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

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • chezzychez

    I still think the team will compete for a playoff spot this year. Not sure if they’ll squeeze in but I’m still guessing that Cam bounces back and everything points to Mcdavid somehow having a better season than last year. I just hope fans aren’t personally messaging and tweeting at players after the first game telling them they don’t belong in the NHL. That does nothing but hurt the team and is completely gutless. Looks very poor on OIL fans

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • bwar

    I’m willing to give them another chance and not write off the entire season after one game. That second period on Saturday was something else. Pretty clear the team has some issues but we were aware of them before the season started. The defense is bad, we knew that. There are a bunch of unproven players in the bottom 9 forwards, we knew that. Talbot is coming off a terrible season, we knew that. All the optimism in the world doesn’t change what this team is and isn’t. We rode into the season with our heads held high and immediately got punched in the face. I hope we don’t quit after one punch in the mouth.

  • oilredemption

    1 thing I can’t understand either was why did we start Bouchard in his first NHL game in Sweden? The pressure was high and all eyes on them being that we were there. I would have had Bear start (who’s equal to Bouchard), chaiasson still on a PTO and Bouch eating popcorn. Then when you get to NA play him in Boston. I would have even waited 1 more then play him in New York. Mcllelan is clueless…

    • Towers-of-dub

      i don’t think all the eyes were on Bouchard. He’s a 10th overall pick. I think most eyes were on McDavid, Draisaitl, and Talbot. they probably get more attention than a mid first round pick

  • oilredemption

    Clearly this team isn’t making the playoffs but improvement needs to be made. This team could seriously be 2-8 In their first 10 games with the competition on the schedule. That’s what scares me. New Jersey was a beatable team and they failed to deliver. I wish this team well but it looked like the same old oilers that doesn’t bring their lunch kits and hard hats.

  • ed from edmonton

    Last year the Oil would have a no show about once every couple of weeks, you could get money on it. The first game suggests the team still has problems finding the ability, dare I say will, to compete. The Sweden game was very disturbing as the Oil, and in particular their captain, said all the right things in September. I don’t pretend to know what goes on in the Oil locker room, or even how important the captain is in setting the tone for the team. But it does make me wonder.

  • 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…

  • 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.