So what do we have here in Edmonton after the first week of the NHL season? If you were to consult the Magic 8 Ball about how the Edmonton Oilers will fare this season, it would probably reply by saying, “Ask Again Later.”
This is pretty much dead-on for a number of reasons. One game they look brilliant, as in their season-opening victory over the Vancouver Canucks, and then their next game against the San Jose Sharks is an absolute horror show. They demonstrate patience, don’t give up, keep fighting and manage to defeat the Los Angeles Kings, and then get outclassed by a veteran Calgary Flames club, with the final score, 4-3, not being nearly indicative of how easily the Flames won this game.
They rise to the occasion, then they plummet to the earth like one of the asteroids in Deep Impact. The roller coaster ride has only just begun. Justin Schultz, Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner are all averaging a point a game or better and with the exception of Gagner, all of them are plus players. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has three points in four games and is also a plus player, so things are looking well there too. And ever since recently-acquired defenseman Mark Fistric replaced Corey Potter in the lineup, his grit and toughness have been an enormous boon to Edmonton’s weak defense.
Those are pretty much the only parts that are working well to this point. Nail Yakupov has looked both mighty and mighty pathetic on the ice already, which is to be expected, so there is nothing too shocking about his up-and-down start so far. Devan Dubnyk has shown flashes of brilliance in their wins, but has been extremely disappointing in their two losses, so he is not quite doing the job the Oilers had hoped he would, but he isn’t 100% sucking it up either.
Ales Hemsky was brilliant in Game 1, looking like the dynamic Hemsky of old, but he has come back to earth the past three games, looking like the disinterested Hemsky who has a penchant for skating circles around the other nine skaters on the ice before ultimately doing nothing with the puck. Nick Schultz looks solid one moment, then makes an unbelievably bad giveaway which leads to a goal. Lots of ups and downs here, with no consistency. Get used to this, Oilers fans, because you are probably going to see a lot of this for the rest of the season.
And everybody else? Ryan Smyth? Shawn Horcoff? Eric Belanger? Ryan Whitney? Where have they gone? Teemu Hartikainen, Magnus Paajarvi and Lennart Petrell are stuck in No Man’s Land playing on the fourth line or being healthy scratches so they aren’t getting much of a chance to show anybody anything. And there are far more players on this team who are currently in the minus than is good for the Oilers at this point of the season.
A lot of these players are doing much to undo the good that the Baby Oilers are doing so far, so this is disappointing for sure. Most people going into the season knew that Edmonton was really weak in terms of the defense and depth; that their goaltending was a question mark; and that despite an enormous amount of talent from their forwards they are still young and would have some up and down periods this season.
So far things are playing out as expected, so there’s no real reason to get too excited or too nervous about how things are going to go for the Oilers the rest of this season. They haven’t gotten off to the lightning quick start some forecasted for them, but they haven’t fallen flat on their faces under the strain of such expectations either, so that counts for something.
Is this team really going anywhere this season? They have made some strides and have certainly shown that they have the potential to climb up the ladder and perhaps challenge for a playoff spot if everything goes right, but they could still just as easily crash and burn like they have the past several seasons. So like the Magic 8 Ball said at the beginning, “Ask Again Later.”