There’s only one word to describe the first period of the Edmonton Oilers home opener against the San Jose Sharks. Ugly. Undisciplined play, bad penalties, sloppy defensive coverage and an overall lack of focus allowed the Sharks to put up six goals in the opening frame. Despite not scoring any more for the rest of the game, the victory was pretty much in the bag.
The Oilers first game of the season against the Canucks didn’t start off fantastic, but they clawed back and tightened up to come away with a win. Against the Sharks however, they just couldn’t stop the bleeding. If there are any positives to take away from this game is that the defensive play did improve as the game went on. The Oilers controlled more of the play and were able to establish a forecheck. They managed to put three unanswered goals on the board, but the hole was far too deep to climb out of this time.
There was a lot of excitement in Rexal Place when the players were being introduced, but the air was sucked out of the building early. The Sharks were ready to play, that was evident from the get-go. San Jose scored two powerplay goals before the game was five minutes old. But then, came one of the bright spots of the night.
Edmonton earned a powerplay of their own, and rookie Nail Yakupov scored his first NHL goal thanks a sweet feed from Sam Gagner. The raw emotion that Yakupov displayed after the goal reminded us all why the game is great. The crowd was also enthused because it cut the Sharks lead in half. But the joy would soon disappear as the Sharks scored four more goals in a row.
The strong penalty kill that Edmonton displayed against Vancouver was nowhere to be found against San Jose. Goalie Devan Dubnyk had a tough night to be sure, but he was hung out to dry on many occasions. Maybe the Oilers weren’t focused to start things off. Maybe they were caught up in the lights of their home opener. But again, the positive is that they did improve as the game progressed.
The second period would provide yet another milestone on the night, as Justin Schultz netted his first NHL goal on the powerplay. It was a slick wrister that fooled Niemi. Schultz had four shots on the night, and amazingly wasn’t a minus player, helping him earn the third star of the game. Taylor Hall scored his first of the season to cut the lead to 6-3 but the Oilers comeback attempt would fall short. Maybe with an extra period. Maybe if the first period never happened.
Critics were everywhere last night, reminding anyone who would listen that the Oilers defense and goaltending isn’t strong enough to get them to the playoffs, but one bad game doesn’t tell the whole story. The potential for Edmonton to struggle in these crucial areas is obviously present, but the season opener proved those deficiencies can be overcome. Will they be overcome on a consistent basis? That remains to be seen. One thing is for certain, this team is fun to watch. The way they move the puck, the flashes of brilliance from the forwards. It’s exciting. But hockey is won from the net out, and it’s a story that will continue to unfold for the Oilers as the season progresses.
“If pain is going to make us a better team, then that’s a lot of pain right there. Hunger to put on a show for the crowd took the place of defensive structure and discipline tonight. We apologize to [the fans] for the overall score, but they get to see Nail and Justin get their first goals. Sometimes it’s better to lose like this than lose by a goal. We certainly see what we need to improve.” – Coach Ralph Krueger (Edmonton Oilers)
Marcy, a former hockey player, is a hockey correspondent on CTV News and TSN radio. She began her career as a Sports Journalist in 2009 and has been part of The Hockey Writers since 2010, where she is currently a senior writer and editor.