It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to start. It’s not you it’s me. Without trying to sound like a high school girlfriend that is starting a bad breakup, it does have a similar feel to a high school love that turns out to be disappointing. At least that’s how the emotions ran last night surrounding the Oilers home opener against the Winnipeg Jets.
All day there was optimism, excitement and the return of the passion for Oilers hockey. Puck drop came and went and the game started the way it was supposed to. But at the end of the allotted sixty minutes the Oilers found themselves on the wrong end of the score. Sure we can use the good old saying “it’s early” but after watching the game last night there are some concerns as we react to the first game of the season. There were some positives as well, so for the sake of our humanity, let’s start with those.
- 3rd line – clearly the Oilers best line of the night, especially Jesse Joensuu who was the best player the Oilers had. Boyd Gordon had a solid game at center and chipped in with a goal. Both players will prove to be a wise signing when this season is over.
- I thought Luke Gazdic showed some promise last night. After scoring his first goal he got in a scrap, proving he deserves to keep his spot once Steve MacIntyre returns. The nice part about Gazdic’s game is that he can actually skate and keep up with the play. There were a couple of times in the first period he came flying in and just missed his check. Those are the kinds of players we need more of…only make the check.
- Ales Hemsky showed flashes of brilliance but still disappeared too many times for my liking.
- Will Acton had a solid game, winning 62% of his draws and managed to play a sound defensive game. There could be lots to like about this kid.
- The tribute to anthem singer Paul Lorieau was a classy touch by the Oilers organization. The only thing missing was a shot of Joey Moss belting out O’Canada as he follows along.
- While it was an exceedingly bad tie, Dallas Eakins paying honor to the late great Roger Neilson was another great moment. After mentoring Eakins growing up, the new Oilers bench boss wanted to pay tribute to Neilson and wore one of his old ties.
Now for the not so promising.
- Ryan Smyth‘s clock on the first line has to be almost out of time. His foot speed is slow and on many occasions it looked like he was out of gas. With a full season ahead of him this is concerning for a first line player and the Oilers may have to look at other options to play alongside Hall and Hemsky.
- Speaking of Hall, I wonder if the pressures of learning to play centre were too much for him last night. He made careless mistakes that led to two goals and a defensive hole was evident when he was on the ice playing centre. Again, how long do you wait before making a move here?
- Nail Yakupov disappeared after the first period and other than an injury, it’s hard to say what happened. He was one of the most impressive players during training camp according to coach Eakins but last night twenty minutes of solid play won’t cut it.
- The Oilers thought they addressed their defensive zone concerns this offseason but last night proved they are still miles away from being considered a sound team in their own end. Numerous times they were caught out of position and chasing the puck. The good news is they will have plenty of time to work on it between now and Saturday. The bad news is, there isn’t anybody coming through the dressing room doors to help plug that hole.
- Finally, Devan Dubnyk. Three goals that were questionable, especially the fourth one that he must have. Just yesterday I talked about Dubnyk needing to stay away from the weak goal syndrome and last night he had a relapse.
It is just one game and there had to have been many pre-game jitters with this group. It doesn’t explain some of the mental mistakes but that’s where good coaching comes in. There is much work to do with this club and now it’s in the hands of coach Eakins to make the adjustments and get these guys ready for their next game.
The Jets are a quick team that plays in your face hockey, forcing you to make a quick decision. That led to turnovers and the Oilers have to become stronger with the puck. The Jets also play a physical game and again, the Oilers must find a way to match their rough and tough play.
We will be focusing on the positives from here on out as this game is behind us and we await the next one on Saturday night against the Canucks in Vancouver.