The Edmonton Oilers proved last season that you can have the Art Ross Trophy winner, yet still miss the playoffs by a mile. This season is about the other 19 players having fans walking out of the rink talking about them more often, rather than the conversation always centring on Connor McDavid.
Well, one game in, the evidence was clear: Edmonton simply did not have enough puck possession when McDavid wasn’t on the ice. McDavid was a force, but the rest of the troops? For most of them, not enough on this night.
For a team that has harped all September on “having a strong start,” Saturday’s season-opening 5-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils in Gothenburg was terribly disappointing. Not just because of the loss, but because of the number of passengers wearing Oilers whites on a Swedish Saturday night.
After a 7-1 pre-season for Edmonton, the final shots on goal were 27-19 for New Jersey. Cam Talbot had twice the workload of Devils starter Keith Kinkaid when it came to Grade A chances and the Devils were the better, quicker and more hungry team on this night — absolutely no doubt about it.
Here are a few takeaways from a European opener. Next stop, Boston, where the Oilers will need a much better effort.
The Oilers went from 212 goals allowed two seasons ago to letting in 263 last season. It’s a multi-faceted feat, but if there is one thing that simply has to happen this season, it is to get that number back down to the 220 range.
In Game 1, no improvements were evident when it came to the Oilers’ defensive game. Talbot gave a puck away for a freebie. Matt Benning coughed up a puck that ended up in the net. Leon Draisaitl got walked in his own zone on the game’s first goal.
Three poor defensive efforts, three goals against, and a season-opener with a five spot against. Ouch!
There were a few positives here, starting with Milan Lucic’s goal and an assist. Lucic had jump, held his position in the slot, and passed the puck exceptionally well, setting up a couple of scoring chances that could have turned the tide.
Draisaitl had a goal and an assist, though his primary responsibility of driving his own line was not met on Saturday. His goal came late while playing with McDavid and Lucic. Draisaitl needs to produce without McDavid for the Oilers to succeed.
Also, Evan Bouchard played his first NHL game. He was on the ice for a goal against and one goal for, playing 15:27 on a pairing with Kris Russell. A better than decent debut.
The power play that dragged the Oilers down last season was a unit that passed the puck around the exterior, but simply did not direct enough pucks to the net. Assistant coach Emanuel Viveiros was part of the airlift when they fired Todd McLellan’s staff after last season, and his primary goal was awakening a sleepy power play.
Well, in four power-play attempts, Edmonton had one shot on goal. It came on Lucic’s snipe early in the first period.
The first unit has all left-handed players, so the only way to have a one-timer available is if the puck is distributed from the left wing boards. Unfortunately, the puck doesn’t spend enough time there, the Oilers do not get off (or even attempt) enough one-timers, and the result was the exact same problem from a year ago.
Hey, it’s one game. We get it. But it’s a problem that is now 83 games old.
We talked to Cam Talbot near the end of training camp about erasing last season’s .908 save percentage and reverting to the career .919 mark he’s had before.
“I expect myself to be above the mean,” Talbot declared. “I’m holding myself to a higher standard. I want to outperform my career numbers this year. That’s my goal.”
It’s a noble goal, but one that was not quite met in this season’s opener, where Talbot was beaten on the game’s first shot — the recurrence of a major flaw from a season ago. Yes, Kyle Palmieri stepped around Draisaitl on the play. And yes, he made a marvelous shot off the far post and in.
But, for Talbot and the Oilers, when it comes to goals on one of the first two or three shots of the game, we’re long past asking “How?” We’re only worried about how many.
Trailing 1-0 less than 1:00 into games is a bad recipe, and Talbot know he’s the chief cook when it comes to that stat.