We all thought that fatigue and rust were going to play factors in the early going this season, and a lot of the National Hockey League‘s opening weekend action proved us right. Last night’s contest between the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks is a great case and point.
The Canucks can take some solace in the fact that the Oilers didn’t beat them so much as they outlasted them, and that if they play in a similar fashion against Edmonton at the end of the season, they should be able to win. Still this will only be a minor consolation. They looked spent by the time the third period rolled around, and with so many of the Oilers being in midseason form already, the Oilers were able to chip away at Vancouver’s early lead and beat them in the shootout.
Both of Edmonton’s scorers in regulation benefited from the Canucks being out of practice or out of shape. Jordan Eberle‘s goal with mere seconds left in the 2nd period would not have happened if Roberto Luongo was more game-ready and aware that he needed to be square and set for Eberle’s shot, even if the angle was ridiculous. Ales Hemsky‘s soft power play goal was embarrassing for Luongo as well as the lethargic defense that allowed him to whiz by on his way to scoring.
Sam Gagner and Hemsky deked Luongo out of his jock strap on their way to scoring in the shootout, and so there was little he could have done on those shots even if he were in great game shape, but the game should not have gotten to that point to begin with.
The Oilers made an unsettling number of mistakes despite being the fresher team, most of which were saved by goalie Devan Dubnyk. Ryan Whitney and Corey Potter looked completely lost on the ice, and did not have the sort of instinct defenders need to have in order to play well, so it’s no surprise they were on the ice when Vancouver scored both of their goals. For a team that was purported by some pundits to have a considerable advantage over most teams heading into this season’s opening weeks, the amount of rust on their game was unexpected.
Edmonton’s strategy seemed to be to play along with the Canucks for a couple periods and then overtake them at the end when the Canucks ran out of gas. That was a clever, but dangerous, tactic to employ, especially considering how sloppy the Oilers were. A team in this good of shape should not have needed to resort to such a strategy to defeat an older team that was coming off a humiliating loss the night before.
The Oilers won’t get away with that strategy much longer, so here’s hoping Edmonton starts putting its strength and conditioning to better use going forward.