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.
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
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.
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.