EDMONTON - Unbridled enthusiasm, meet reality.
The two didn’t even recognize each other during Sunday’s awkward meeting, but something tells us those visions of a brilliant tomorrow and the inevitable lessons of today will be crossing paths a few more times before the year is over.
If the sloppy mix of baby steps and banana peels that was a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers taught us nothing else, and it probably didn’t, it taught us that this will not be a quick and easy process, regardless of how good the Edmonton Oilers looked in their home opener.
“Not every game is going to be a 4-0 game, sometimes you have to battle and change your game,” said rookie Taylor Hall. “That’s what good teams do.”
And the rebuilt Oilers are still learning, judging from the second period against Calgary and the first two periods against Florida, 60 woeful minutes that saw them outshot 41-14 and unable to change to momentum in any way, shape or form.
Head coach Tom Renney still isn’t sure why he’s seeing these kinds of lulls from a young, energetic team so early in the year, and it’s a little worrisome given that they’re only two steps into a seven-month uphill climb.
“One thing we don’t want to be known as is a team that’s sort of floating through a game,” he said. “I’m not going to suggest that was the case here, I think the bigger question is: is there an energy deficiency here right now? I’m not sure.”
Lesson One might be on how to reverse the tide when they’re waist deep in water. Those top nine forwards aren’t going to change the momentum by hitting or fighting, so learning to generate offence, or at least pressure, in times of trouble is paramount.
“We have to establish an identity as a team,” said defenceman Ryan Whitney, adding they won’t win consistently if they abandon basic structure like they did against Florida. “You can’t get caught up ice, you have to get it in deep and the D have to get it out better. It was everything put together (that wasn’t there againt Florida).”
The first plan of attack needs to be out-skating and out-skilling the other team, always play to your strengths — but there are a lot of nights in the NHL when you can’t just gas up the fire wagons and beat somebody on the strength of endless end-to-end rushes. Travel, fatigue, injuries and opponents who’ve shut down the likes of Washington, Pittsburgh and Detroit make an 82-game track meet virtually impossible.
“The way we’re going to be good is by establishing a forecheck,” continued Whitney. “We have so much speed up front that that’s what we have to do, and when we don’t do it you see what happened.”
They all saw, which is good.
“I don’t think anyone in this room is happy or content,” said Ryan Jones. “That’s a good feeling, guys want to be their best every night. That’s big, having nobody content with winning a game sloppily.
“The big thing is we stuck together as a team when we very easily could have got down on each other and folded the tent. There’s not a guy in the room who gave up.”
They did show very well in the third periods, turning 1-0 into 4-0 against Calgary and preserving the 3-2 lead against Florida. Good signs both.
“We used to lose those games in the past,” said Ladislav Smid.