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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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 .

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

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


    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.