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Photo Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A Tough Road Ahead

Don’t panic Oilers fans! Yes, the team lost their season opener and didn’t look anywhere close to a playoff team but it’s been one game, and it was in Sweden, after all. You really shouldn’t read too much into it and if you want to stay optimistic, maybe you shouldn’t look ahead to the schedule for the rest of October, because it isn’t very encouraging.

The Oilers will play ten more times this month with eight of those games against teams that made the playoffs last season. We’ve known this stretch of games wasn’t going to be easy since the schedule came out, but now that it’s sitting here right in front of us, it feels that much more daunting.

Here are three thoughts on the month that lies ahead for the Oilers.

THE MATINEES

It’s become a recurring theme with the Oilers: they don’t play well in matinees. Maybe it’s because they don’t play a lot of them, or maybe it’s because they usually occur in the eastern time zone, which makes them feel more like morning games for the players.

Whatever the reason is, I don’t know. What I do know is that they are not good when it comes to early puck drops.

Out of the eight opponents that the Oilers play this month, the easiest matchup probably comes on Saturday, October 13th when they play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, that game starts at 11 am mountain time.

Either the Oilers will struggle in matinees like they usually do and drop what should be a rather easy two points or they’ll take advantage of a weak opponent and win a rare matinee affair.

They’ll also play the Nashville Predators on September 20th at 1 pm mountain time. That game would be a real test for the Oilers regardless of which time it was being played at.

CHANGES COULD BE COMING

Mar 20, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan looks up from behind the players bench against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 7-3. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Oilers could end October with a record of 6-4-1, or something along those lines, and everything will be fine in Oil Country. I honestly believe it’s a possibility.

When I look at the opponents they have to face, I could also see them going something like 3-7-1, and if that happens, someone will pay the price. That ‘someone’ would probably be Todd McLellan. The team needs to find wins and beat some very good teams if they want their head coach to hold that position into November.

One thing that will be a major key is strong starts. We saw it sink the Oilers on multiple occasions last season, and it hurt them on Saturday in the season opener.

Looking back at last year, the Oilers were 4-22-0 when trailing after the first period. That’s a winning percentage of just 0.153. When they had the lead after the opening period their record was 18-5-0. A winning percentage of 0.782. The first period has been a crucial indicator of the Oilers success, and having a strong first 20 minutes will be huge for them during this difficult stretch.

A lot of that lies with Cam Talbot, who has become notorious for giving up early goals, but the whole team needs to do a better job limiting chances. If the Oilers can dominate the first five minutes of the attack, then it’s much tougher for Talbot to give up an early softie.

Another note I found interesting, the Oilers rarely blow leads late in games. They held the lead 23 times last season and only lost twice out of those games. Once in regulation and once in extra time.

Again, I don’t want to seem all doom-and-gloom after just one loss, but the schedule is tough and if the team doesn’t kick it into another gear, and actually start games on time, then we could see some loveable veterans moved out of town and a new Head Coach.

THE POSITIVES

Anyone who’s read my work on this website knows that I’m often optimistic about the Oilers, so naturally, I’m going to end this piece with some positives about this next stretch of the schedule.

For the most part, the Oilers will be a rested team in almost all of their games with their only back-to-back coming on October 27th & 28th. On top of that, they get to face a decent handful of teams that will be on the second half of their own back-to-backs.

On October 18th, they’ll face the Bruins a day after Boston plays Calgary. On October 20th, they’ll take on the Predators the night after they played the Flames as well.

October 28th, the only time they play two games in two nights, they actually get to play a Chicago Blackhawks team that will be travelling home from after a game in St. Louis the night before.

They end the month against Minnesota on the 30th and the Wild are in Vancouver the night before. With that being said, the Oilers might not get the benefit of a backup goalie on this night. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wild save Devan Dubnyk for the game in Edmonton.

When I look at the schedule ahead the only game that I look at and think the Oilers should win is the game against the Rangers. Even though it’s a matinee, New York is going to be awful this year.

Apart from that, the Oilers will have to play to the best of their abilities if they want to get wins, and they cannot afford to have a bad October again.

I’m not saying it’s a lock that they start slow, and despite the tough schedule I’m still very optimistic about this group, but it won’t be easy and those who are more pessimistic about this next stretch of games, have every right to be.

A bad October could result in jobs being lost, but honestly, if they come out of this month in decent shape, I think it could give them an incredible amount of confidence and momentum. A solid October could be what propels them into the playoff picture.

  • The future never comes

    I wanted Todd fired by December of last year to try to salvage the season. They played so much uninspired hockey and came of flat nearly every game, nevermind the questionable personnel choices. Regardless of opponents played this month if they don’t come out at least 4-5-1 after the first ten games, I would fire him.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Its definitely weird I agree, even more so if you look at the standings and how mnay games the Oil have on the road and how those teams are doing right now. You would have to hope that TM and the assitants are drilling it into the guys heads that they need to play a full 60 minutes, but I will same I am skeptical about TM and his ability to get his points across and his inability to step on toes and blindness to take players to task when they arent playing well.

      I mean honestly it’s like he is afraid to hold players accountable, minus Aberg… and even then I think that was more Chia

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    If the Oilers start playing like they did when they played the Devils I dont expect it will be long for the fans and even the media to call for changes. I doubt there was anybody who watched the Oilers Devils game and didnt have a sense of Deja Vu that the game was like many we saw the team play last year and soundly take a beating for and accumulate many losses with the Oilers being out of the playoff picture before the season was even half over and how could a fan not go “uh oh…not again”

    Chia took a lot of heat from the fans for his inability to do anything to fix anything last season before the season started to slip away, and there was the decision to stay the course with TM and some of the other staff and change others. The fact that Chia didnt do much and couldnt do much is a sore point and the fact that TM and everyone was saying we are going to have a different approach and play a full 60 minutes of hockey, and then to have the team come and fall flat is just giving the fans that sense of ” here we go again”. I doubt Oiler fans want more change, but if it comes to seeing the team out of the playoffs before the season is half over then they are going to be screaming for changes well before that point comes, far too much of the next year we will be better mantra the fans have suffered for years and years,

    I dont see TM surviving 20 games if the Oilers keep going like they did in the Devils game, T,M needs to demand more from the players and start stepping on toes. It would be nice to see the Oilers get a real NHL proven goalie coach, Schwartz getting plucked from the Oil Kings to become Oilers goaltending coach still bafffles me, yes Schwartz had a great career at the the Uof A but he has zero NHL experience and the fact that he has done nothing to get Talbot to keep going down and staying there for long stretches when the opposition knows to shoot high on Talbot as we saw a lot last year is frustrating to watch. It is no different than the coaching staff with Benning and Cagguila, its maddening watching those two make the same mistakes over and over and over again during the course of last few season and no attempt to cure or help either of them, I just dont get it, if it is the players and they cant do the job then trade them both get what you can and call it a day or stick them on the waiver wire and hope they both get picked up.

    Chia and TM need to both be on a short leash, and if things start going south, then it is time to let the axe fall, there is no point in waiting till we find out if we are out of the playoffs when the season isnt even half over. Cagguila, Kassian, Strome and Benning ought to be getting a shoulder tap to say they need to get it together and if they cant step up then send em packing, the oilers cant wait till the season is 3/4 over to see if they will turn up their effort

  • percy

    Holding back anymore comments until I see how they do in the month of October. Maybe that loss might get them going. Last year the 1st game was their best game of the year, then look what happened. Maybe this is in reverse

  • 18% body fat

    why would this team be any better

    all bets are on young unproven players,

    we are still handcuffed by lucic and russel contracts

    our fourth line wingers make 3.4M (sorry on of those players is now a bench player)

    calgary trades from a position of strength and gets a replacement in the trade while upgrading a hole

    san jose adds karlsson

    toronto add tavares, and can still trade nylander to upgrade defense,

    But what can Chia do, nothing, he wasted all his space, killed all his assets and has screwed this team completely.

    But we can punch, and hit, and do everything but score and keep pucks out of our net.

    • 18% body fat

      proper drafting for skill, and new age nhl defensemen, while signing decent bets instead of chasing size would net a team that looks like this

      debrincat – mcdavid – yamamoto
      hall – draisaitl – puljijarvi
      reider – nuge – barzal
      kaira – marody – slepyshev

      klebom – larsson
      sekera – demers
      nurse – carlo

      notice, there are no bad contracts in these line ups, cap space is there to make things work, youth is served with a decent mix of veterans, all players in this line up were available to the oilers, the ones not on this team are not because of an idiot GM and organization that value everything other than being able to play hockey at its highest level and overpays to get those assets (if you can call them that). This line up still have plenty of size but has whats most important, skating and skill. There is a left right balance in forwards and defense. The top 3 lines all have someone who can drive a line.

      Bouchard, Bear, etc can develop in the minors and Benning isnt in the top 6 let alone top 4.

      After seeing this, which people can say is hindsight, even though there are probably hundreds of oilers fans out there that said these moves prior to them happening;

      we are talking about blaming the coach, and not the GM or the same old boys club and there definition of culture and heavy hockey. Give me a break.

      Problem 1, chia is a head amateur scout not a GM

      Problem 2, MacTavish is still involved in hockey operations

      Problem 3, an owner who doesnt hold his staff accountable,

      Problem 4, like him or not, Lucic contract has taken away any flexibility for the GM

  • SRELIOFAN

    I just want to watch some games so we can have more than one game in Sweden to judge them by. This wait for game 2 has felt like an ETERNITY!

    I think McLellan needs to let his new assistants have a lot of input. Obviously doing things Todd’s way hasn’t been working out so if he can put aside his pride and let Yawney and crew change some things up (ie. Not having 5 freaking left handed shots on the power play) then we might be okay.

  • oilredemption

    The schedule is the most troubling part of them losing to New Jersey. That was a winnable game and they failed to deliver. The best the oilers could have hoped for was 5-5. Win against NJ, NYR, CHI, home game against Boston and 1 against either Pittsburgh, wash, Nash or Winnipeg. Now they are severely behind the 8 ball

    • jesse says yep

      “the best the Oilers could have hoped for was 5-5”
      What is the point of playing a season if their record is already decided? How can they really be behind the 8 ball after game 1 of 82? Get off your playstation

  • jesse says yep

    Crazy the level of fan panic at this stage in the season with their fingers already on the trigger and just waiting for an excuse to start firing. Even if the worst case scenario comes to fruition, Chia won’t be pulling the trigger before Christmas. In every year of hockey I have watched most people in hockey don’t judge a team based on their first couple of games of the season, these are the games when teams start to get their stride and come together as a team. This is why we see the outrageous scores that we do early in the season. It’s not preseason but it’s pretty damn close. Have a beer and chill time. Enjoy watching your team find their game and get over the need to lop off heads to ease your frustration.

  • OilCan2

    Octoberfest hangover. Who could resist all those gorgeous blond waitresses with one litre beers for one third the price of a Rogers brewsky? Now that the brain fog has cleared the boys will go on a tear.

  • SmyttysMulletsRevenge

    The Jersey game completely deflated me. 11 years of bad hockey, not one game. Too see that in what was supposed to be a year of redemption made me sick.
    Also Pulijarvi needs to be on drais wing

  • BlackJesus

    Too many bad moves form management finally adds up:
    -Trades 1 year left on Boyd Gordon’s contract for Korpikowski and then buys him out the next season.
    -Signs Eric Gryba and bought him out.
    -Bought out Ben Pouliot prematurely
    -Traded #16 and #33 for Griffin Reinheart to an already overloaded LD position.
    -Justin Shultz for a 3rd round pick.
    -Larsson for Hall.
    -Burns 2 years off JP contract.
    -Strome for Eberle( a team already had Center depth with Nuge, McD, Leon)
    -TM for playing pending RFA Leon with McDavid resulted in overpaying Leon.
    -sign Russell, Sekera, Lucic to NMC.
    -Building a heavy hockey team( one big slower guy on each line.)
    -Aquires Davidson year in and year out and then try’s the do it for a third time this year. ( this just shows how dirty Chia is)
    – Does an excellent job trading for Maroon but then trades him the next year for assets that don’t help the oilers.
    – Trades Letestu for Aberg who we where all told is a victims of being on a deep team and didn’t get a chance to play. A much faster and skilled player.

    Before Chia Oilers lacked defense and goalie. Oilers got one good year from Sekera and lost a top LW for a RD who doesn’t even crack the Top 50 RD.
    Oilers now have a depleted RW, is slower, have salary cap problems and still are weak on defense with questionable goaltending.

    All of this for 1 year of playoffs.
    If Oilers do make playoffs they should still fire Chia

    • Van isl Oiler

      You make some good points, I’m.no fan of chia pet at this point either, but how do you explain the obvious mental no show that the team displays game after game? This is their biggest problem…they’re clearly not ready to play when the puck drops, and then look completely disinterested at times throughout the game. WTF?

      • BobbyCanuck

        Yes, and that is why I can see us going 0-10 to start the season,

        Oh look we are playing a bunch of teams on their second game in 2 nights…pffftttt, I cannot remember how many times that scenario happened last season, and we got our a$$ handed to us.

        Yes, we suck in matinee games those are auto losses

  • When the Oilers go 3-7-1, Todd won’t get fired. Management will understand that it was a tough schedule and see if he can turn it around by end of November. If they’re not .500 by then and Chicago is way out of it, do we say coach Q? I’m not even sure if they look at a new coach or just promote Gulutzan or Yawney.

  • Spaceman Spiff

    So here we are. They spent two weeks in Europe, lost the only meaningful game they played and now the rest of October is basically a road trip through Death Valley, with jet lag and two weeks of plane-legs and bus-legs thrown in for fun. The old adage – that the season is won or lost based on a team’s record at American Thanksgiving – is about to be applied to the Oilers once again. And five days between Oiler games between games isn’t helping things, either. That’s a lot of time for vultures to circle and the pundits to … uh … pundize? (Pun-der? Pun-tificate?)

    But, all of that said … it was only one game. As much as we like to think “every game is big,” the NHL isn’t the NFL. Teams can recover from bad starts. Teams do recover from bad starts. Every team in the league will have a rough stretch (or two … or three) it has to weather during an 82-game season – just a matter of controlling when it happens. A stinker in Sweden against a non-divisional opponent barely qualifies as a “start.” It’s certainly not a harbinger of anything to come. As memory serves, the Oilers started out 2017-18 by humiliating the Calgary Flames on national television … and things pretty much went downhill from there.

    We’re an odd bunch, Oiler fans. We go 6-1 or 7-1 in the exhibition season and the corner looks like it’s turned. We lose one game in Sweden and we’re ready to fire the GM, the coaches, the scouts, the ticket-vendors and the owner (um, I’m not actually sure the guy who pays the freight is the one who gets fired). We are a fandom of extremes. The last 10 years have driven us to this, I suppose. But we are completely without faith, without optimision … or, better yet, realism.

    It was one game. In Sweden. In October. Have faith. A tough road needn’t be a rough road.

    • Leichs

      “we are completely without faith, without optimision … or, better yet, realism.”
      You make a lot of great points but this part isn’t true. 12 years of optimism only to have my heart shattered by pretty much November every year has caused me to lose most of my hair at age 27.

  • Van isl Oiler

    The Devils season opener was at the same time and place as the Oilers season opener. The Devils showed up for that game just fine. The Oilers didn’t…period. I don’t know exactly what their problem is, but it appears to be right between their ears. The Oilers still look like they think they’re going to win on merrit, like they’re going to win because they have the mighty mc ‘fin david in the line up. Not sure how much proof they need that hard work every single shift must be part of the formula if they want to be a winning team. At this level, the coach shouldn’t have to try and motivate the team to look interested in being there. THIS SHOULD SIMPLY IN THEIR DNA!! Yeah, yeah…just one game. BS! At this point, they’re still talking about pride. That is so far behind where they should be. Grow the #*@! up Oilers!

  • Serious Gord

    I agree with the theory that if the oil crap the bed in October (and perhaps the first couple weeks in November) that someone’s head will roll.

    And I agree that that head would almost certainly be tmcs.

    But that creates another problem: the oil just hired three assistants who were all friends of TMc (as was noted at the time without any formal professional search process). So does chia appoint one of those assistants as head coach – again with no search? And if he does is it on an interim basis (remember how that was handled the last time) will the permanent coach then be expected to keep the friends of TMc?

    The oil better play up to their potential or yet again there will be chaos in the team’s management.

    • Hockeytalkguy

      Could you imagine trying to take over as GM if Chia ever got fired. Where would you even start to try fix this train wreck. Big dollar contracts, NMC’s, defensemen that nobody wants, questionable goaltending, forward assets depleted, 3 and 4th line over payments & absolutely no cap space beside the LTIR. Oh brother, my head hurts just posting this never mind trying to fix this mess.

      • BobbyCanuck

        Relax, all Chia errors will weedle themselves out of the system in 5 yrs, in 5yrs we will have established proper drafting, and talent finding, and will have great bench strength on the NHL club, and in the minors.

        Conner will still be under Oiler control, things will look sunny again

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        The over payments in contracts for Benning, Cagguila and Strome and soon as it game out that Kositsin got a NMC, and Chia wasting a buyout on Gryba’s pittance of a contract That pretty much made up my mind that Chia needs to go…. and soon

    • Derian Hatcher

      Not a huge fan of Darryl Sutter as I think his shelf life is short. But I am pretty sure Sutter (or reasonable facsimile) would not put up with laziness and lack of intensity. Someone like Leon, who seems to play hard when the mood strikes him, may see a lot of pine.

  • Serious Gord

    Cheez Whiz!! I just checked out the next ten games on the schedule.

    Assuming they beat Nyr Min Chi (playing good so far) they would have to get three more wins from Nsh, Bos, Wpg, Pit or Was. to have a better than 500 record in October.

  • OldOilFan

    OCTOBER IS THE ACID TEST… whether on account of the schedule, or not, if the Oil post something like only 3 wins in October this year, the team will be “DONE,” meaning “done for the playoffs” and also “done as presently constituted.” There will be a new head coach, possibly a new GM, and a SENATORS STYLE gassing of the roster. What other path could the team take, if October this year seals their fate, same as last year?

    • That's My Point

      Oilers play Bruins, 112 points last season good luck.
      Then play the Rangers, might have a chance they had 1 point less than the Oilers last season.
      Then play the Jets, 114 points.
      Then the Bruins again, 112 points.
      Then the Preds, 117 points.
      Then the Pens, 100 points.
      Then Stanley Cup champ Caps, 105 points.
      Then Preds again, 117 points.
      Think the Oilers really will be in a playoff hunt after these 9 games???
      When will the GM and coaching changes happen, October or November, I think the sooner the better.

      • Beer_League_Ringer

        OK, so how would a coaching + GM change go down in November? It would have to be an absolute scorched Earth approach, otherwise it’s pointless. Trade all NHL contracts for picks except for Connor’s, ice Connor and AHL/ECHL players for this season, and do a real rebuild with 15+ picks in two drafts plus a shot (or multiple shots) at Jack Hughes.

        OR…

        We can see more than one game, then decide.

        They stunk for 30 mins of one game.

      • cityofchampions

        hmmm…how’s this for a tin-foil hat conspiracy theory. Chia knows his job is in jeopardy so rather than firing TMac in the summer he brings in the next coach as an assistant (Yawney or Gully), but keeps Todd on so he can be the fall guy for the killer October schedule. Oilers crap the bed as expected, but then Chia can hand over the keys to Yawney or Gully when the schedule gets easier and if they do well then maybe, just maybe, Chia saves his job for at least another year. Tell me I’m craaaazzzyyy…..

    • OldOilFan

      Agreed. It’s a harsh coaching reality in the NHL, that the coach who does a lot of the work to get a team to the brink of success (i.e. Tod McLellan) is NOT the guy to take the team “all the way.” From a distance, I suspect that the players are no longer “listening.” Tod is a good coach, a good man I believe, but the NHL is unforgiving. “What have you done lately? Tod has perhaps “lost the ear” of key players. Not his fault, it’s just that he can’t be both a “developer of young players, a developer of young talents” AND a ruthless bench boss who “shortens the bench” in an attempt to “WIN NOW.”
      The NHL is a business, not a developmental league. I’m not sure where that leaves TM, but I don’t think the outlook is good.