EDMONTON — Nobody outside northern Alberta is feeling sorry for an Edmonton Oilers team that was supposed to be pretty good, but hasn’t been. In fact, there have likely been a few fist pumps. We get that.
But you’ve got to feel for poor Oiler Fan, just a regular, hockey lovin’ Canadian who thought that — finally — they might have a good hockey team to cheer for.
Understand, the Oilers hadn’t had a pre-season Stanley Cup contender since about 1989 or ’90. They’ve been bad for a long, long time. Sure, they had those plucky teams that the Dallas Stars used to beat in the late ’90s, but those teams were more cute than competitive.
So finally, after 20 years of lousy teams — and 10 years of missing the playoffs altogether — it wasn’t so much about watching an Oilers team that dominated everyone this season. It was just about watching one that didn’t suck. One that was going to play 82 relevant games, plus playoffs.
So a 3-7-1 start, with so many players playing so poorly, brought back a torrent of Oiler Fan Phobia that other markets might not understand. Because if your team hasn’t had four No. 1 overall draft picks and still been awful, you don’t know disappointment like Oiler Fan knows disappointment.
On Friday night, the Oilers dominated a fast and thus far successful New Jersey Devils team, winning 6-3 to move to 4-7-1 on the young season. Drake Caggiula and Oscar Klefbom scored their first goals of the season, while Anton Slepyshev had his first point. Milan Lucic looked like Milan Lucic, and Connor McDavid had three assists.
All things that were supposed to happen far more often than they have around here.
Lucic fought, scored, hit and snapped an expensive stick. “I don’t pay for them, so it’s all good,” he chuckled afterwards.
Cam Talbot was better than Devils goalie Cory Schneider, who watched waves of Oilers crash his crease, and while Taylor Hall (one goal, six shots) was excellent for New Jersey, Adam Larsson (assist, three shots, 13 hits) was perhaps even more impactful for the Oilers.
“It’s a start,” said Larsson. “We have a big hole to fill here and two points is not going to get us too far. We can’t look too far ahead. We can feel good about tonight, but realize we have to get back to work tomorrow.”
The Devils are small, quick and good. They weren’t going to win a physical game in this rink however, but it was incumbent on Edmonton to play that advantage. So the Oilers crashed the net and banged the Devils every chance they had and, as so often happens, big and good beat small and good on this night.
“That’s a pretty crazy number,” McDavid said of Larsson’s 13 hits. “I couldn’t really believe it when I saw it. He plays a real physical game, a real tough game, and has a little bit of skill to back it up as well. He’s a special player.”
Edmonton scored just its second power play goal in six games, and figured out how to fix that dreadful penalty kill: They didn’t give the Devils a single power play.
“A very clean game by them,” said Hall, whose Devils might be at the tail end of a hot streak here. “You have to be proud of our record (9-3-0) to this point of the season … but at the same time we were 9-3-3 last year and we finished 27th.
“If you look at our last few games, we have been outshot and outplayed a bit. We have to figure it out quickly.”
Are the Oilers heading in the other direction? Gosh, does this fan base hope so.
Déjà vu in Edmonton isn’t a pretty thing, we can tell you that.
Said Caggiula: “Hopefully this is the start of a good run here.”
Detroit’s in Sunday. We shall see.