There are so many elements that have contributed to an ugly 0-3-1 start for the Edmonton Oilers again this year, the poor hockey fan in this city has simply lost count.
Is this management’s fault? Is it head coach Dallas Eakins’ doing? Is there a reason that 29 other teams can attain some sort of defensive posture, but the Oilers seemingly give up Grade A chance after Grade A chance every night of the young season?
Would we even be having this conversation if the goaltending weren’t at a sub-American League level — again — in Edmonton? And while we’re on that topic, how on earth is goalie coach Frederic Chabot in his sixth season with Edmonton, where the netminding — save for a few months in 2006 — has been substandard since Curtis Joseph left town in 1998?
It is Oct. 16. The 2014-15 season is a week old. And already this city is blanketed in a dark, edgy, please-not-this-again mood. Seventy-eight games to be played, and already the words of their leader and best player, young superstar Taylor Hall, are ringing hollow.
“We’d love to give up less goals and score more right now,” he said Wednesday, after his three-point night was overshadowed by what happened at the other end of the ice. “But it’s a team effort, and as a group we’re going to have to figure out a way to limit those Grade A scoring chances.”
A couple of old standards are becoming clear again in Edmonton. (With the operative words being “again in Edmonton.”)
One: You can’t make the playoffs in October and November, but you certainly can be out of them by Dec. 1, if you play poorly enough. And, two: Good goaltending doesn’t necessarily guarantee victory. This kind of goaltending, however, will lose every night. Guaranteed.
“It’s two games. It’s two games. We got more goals in certain games last year,” said Scrivens, whose post-game comments were perhaps the strongest defensive posture shown by an Oiler all night.
“We’re trying to learn how to play a kind of game that’s going to allow us to win,” continued Scrivens, who sports an .800 save percentage. “If you want us to try and sit back and play the way that Phoenix plays, or another team plays… We’ve got enough skill that we can score goals when we figure it out. Our problem isn’t scoring goals. Our problem is managing the puck when we’re not getting those chances.
“I’m going to be the first one to say that I’ve got to play better,” he continued. “I can’t throw anyone under the bus when I’m playing like that. I’ve got to take care of my own house first. We’re definitely not pointing fingers in this room.”
For the past two nights, poor Oiler fan has had to wait for the conclusion of a gutsy Calgary Flames victory before his team’s telecast began. In Nashville, the Flames allowed 21 shots and won in a shootout. Karri Ramo saved the points with a couple of fantastic third-period saves, exactly the kind of goaltending moments that any winning team — even the Chicagos and Bostons — count on. The next night the Blackhawks fired 50 shots at Jonas Hiller, completely dominating Calgary for almost an entire 65 minutes.
Hiller stopped 49 shots, and the Flames were still standing when their turn to get a good break arrived. Mikael Backlund caught Brent Seabrook in a bad spot, and cashed a wrist shot in for as larcenous a two points as ever you’ll see. It reeked of guts, character and not going away – three qualities Edmonton’s rebuild is still in search of.
“It’s the big mistake, or the bad luck that is just killing us,” said Eakins. “We know the luck will change, but we have to eliminate the big mistake right now.”
Eakins’ failure to instill a defensive posture into this roster may be his undoing. Yes, the goaltending undermines everything. But this team is incapable of pulling its horns in on a night when two-thirds of its top line is out of the lineup due to injury, and trying for the 2-1 win. Edmonton simply bleeds point blank chances on a nightly basis, and considering that the GM added four veteran players over the summer — two on defence — you might look to the coach to install a system that limits the chances.
Vancouver is in town Friday night, as Edmonton opens up a seven-game home stand that Eakins’ job and the Oilers season hinges on. Rexall Place will be tense and angry if pucks start piling up behind Scrivens once again.
The term “goalie graveyard” is now being applied to Edmonton, and that is entirely fair. It’s been a coaching graveyard for some time now.
We wonder: if Dan Bylsma’s phone rang today and he saw the 780 area code, would he even pick up?