EDMONTON — “The time for talk is over. We just have to get results.”
It was a two-question post-game scrum for Connor McDavid Saturday night, and not because he cut it short. He simply didn’t require any more questions to say what you needed to hear from the captain of a listing ship.
“I don’t know what needs to be said,” he quipped. “We just have to be better.”
Let’s cut to the chase: Was last season a fluke?
Are the Edmonton Oilers just McDavid and a bunch of average Joes? Has general manager Peter Chiarelli’s gamble proven bad, when he went through the summer without signing a top-four NHL defenceman?
And, by the way: What the heck happened to Cam Talbot, who was pulled for the second time in four games, flushed by Ottawa in a 6-1 Senators win.
The Oilers are 1-3, and that’s not good. But the truly disconcerting part is the level of their play, which is nothing short of horrendous, particularly for a team that many expect to challenge for a Stanley Cup.
The Oilers got pounded at home by Winnipeg on Monday, had an off-day and then three solid days of video work and practice. They looked ahead to this game all week, and on Saturday they came out to show what they’d learned. The Senators scored the game’s first six goals.
How deep is this hole?
“If you’re defining the hole by standings and points, I wouldn’t consider it that deep,” said head coach Todd McLellan. “If you’re defining it based on our play and fundamentals, we are deep.
“I’m concerned, because I think we need to play the game faster. We need to have much more polish in our game than we’re seeing right now.”
Sometime during the first intermission, while the Oilers were licking their wounds in their dressing room at Rogers Place, the official scorer increased their shot total from seven to 11. As it turned out, that four-shot barrage was as dangerous as the Oilers would get all night.
The Oilers fell to 1-3 as the Senators completed their first ever three-game sweep of Western Canada. The 3-0-2 Sens haven’t lost in regulation, but the team that’s raising even more eyebrows across Canada this morning is the Oilers.
As in, “What the heck is happening in Edmonton?”
“You can come up with any excuse or cliché at this point,” Milan Lucic said, “but it comes down to our attitude and the emotion we bring to the game. This early on in the season, we’re ready to be tested with some adversity, but feeling sorry for ourselves and thinking we deserve better is not going to get us out of this.
“Goals aren’t coming easy for us right now, we are not clean and sharp in the offensive and neutral zones, we are allowing guys to walk into our zone and things like that.”
Leon Draisaitl missed the game with a concussion, and without his support McDavid went 2-for-11 in the faceoff circle. Ottawa, meanwhile, played without Erik Karlsson, still out after foot surgery, and didn’t miss a beat with three power-play goals.
And Talbot? Yikes.
In his last three starts Jacob Markstrom, Connor Hellebuyck and Mike Condon have outplayed him. His game is, like the team in front of him, at a level far below where he ended last season.
“We’re all in this together,” McLellan said. “We’re in it from the goal crease, in through the blue line, the forwards and the (coaching) staff. We all have a little piece to play in it. There have been times where we’ve needed a save, but there have also been times where he’s made some saves. We have to reward him at the other end and we have to play much more sound defensively than we are right now.”
And if you’re wondering, don’t even mention the term “playoff hangover” in this matchup. The Senators (who’ve won nine of their last 10 games in Edmonton) made it to double-overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final before losing to Pittsburgh last spring, and they’ve started the season with real purpose.
Edmonton went into Round 2 by comparison, and is playing like a team that’s got rooms booked for the Stanley Cup Final next spring.
“There are ways out of it and there are ways to dig yourself even deeper,” Lucic surmised. “It’s just a matter of building the right mood and attitude, and coming to the rink and showing it on the ice. It’s easier said than done.
“I’m all for being positive, but you have to be realistic with yourself and your game and what you bring to the team. That’s what it comes down to right now.”