Hockey seasons, even those shortened as this one is, always ebb and flow. That’s the way it is, but that doesn’t stop people from rushing to judgment. You do it. I do it. Natural inclinations aside, it’s an exercise that’s understandable for anybody who has spent much time watching the Edmonton Oilers the past decade or so.
When the big picture has produced more failure than success for years and years, which pretty much describes the Oilers – the latest example being that disappointing play-in exit against the Chicago Blackhawks – the short-take can get even more intense. There was some “here we go again” after the Oilers got off to a 2-4-0 start to this season. Hopes dashed. Doubts confirmed. Or so it seemed.
So, after GM Ken Holland brought in Tyson Barrie and brought back Jesse Puljujarvi and neither one of them kicked down the door of opportunity as part of that slow start after six games, there was some consternation. Barrie, in on a one-year deal for $3.75 million, didn’t look like the guy who was supposed to provide a much-needed offensive jolt from the back end with Oscar Klefbom lost for the season. Was he done? The question was asked.
Puljujarvi’s story we know. And while anybody paying attention could see the big Finn looked far more engaged and determined than he did in his first time around with the Oilers before going home to play, the results weren’t coming for him. Puljujarvi didn’t have a goal in his first 11 games. After the experience of his first tenure here, would he get discouraged without anything to show for his efforts? Legit question.
HERE AND NOW
Jump ahead to now with a rematch against the Calgary Flames tonight at Rogers Place after a 2-1 win down in Cowtown on Friday night, and the pendulum has swung to the positive in a big way for Barrie and Puljujarvi. Likewise, for the Oilers, who are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games and 11-8-0 overall, second to Toronto in the North Division.
Barrie, who had just two assists in his first eight games, has scored 3-10-13 in 11 games since then, giving him 3-12-15. Barrie set up Puljujarvi in the slot for the 1-0 goal last night. Puljujarvi, who has continued to pressure the puck, crash the net and be a physical force despite the tough start, was moved up in the line-up alongside Connor McDavid instead of down or out of the line-up. He has five goals in his last seven games and 5-3-8 overall.
“He’s a good player. We saw that early,” said coach Dave Tippett, who paid more attention to how Puljujarvi played to start the season than to the scoresheet when the points weren’t coming. “He wasn’t getting rewarded, but he’s a threat out there. He gets himself into scoring position and they start going in for him. He’s a dangerous player, but he’s a successful dangerous player when they go in for him.”
As for Barrie, he keeps pounding pucks from the point on the power play and moving the rubber effectively 5-on-5. That’s always been Barrie’s calling card and that isn’t going to change now. Getting time alongside Darnell Nurse, who logged a beastly 30:01 in Calgary Friday, hasn’t hurt. Both Nurse, who has 6-8-14, and Barrie are in the top-five in scoring for defencemen.
THE WAY I SEE IT
Like I said off the top, we tend to get caught up in the short-term, given the lousy long-term results we’ve seen. For better or worse, that’s the way it is, what a passionate fan base does. Patience is a much easier pitch to sell when a team mixes in a Stanley Cup or two — or at the very least regularly stays in the hunt and contends for something. Not enough seasons like that since the last Cup win in 1990 and the 2006 Cup appearance. That’s the reality and why emotions swing as they do.
The Oilers aren’t going to win at the same clip they have over the last 10 games for the rest of the season. They’ll go dry. They’ll play poorly in stretches. Likewise, Barrie and Puljujarvi will cool off, heat up and then cool off again. Right now, they’re hot and it’s helluva lot of fun to watch. That’s the ebb and flow of any given season. Next chapter tonight.
Previously by Robin Brownlee
- The Nugent-Hopkins Number
- Show Us More, Dad
- Oilers Finding a Way
- Need a Save There
- The Game Must Go On
- About Evan Bouchard