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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.

NOT EVEN CLOSE

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.

LESS TALK, MORE ACTION

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

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Drinking my Oilers problems away...

    Funny, I mentioned the urgency thing in the other article couple days ago. It’s the one thing that’s been missing for a long time and I can’t figure out why that is, this should be implanted in their DNA by now. Strong starts mean everything more than ever for this team, Regardless of what game in the season it is.

    I can’t stand watching this “get scored on the first shot of the game/period” or “getting scored in the final minute or 2 of the game” stuff again. It’s painful just thinking about it.

    It’s just one game, not gonna lose my mind but they better cut that crap out this season. No passengers and relying on one guy again this year cause we/they know that doesn’t work now.

  • 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.

  • Oil Can

    SAD. No effort and a coach that never has any answers, to the lack of effort. Benning and Nurse (especially Benning) were the worst of the bunch, so Bear is sent to Bakersfield. The team has proven over and over there are not any repercussions for a poor effort. When there are no consequences for your actions, then there just are no incentives to change. There seam to still be a lot of passengers on this team.

  • Abagofpucks

    So nuge isnt at practice becaues of the shot he took at the end of a play against germany. Not good another player hurt that we need to be health. I
    knew there was something wrong with him during the devils game.

  • 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

  • Oilman99

    Great atmosphere with an Oiler friendly crowd, and the team came out just as flat as most games last year. New coaches, same old mistakes, WTF! Ten minutes left in the game, oh we’re supposed to be trying to win a game already out of reach.Very disheartening. A couple more stinkers like this and TMac will be looking for a new gig.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • The future never comes

    This pretty much describes it all. Why does virtually every NHL team play like they have something to prove and with energy, and you watch the Oiler’s and it looks like it’s a choir to play in the best league in the world? Save for a few players. This team has not learned yet that you can not just simply show up without effort and expect to win, guess not.

  • ubermiguel

    It’s just one game but there was that decade of garbage that preceded it. Every game like that reduces my fandom a little bit and I don’t have much of it left; a month of games like that and I might be done as a fan.

  • Serious Gord

    Back in the day when the old boys weren’t old there were many many games against weak opponents where they never put in much of an effort and still won.

    This current team has too many flaws to take any nights off – a full effort by every one will be required. That’s what I will be looking for on Thursday. If they don’t provide it the fan base is going to go bananas.

    • ed from edmonton

      There were also lots of night when they would kick the snout out of teams and show no mercy against weak opponents. That’s one of the reasons why Gretz would get 200+ points. Agree the current groups isn’t good enough to play below optimum and beat anybody.

    • Kneedroptalbot

      The wait between games, lets the team marinade and savour the game #1experience.
      Lucic was fantastic and he is returning to BOSTON. Great times ahead.

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • socaldave

    WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN THAT FIRST PICTURE?????
    1. The dude in the red/black Paul Bunyon flannel – holy gord that’s just terrible.
    2. The chick with scabbed knees in the ripped jeans? That writes itself.
    3. IS SHE DRINKING BEER THROUGH A STRAW????

    I’ve lived in both cities, and all that, my friends, is why Edm >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Cal.

    ~fini~

    • Leichs

      Creativity from the GM is really lacking. Veterans were clearly outplayed all of preseason by some younger guys yet we enter the year with essentially the exact same team that crapped the bed last year. Benning couldn’t have played any worse last year and this preseason but boom, here you go Benner, top 4 minutes big guy. You earned it.

  • Spoils

    as a fanbase we need to understand the logic of Chiarelli’s quiet summer. we need to accept the reality that this team is NOT the contender in the Connor McDavid life story. But what we need out of this team is some hints at future glory. We need Nuge to take another big step forward. We need Draisaitl to remain a 70+ scorer. We need Nurse to go up a gear (in skill and in grit)… etc. i’m OK losing to the Jets in the playoffs, but it had better be in a manner that hints to a future cup.

    scary

  • madjam

    First game was a bummer if you feel Oilers were a better faster club than the Devils to begin with . I don’t fault the Oilers effort , just disappointed in the result – maybe we are just not very good to begin with , as last season seemed to indicate . No major improvement especially in defensive end which was lax last season . Will it get better as season wears on is the question , and I am reserved that it might not be any wear near sufficient to be a playoff bound club . Overall personnel still appears weak in comparison to most clubs , and management did little in off season to address it with band aid type solutions and the usual rhetorical hope hype .