Monday, June 23, 2014

Time to start winning games on home ice!!!

Over this past weekend, the National Hockey League released their 2014-15 regular season schedule. The Edmonton Oilers started their 2013-14 campaign playing seven of their first ten on the road and some felt that played a large role in this team getting off to the start they did. Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t the case at all, as it was actually the Oilers lack of early success in their home rink that ultimately put them behind the eight-ball.

While Edmonton may have gone 2-4-1 on the road to start the year, once one takes their level of competition into consideration (Vancouver Canucks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens) and their goaltenders costing them at least two points in the standings over those first seven outings, their start to the year wasn’t nearly as awful as some have made it out to be.

The problem was at Rexall Place. While Devan Dubnyk blew their season-opener against the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Eakins’ side were lucky to come away with a come from behind 5-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils in their second game of the season on home ice. From that point on, the Oilers proceeded to drop six straight in their own barn, being outscored 23-3 while being shutout in three straight games.

Add that altogether and you have them sitting with a 1-7 record at Rexall and to be completely honest, outside of the first two games against the Jets and Devils, the trio of Randy Bachman, Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera were not that bad. The greater issue was the play of the rest the team during that same time span. In their defence, they were without Taylor Hall in three of those games after he hurt his knee in Ottawa on the 19th of October and were soundly beaten in each and every one of those games (Washington 4-1, Toronto 5-0 and Detroit 5-0).

Following their home-opener, I went on at great length about the Oilers lack of success on home-ice over the previous three seasons and how it needed to change in order for them to have any hope starting to improve as a team. Despite some meaningless last season victories, Edmonton finished with the worst home record in the Western Conference for the third time in four years, trailing only the Buffalo Sabres and their league worst total of thirty-two points...just three points fewer than both the Islanders and Oilers.

Watching this team struggle to the degree they have over the last four years at home, doesn’t leave me overly confident that they will be able to turn that tide to start the 2014-15 season. While they may not have the toughest of schedules to start the year, to this point in the rebuild, we have seen no signs of them being able to take advantage of a “friendly” run of games in front of their fans.

They open the year at Rexall against the Calgary Flames on October 8th and follow that up with a tough three game road swing in which they will face the Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. Edmonton than returns home for the a seven game home stand starting with a rematch against Vancouver on 17th, followed by games against the Tampa Bay Lightning (20th), the Capitals (22nd), the Carolina Hurricanes (24th), Montreal Canadiens (27th), Nashville Predators (29th) and the good ol’ Nucks for the third time in the three weeks on November 1st.

The only back-to-back games they have over the first month of the season are against LA and Phoenix, which should give coach Eakins ample time to work on things during practice...something which he suggested his young club did not have at their disposal during his first year behind the bench and played a big part in his lineups early struggles. The proof will be in the pudding but the only team this team came out of the gates on fire was back in 2011-12 and while they did play well, much of that success can be attributed to the unreal start from netminder Nikolai Khabibulin, who was by far and away the best goalie in the league over the opening three weeks of the season.

Not surprisingly, the veteran Russian puckstopper’s level of play eventually started to drop and Edmonton promptly plummeted down the Western Conference standings. Obviously having one of Ben Scrivens or Viktor Fasth get of to good start come next October would be huge but this at the end of the day, this group needs to learn how to dictate terms and punish visiting teams in their own rink or it will start to feel like Groundhog Day around here and won’t take long.

Make no mistake... the pressure will be on the Edmonton Oilers to come out of the gate like gang-busters and from what have seen to this point in the rebuild, that is a situation this group hasn’t exactly excelled in. Could this be the year they buck their usual trend? Possibly but if they don’ could get really ugly later on.

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