Old habits haunt new Oilers in ‘deserved’ loss

Ryan O’Reilly and Brian Gionta both scored a pair of goals to help the Buffalo Sabres pound the Edmonton Oilers.

Cam Talbot was brutal. It happens.

Benoit Pouliot was stupid. And lazy. We’ve seen this before. We’ll see it again.

As a whole, the “new” Edmonton Oilers looked a lot like the old Edmonton Oilers Sunday, beaten in every facet of the game by an understaffed Buffalo Sabres team that simply craved a victory, where Edmonton was ready to take one only if it was given.

So what did we learn in a 6-2 loss Sunday that caused both players and coaches to cancel a pre-arranged, NHLPA day off on Monday?

“We’re not quite ready to take a step. We can’t handle prosperity yet,” said head coach Todd McLellan, who was still hot when he took the podium. “We just got kicked right between the legs and we deserved it.”

Look — everything went wrong Sunday.

Edmonton had opened the season impressively, sweeping a home-and-home from Calgary, and greeted a Sabres team that had just lost Jack Eichel and Evander Kane long term, and had Kyle Okposo in the lineup after a prolonged time off skates.

It had “3-0 Oilers start” written all over it. Buffalo played so well, they might have won anyhow. But Edmonton mailed it in like we have seen so many times before from this team.

Talbot has made the blooper reels for years to come, letting in a 100-foot bouncer to make it 3-2 Buffalo after his team had erased a 2-0 deficit. Connor McDavid was checked masterfully by veteran defenceman Josh Gorges, held pointless with one shot.

Perhaps the team could carry the 19-year-old for once, rather than the other way around?

They stunk, from top to bottom.

Pouliot took two more minor penalties (added to the four he had already taken this season) and was benched for the final 40 minutes, drawing this quote from McLellan: “I [wouldn’t] want to be there penalty killing, blocking shots for him for stupid penalties. So he can sit and watch.

“We have some foundation and fabric things that we have to continue to fix. Stupidity is one of them.”

The most crippling “foundation and fabric” issue the Oilers have however, is mental fragility. As Talbot said after the game, “Last year we let these games snowball, went on a losing streak.”

So Tuesday in Edmonton, when the Carolina Hurricanes come to visit, we will have an early glimpse into these so-called “new” Oilers.

Go 3-1 off the start of the season and no one cares about the how the one loss happened. Fail to atone for an effort like this one, however, and any currency Edmonton gained from sweeping the Battle of Alberta will disappear in a heartbeat.

If we are to believe these aren’t the same old Oilers, they need to prove it Tuesday at Rogers Place.

“That’s what character teams do. That’s what winning teams do. What teams that have identities do,” said Milan Lucic, who is becoming the moral compass here.

He was in on the decision to cancel a scheduled day off Monday, one of the NHLPA mandated days. The players have to sign off on that, and this group chose the practice day today. Rightfully so.

“We have to learn from this and move forward. We can’t let this weigh on us for the next four, five days and bring us down as a group,” Lucic said. “Battle of Alberta, Carolina Hurricanes… It doesn’t sound exciting heading into Tuesday night, but we’ve got to make it exciting.”

That has to happen, along with a few other things. First and foremost is the level of Talbot’s play. It has been average since the beginning of camp, and a fragile team that has not won consistently for a decade needs far, far better goaltending than what Talbot has given them this fall.

To his credit, Talbot knows it. He was waiting for the media post-game Sunday, his theme being this: “If I make some of those saves maybe the game is a bit different early on.”

Pouliot is another. He can be a helpful producer, but he has spent a career taking needless, selfish, offensive-zone penalties. He doesn’t have to score every night, but at age 30, Pouliot still has not learned how not to hurt the team on his bad shifts.

Big picture, it is absolutely fair to wonder if the real Edmonton Oilers showed up Sunday night? Or, was the team that beat Calgary twice the new “real” Oilers.

Tune in Tuesday. We can’t wait to find out.

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