With the New Jersey Devils in town, the Oilers will look for their first win in what already feels like a trying start to the season. Two games into the 2013/14 campaign sees the Oilers in the basement of the Pacific division, a result that is not unforeseen with the loss of the Oilers’ top two centremen, but a result that no fan of the team is happy with. After the team’s 6-2 blowout loss to the Vancouver Canucks, fans took to twitter and a wave of negative feedback took the team by storm.
In a post-morning skate press conference on monday, head coach Dallas Eakins was vindictive in his stance on his team’s play. He gave media members plenty to write about, talking of the many different forms of motivation he is instituting with this young club, of the teams mistakes to reveal glimpses of the hockey the coach wants to see. Eakins indicated that he came here for the hockey market, for the juice that is in the air when the team loses two games. He indicated that he came here for the family atmosphere, the feeling that the other members of the organization are of the same mind as him.
Eakins is waging a war on the Oilers locker room right now, one that fans of the team must hope that he wins. He is waging a war on complacency, on despair, on the losing mentality and on the inferiority complex that seems to consume this team year in and year out. He began by forcing his team to arm themselves with the tools they required to succeed; the fitness, the capability and perhaps most important of all, the confidence of an effective summer of training. He then moved to giving them a gift of opportunity. Every player to a man, given a clear opportunity to succeed in the Oilers system with no bias of their past efforts. Of course, after a long training camp there were few surprises. The lineup for opening night was one that held many faces from last year, and the new ones were all well documented off-season signings.
Two games later, we’re talking about the issues. As I write, I listen to a text read aloud on the radio from a fan asking when we should fire Eakins. Nail Yakupov, the gifted Russian sniper who has no points in the Oilers first two games, is seeing his productivity come into question. Devan Dubnyk has comical numbers through the two losses, boasting a 6.52 GAA and a 0.831 save percentage. Research into what pundits outside of the city are saying indicates the Oilers might look to sign russian oddity and former Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov despite there being no evidence to support the opinion.
What fans of the much maligned hockey team should take with them from all of this tribulation is that there are 80 games left in the season. There is no possibility of the team sitting around and doing nothing, as they are sitting in a hotbed here in central Alberta and their careers won’t survive if they do not keep changing the formula. Dubnyk hasn’t given us much this season, but after witnessing a 6 goal first period last season against the San Jose Sharks, I wouldn’t be surprised if he gains some very crucial traction soon.
In my opinion, there are thousands of possibilities as to why the Oilers started 0-2 to start the year. It might be that they are instilling an inferiority complex on their fellow Canadian teams, the Canucks and Jets and the losses were outbursts of defiance against that notion. It might be that playing the home opener on tuesday made Dubnyk nervous, in a game where he allowed 4 questionable goals in a 5-4 loss. It may be that the Oilers are still trying to find traction with their new team. Many new faces on the roster and a new face on the bench, there are no surprises that this team hits some speed bumps.
Tonight the next gen Oilers will play the last gen Devils in what should be an unpredictable matchup. The greatest difference with respect to the two clubs will be between the pipes where the Devils will dress aging yet ageless superstar Martin Brodeur while the Oilers will play career back-up Jason LaBarbera. There should be more growing pains to come for this young team, but if the kids can contain the need to try to trump defensive game with skill and simply outwork the opponent, this will be an Oilers win. To go one step further, if this team can win without expending all of their emotional energy, they will be better set for their next game as well.
A simple win will be the best medicine for this team. An uncelebrated win. Something to sober this team up and teach them that the big wins, the celebrated wins, are the ones that come in May and June. A win to teach this team that if it came down to it, the fans would take a playoff berth over a Nail Yakupov game saving goal every day of the week.