts. After what I seen I would put them about 70-80pts and knowing how the team played last year and with a lot of inexperienced players in the lineup.

  • ScottV

    Only saw bits and pieces of the game, but looked like Oilers are continuing with mass shooting at earliest opportunity from anywhere. Or – in other words one and done rushing, save for the odd time we can muster a retrieval, but even with a retrieval its another premature shot and the inevitable turnover going the wrong way.

    We leak it – they keep and keep it. We get it and leak it and they keep it – repeat repeat.

    Hard to win a game when you don’t have reasonably even possession.

    Haven’t liked McL from day one – even when we were doing some by the seat of our pants winning the year before last.

    Over rated in many ways but getting the most out of his players is one of the major concerns.

  • Odanada

    Not trying to be negative, but watching the Leaf PP makes me think McDavid will have a tough time winning the scoring race. Matthews is filling the net and rolling up the points on a superior team.
    Connor has to do it alone at even strength.

      • Odanada

        Yes McDavid is beyond awesome, but his supporting team is not great. Matthews is currently rolling at over 2 points a game. 7 goals on 14 shots.
        It’s not likely Matthews can continue at that pace, but he is going to roll up big point totals.

    • Leichs

      Imagine how many points Connor would rack up playing with Tavares, Marner, Marleau and Riley on a PP lol. Put Connor on the leafs with two blue liners who scored over 50 points. I’m starting to feel bad for the guy and wont blame him if he decides to leave.

      • Leichs

        I hate the leafs as much as the next guy but they are loaded. They are a playoff team even if you remove their best player Matthews completely. Marner passed Nuge pretty damn quick in his career. Riley passed Klefbom without a doubt. Tavares is way ahead of Drai and Andersson is better than Talbs. Kadri or Strome third line C hmmmmm? Gardiner > Nurse and then they still got Willy Nylander. Our best players is better than their best player though for whatever that is worth. That’s what happens with good scouts. We are a poor mans Maple Leafs right now. I hope in a week or two we turn it around and these comments get trashed to hell and I can sleep well.

  • Late getting in, but I’m here to play devil’s advocate (no pun intended.) Is it possible…just, hear me out…could it be that our boys literally took this game as the last game of pre-season?

    Obviously, it was NOT a pre-season game, and New Jersey certainly came to play. But just consider:

    1. Two nights prior, they’d played a DEL team in an exhibition.
    2. There were still roster moves and cuts happening almost up until game time (the Bear to AHL- but not really, waivers, etc.)
    3. Due to the delay in signing, Nurse is probably nowhere near game shape.
    4. It would be almost another week, plus intercontinental travel, before their second game.
    5. It just didn’t “feel” like a regular season NHL game, at least from a viewing perspective. It reminded me of the “Neutral Site” games the league tried in the mid-90’s.

    I’m not saying these are excuses. A paid professional should give 100% effort under any and all circumstance. This is all on the team. What I’m saying is that I’m not totally ready to panic just yet. If they show that same lackluster performance in this East Coast road trip, then I’ll likely poop my pants and jump on the San Jose bandwagon. But I’m keeping my Depends in the drawer for now.

  • GK1980

    They don’t need to come out the next game with their hair on fire and tearing up the ice. They need to play a reserved, responsible game and the turnovers and scoring chances will happen.