Another Measuring Stick for Oilers

Heading into the 2016-17 season, it was no secret that the Edmonton Oilers had something to prove. After making major changes to their roster over the course of the summer, Peter Chiarelli’s group was always going to have the spotlight squarely on them from the drop of the puck on opening night. No question it is still awfully early in the season, but this group has done a fantastic job of taking on every challenge thrown their way.

Unlike the vast majority of fans and media, I saw absolutely no reason why the Oilers could to not get off to the kind of start they did with their October schedule being what it was. However, their first real challenge was going to be their five-game trek out in East to kick off the month of November and while it didn’t exactly start off or finish up on the highest of notes, a 2-2-1 record is nothing to hang your head over. Especially when one considers Todd McLellan’s side arguably left a couple of points on the table in games against the best two teams they faced on the trip.

Oilers Quiet Critics

That is right, late goals against the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins kept the Oilers from taking points from all five games and returning home with a minimum of seven points in their pocket. To be fair, Edmonton was fortunate to find themselves in the situation they did against the Rangers but that was not the case against the defending Stanley Cup Champions on Tuesday night, as Connor McDavid put on a clinic in his first head-to-head matchup versus Sidney Crosby.

Despite a three-point night from No. 97 and a hell of a performance from the rest of his ‘mates, an unlucky bounce off the stick of Benoit Pouliot coupled with a great final 20 minutes from the Pens left the Oilers empty-handed in their road-swing finale. A tough break indeed, but it was a result that left this group both disappointed and annoyed that they had let such an opportunity slip through their fingers.  The fact these players were ticked off to the degree they were says a lot about just how far they have come.

After years of being satisfied with “hopefully” holding their own against the better team in the league, the 2016-17 edition of the Orange and Blue actually expect to come away from such games with points and not just moral victories. Considering just how soft their October schedule was and the injuries they were forced to deal with throughout the road trip, putting together a .500 record during what was by far and away the most difficult stretch of games thus far, is a real good sign. And yet, none the players or coaching staff seemed overly satisfied with their current lot in life.

Dictating Terms on Home-Ice

With that said, these next two games will tell us a lot about just how far this group has come. As impressive as their 9-4-1 mark looks, if Edmonton comes out with their typical stinker of an effort against the Dallas Stars in their first game back from a lengthy road trip, it would not be a good look. When you take into consideration just how bad this depleted Stars lineup has been this season, and that they are coming off a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night, the Oilers could not have hand-picked a better opponent.

Dallas is a banged up and tired team that struggles, even at the best of times, to keep the puck out of their own net. They will also get a shot at redemption against the Rangers on Sunday night, who, like Dallas, will be playing the second of back-to-backs when they hit the ice at Rogers Place.

Both are clear advantages for the Oilers and it will be interesting to see if they can go out and dictate terms on home ice, which is something this franchise has struggled to do for the better part of a decade.

If early returns are any indication of what we should expect from the upcoming weekend, chances seem rather high that the Oilers will find a way to come away with a pair of favourable results before heading back on the road for a difficult three-game trek. With games against the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Stars next on the schedule, all coming in buildings the Oilers traditionally struggle in, the challenges will keep on coming for the Pacific Division leaders and it will be to them to prove they are ready for that next step in their development.