Up 4-2 in the second period, it looked like the Edmonton Oilers were on their way to season opening victory. Every game that this team wins without Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is an important one. Treading water until their top centermen get healthy is a major key in the Oilers hopeful playoff run. But much to the dismay of head coach Dallas Eakins, some turnovers and defensive breakdowns allowed the Winnipeg Jets back into the game.
Eakins isn’t a guy to mince words. He knows what he wants from his players. He even knows what he wants from the media. Things started off well enough last night in Edmonton, but it quickly went off the rails, prompting this post-game tweet from coach Eakins:
“I don’t like to send other teams a fruit basket or flowers. I want them to earn it.” @dallaseakins
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) October 2, 2013
The Jets weren’t playing their best hockey last night. Their weaknesses were exposed just as much as the Oilers’ were, but Edmonton’s defense left much to be desired. Now expecting the Oilers to perform without their top two centermen is a tall task, but protecting the lead was more of an issue than anything else. Hall wasn’t terrible at center, though he struggled in the face-off circle, and had a glaring turnover that led to the Jets tying goal in the third period.
The city of Edmonton, and especially the management wants to see some progress here. But is putting a playoffs or bust label on this team too much?
The Door is Opened in the Pacific Division
Despite many feeling that the Pacific Division is the toughest in hockey, there really are a lot of question marks surrounding most of those teams. The Kings are probably the only lock. Will the Ducks pick up where they left off last year? Or did their secondary scoring suffer a blow with the trade of Bobby Ryan? No one ever really knows what to expect of the Sharks. They have strong goaltending, but an aging core. Then there’s the Canucks, who are lacking in forward depth themselves. The Flames won’t be good this season. If they challenge for a playoff spot it will be a real shock. The Coyotes always find a way a succeed, but it’s no guarantee, especially considering they didn’t change much from the team that missed the playoffs last season.
It really isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Oilers can make the playoffs. If they can tread water until they get healthy, who knows what may happen. The Oilers are a fast, skilled team. They got slightly tougher in the offseason, and seem to have a really focused structure thanks to their new coach Dallas Eakins. There will still be growing pains with this team, but at some point the “young” label needs to be shed and the players have to deliver.
But is this team’s defense simply not good enough, regardless of who is playing down the middle of the ice? Judging by the extremely small sample size of last night, it’s not nearly good enough. But it’s a long season, and there’s plenty of time for improvement. There’s a little more room for those growing pains this season than last, but calling a team young may just be an excuse for losing. Dallas Eakins certainly isn’t excepting those excuses.