It was bound to happen. After starting the 2017-18 campaign with a shutout win over their provincial rivals and media across the league singing their praises, the Edmonton Oilers showed they still have a ways to go in order to reach the lofty expectations of their recent press clippings. Make no mistake, this team is good but it is one that has gone from being the hunter to the hunted overnight and now has to figure out how to deal with it.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 8, 2017
In the grand scheme of things, the fact the Oilers went out and laid an egg against the Vancouver Canucks means nothing. In fact, it might end up being exactly what the doctor ordered. Think back to the start of last year and one could easily make the argument the early season beat down they received courtesy of the Buffalo Sabres was the moment that group decided to zone in and take care of business.
Early Season Misstep Nothing New
Edmonton absolutely had to make hay of what was a cream puff October schedule in 2016-17 and it paved the way for what was a fantastic year. While the competition will be stiffer this time around, this club has once again been given a fairly favourable schedule to start the season. They don’t leave Canada until October 17, play zero back-to-back games and have four of five on home-ice to kick things off.
Unfortunately for them, the Oilers allowed one of the “supposed” free squares on their bingo card slip through their fingers but it was a result that should send a clear message. While the Canucks are a franchise in transition, it was rather obvious they were ready for Todd McLellan’s crew. Yes, the fact it was Vancouver’s season and home opener certainly played into it but there was more to it than that.
As much as fans loved to watch the performance Connor McDavid delivered against the Calgary Flames in the club’s curtain-raiser, understand that is not a feeling shared by opposing coaches and players. Being embarrassed is something no athlete or coach wants and because No. 97 can do things none of us has ever seen, those moments are going to happen over the course of an NHL campaign.
With that being the case, you can bet players and coaches across the league will be doing their damnedest to ensure they do not end up being a part of the growing McDavid highlight reel. We saw it in full motion on Saturday night in Vancouver, as the Canucks played hard from start to finish and had Derek Dorsett essentially follow the reigning league MVP around the rink at even strength.
Derek Dorsett has 5 of Vancouver's 13 hits thru 2 periods, 3 on McDavid.
Canucks have been sharper, more engaged.
Oilers need strong 3rd!
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) October 8, 2017
Despite falling behind early on, it was clear Travis Green had a plan of attack in mind and, to his credit, stuck with it all night long. McDavid created chances but they were nowhere near the volume we saw against the Flames. In fact, they were few and far between and at the end of the night, Dorsett was among the Canucks forwards ice-time leaders and the Sedins were essentially used as power play specialists. Can you see where this is going?
Teams Will Key on McDavid
Add to that, the aforementioned praises many have been throwing the Oilers way after their surprising 2016-17 campaign and suddenly the team wearing Orange and Blue has a target painted on their back. The days of this group being taken lightly are gone and if the plan is to ride their captain’s coattails, the collective has to be engaged on as close to a nightly basis as possible. Like it or not, that is non-negotiable.
That wasn’t the case in Vancouver and the Edmonton got the result they deserved. Like every other team in the league, the Oilers have their flaws but unlike most, they have a player on their roster capable of making many of those shortcomings nothing more than an afterthought. And in order for that scenario to have any hope of playing out, the rest of the roster needs to pull in the same direction.
Again, drawing too much from a one-game snapshot isn’t wise and can actually give a distorted view of reality. With that said, what we saw in Vancouver had far less to do with the Edmonton Oilers and more to do with what they should expect from the vast majority of their opposition over the next six to seven months. Welcome to the world of the hunted.
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Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.