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.

  • CMG30

    This is exactly the problem. It broke my heart to see all those hard working teams get pushed out by Dallas year after year but at least those were teams that you could be proud to cheer for. Now you need to go to the rink with a bag on your head because you’re doing your part but they’re just cashing paychecks on the ice…

  • 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.

  • Bekind

    Yes Robin, Talbot let in the first one, but when is Leon (and many other Oilers) going to learn to keep themselves between the man and net. If he hustles at all and takes the proper angle (instead of cheating for the offensive break out) that play does not happen. No attention to any details + no hustle + zero passion = pathetic.

  • 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).

  • Chris Prongers Rake

    They fell asleep during the preseason win over Calgary, pushed back, and won that. Its a bad habit, thinking they can play 20 minutes and win. If this team doesn’t get their collective heads out of their asses, its going to be a long season.

  • 99CupsofCoffey

    Reading these types of articles year after year is quite depressing. Always guessing on what team is going to show up. I hear people say that it’s “all on the players”, “they’re pros, they should get up for the game”, but part of it is preparation before the game, mentally. Something is wrong when the coaches can’t get the players to prepare for every game and situation. It drives me nuts.

  • Abagofpucks

    I would say Bouchard started slow but as the game went on he got better, and he played better than Nurse and Benning. If anything id rather see Bear up and Benning on the farm.

  • 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.

  • Ty Guy

    So “tenacity” is our new buzzword for the season? Good, because “grit, team toughness, push back, jam, sandpaper and urgency” didn’t seem to work….

  • OilerForLife

    I agree with every sentence in this article. When the first goal went in I felt a sinking feeling of dejavu of last year sink in. Where is all that intensity that was the focus of the preseason games and practice. The constipated sloth on the channel that I switched to after the second period showed far more intensity than the Oilers.

    I have been one of the better Oiler supporters, but this game was my breaking point, and I’ve shown far too much patience. I think I need another winter hobby and/or pastime.

    • GK1980

      I was there sitting next to two annoying jersey fans. I was in awe of the oilers pathetic game. I told the two devil fans I hope they destroy the oilers this game, maybe wake them up for the rest of the season.

  • JudgeDredd

    This is the part i don’t get
    quote from Nation Dan’s article Road to Sweden: Gothenburg
    ” The players did have a practice going on and it was worth noticing the Oilers were much more high tempo than the Devils”

    how can this team be so Jekyl and Hyde
    did they over exert themselves in that practice? Are they really that unprepared for games
    all that talk before the season about the hunger, coming out ready, knowing what they have to do to get into the playoffs…then they lay a stinker like that.

    • Derian Hatcher

      Is it possible that some of the players on the Oilers simply don’t care and have little to no pride in doing what it takes to “earn” their salary? This type of effort is common unfortunately.

      BTW – Tmac and Jason Maas sound exactly the same with their post-game comments. Same old recycled quotes and comments…”we have to be better” Ya no $hit…when exactly is that going to happen?

  • 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.