The Edmonton Oilers are currently undergoing a trial by fire. Six games into the new campaign, the Oilers are only up for one win and the frustration level is getting high, with the air full of the acrid, sulphur fart smell of losing more hockey games. Fans are literally vibrating with anger on social media boards with Devan Dubnyk the biggest whipping boy. Jason LaBarbera, who started in tonight’s 4-2 loss to Washington has been a little bit better between the pipes, but he is far from stealing games.
The urgency in the fan base is palpable. The overall sense is that the Oilers have lost games solely based on several soft goals by Dubnyk, the quality of his tending skill set that always kept fans ill at ease. To be sure, the whole team has played good in waves so far this season, with Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov all playing uneven hockey. Boyd Gordon and Marc Arcobello have been surprising with Gordon tallying 4 goals in six games along with an ace faceoff percentage. Anton Belov has played solid hockey, while Ryan Smyth has chipped in three goals at critical times. However the team is still playing too fancy. The skill on the team is undeniable. But the team in the skill isn’t matching up.
The Oilers are five points back of a playoff spot already, early into the season. Yet the Oilers are showing more punch than would be contenders like Philadelphia, Ottawa, the New York Rangers. even Washington (although, not tonight, sadly). Shockingly, the Oilers are SECOND in their division in goals for at 19. In many ways, the offense is playing good enough to win. But with the NHL’s worst goals against numbers at 29, something will give if the bleeding isn’t stopped. The Oilers are better goaltending away from being tied with the Blackhawks for 9th. Should we trade Yakupov for a top shelf goalie? Call up Richard Bachman? Sign Bryzgalov or Theodore? Who knows?
The options are out there for the Oilers. The likely scenario, though, is the current tandem rides out things until the end of CFR week. If the Oilers are in the tank a month from now, and the goaltending can be pointed to as the paramount reason for it, the team has no choice but to pull the trigger on one of those options. The management wants to win and I suspect will have no mercy. The Oilers may be faced with trading a major asset. The Quebec Nordiques traded away all of their three consecutive first rounders, starting in 1988 and won a cup seven years from that first draft.
The Oilers may not have to be that drastic, but winning is the only standard for the fans. Patience is wearing thin. I maintain that a modicum of patience is required for two reasons:
a) The players need to fully absorb Dallas Eakins system. This may take longer than six games. and usually does.
b) Give Devan Dubnyk a final window of opportunity to play himself back to his 92% numbers of the previous season. If he fails, he loses his job.
There’s no question the first thirteen days of this young season have pushed the buttons of Oilers fans. I don’t blame them after so much bottom feeding. However, I am going to reserve my outrage for about ten games down the road. If the same questions are being asked. the revolt will likely initiate.