We have yet to see the Edmonton Oilers play their second game of the season, but that hasn’t stopped panic from taking over Oil Country. The Oilers fell 5-2 in their season opener to New Jersey on Saturday afternoon, and honestly that score is quite flattering for the orange and blue.
The loss left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth not just because it puts the team in an 0-1-0 hole, but because it looked so much like all those lost winter nights a year ago when the Oil were clearly the second best team on the ice. After a summer and training camp spent talking about how this year would be different, it all looked the same.
Now, of course, this game took place in Sweden after a hectic week of travel and the situation was less than ideal. The whole month of October will be less than ideal, however, and the Oilers are simply going to have to deal with it and produce anyway.
We Talkin’ Bout Practice:
No, not a game, practice. That’s what had Oil Country fired up on Wednesday afternoon. As the Oilers took to the ice in Boston, Todd McLellan’s new line combos took center stage as broadcasters and writers alike tweeted out what they were seeing. The top-six remained the same, but changes highlighted the bottom-six forward groupings.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Ty Rattie
Milan Lucic – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
Tobias Rieder – Ryan Strome – Zack Kassian
Drake Caggiula – Jujhar Khaira – Jesse Puljujarvi
After a preseason of hype, and good results honestly, the Strome/Puljujarvi duo appears to be dead just 60 minutes into the season. JP finds himself on the fourth line with Drake Caggiula drawing back in on the other wing.
Notably absent from that line? Free agent addition Kyle Brodziak. After signing a two-year contract with the club on July 1st, he’s slated to be a healthy scratch just one game through his second stint with Edmonton.
Somehow, Zack Kassian and Tobias Rieder get promoted to the third line, with Ryan Strome centering them. Outside of a hit in the first period, I nearly forgot Kassian was in the lineup Saturday. Just like last season, he was a total non-factor offensively and didn’t seem at all willing to engage physically. Yet, he’s moved up into the top-nine after he and Rieder formed without doubt the most ineffective winger duo in the opener.
Defensively, Evan Bouchard comes out after what was a fine NHL debut under tough circumstances. The second pairing of Darnell Nurse and Matt Benning is already broken up as well, with Benning playing with Jason Garrison on the third pair and Kris Russell moving up to right-side D on the second unit.
McLellan has the blender out just one game into the season, after all the hype about consistency and certain duos. It’s been tossed out of the window in the fourth practice of the season. Amazing, really.
My anger and frustration was pointed at one man last winter, GM Peter Chiarelli. I still believe he deserves the heat in Edmonton, and that his seat should be scolding hot after last year’s debacle. Should this season go sideways early? He should be paying the price with his job.
I was largely in defense of McLellan last year. I felt, and still do, that the roster he has been given is ill prepared for today’s NHL and doesn’t have nearly the talent needed to compete in this league. That said, this is still a bubble team and McLellan has continued to make decisions that make his team worse.
He’s relied on the same depth players to play roles above their heads, and has clearly settled on favorites that are not getting the job done. His powerplay unit continues to feature five left-shot options, basically punting on all man advantage opportunities. Sure, they scored one Saturday, but they looked worse than abysmal on every other attempt.
The same issues systematically were apparent on Saturday, and we are now getting word that Manny Viveiros isn’t even being allowed to do what he was brought here to do, run the powerplay.
Todd’s seat should be flaming hot right now. This team cannot afford a bad start, and a loss tomorrow night in Boston and over the weekend in New York could put his job in jeopardy. I do not think, whatsoever, that Todd is guaranteed to coach the home opener should these issues persist through the opening road trip.
All of that being said, it’s just been one game. Remember in 2016-17, the Oilers looked horrible defensively in their first three games and only came away 2-1-0 because Brian Elliott couldn’t stop a beach ball for Calgary in the first two games. Winnipeg was 0-2-0 last year and looked HORRIBLE in the process.
It’s still very early, and there is plenty of time to change the tone of things around here. Milan Lucic spoke to Mark Spector earlier Wednesday with a clear sense of urgency, and you get feeling that the Oilers will be ready to roll tomorrow night.
Although it has only been one game, the same issues as last season are showing their colors once again, and it is imperative that the team fix these issues right away. If they snowball again, this winter is going to be even worse for the Oilers and their fans.
Welcome to the pressure cooker folks, even if we are just one game into this bad boy.