The Oilers played hockey tonight. There was another team there, too. That team was superior to the Oilers on this night, but not so much so that I was desperate to play Rocket League in between periods. Instead, I made a sandwich. It was delightful.
The Oilers were in Nashville looking to bounce back after a lacklustre effort on Thursday night against the powerhouse St. Louis Blues. Griffin Reinhart said something about Jay Woodcroft’s mom and found himself in the press box, while Andrew Ference reprised his role as Fitness Trainer #3. Cam Talbot did his best Carey Price impression, and the Oilers approached scoring like I did in high school. They talked about it with their friends, a lot, but really didn’t do too much of it. Such is the way with a team full of teenagers.
The Oilers came to play to start this one. Hockey even, if you can believe it. The first few shifts were very positive with the Oilers looking to assert themselves early. It didn’t take long for me to get the feeling that the Predators are at least a notch below the Blues, and the Oilers seemed to get that same vibe. The biggest tell for me was how much time the Oilers had to make puck plays. They took advantage of this freedom and jumped out to the early shot lead. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the Oilers were the better side for the first 10-12 minutes. The powerplay was atrocious, but at least they were doing enough at evens to earn the odd one, so it could be tolerated.
Nashville started to remember who they were playing, however, and began to turn the tide in their favor midway through the period. Cam Talbot was called upon to make save after save, with his teammates so awestruck by his brilliance that they literally sat there, did nothing, and watched him do his thing. It was very Oilers of them and, quite frankly, I’m glad that they haven’t strayed too far off message. LaForge knows that you can’t alienate your core fanbase, and that’s something – and someone – worth believing in.
The Oilers managed to escape the first period unscathed, and reports out of Nashville said Todd McLellan was spotted buying a Powerball ticket at intermission. When you’re lucky, let it ride.
The Oilers began the second period in a similar manner to how they finished the first. Poorly. Early on, Eric Gryba did his best Nashville Predator impression and hit his own partner, allowing some Predator (you know by now that I’ll never give the opponents any shine) a breakaway at the blue line. Cam Talbot continued to impress, looking Solid As Iraq™ as he turned the chance aside.
Not long after, the Oilers started to hockey again and saw some action in the Predators’ zone. During one sequence McDavid took a heavy hit into the end boards and, given the notable absence of resident voodoo healer Luke Gazdic, miraculously survived. It really was marvellous stuff.
The Oilers continued to press as the period went on, and were stringing together productive shifts. It’s probably no coincidence that Nail Yakupov was shifted onto McDavid’s line right around the same time, with Korpikoski moving down to flank Anton Lander, opposite Anton Slepyshev. Both the McDavid line and Nugent-Hopkins line generated good pressure down low, and the Predators found themselves in a hockey match.
Then, with about two minutes left in the period, the Oilers went all Oilers. Andrej Sekera, who has long been a darling of the Copper & Blue staff, continued his disappointing play to start the season and coughed the puck up at the Predators’ blue line, creating a 2-on-1 against. Fayne must have left his fundamentals in New Jersey, because he chose to overplay the puck carrier who then, obviously, passed it to the open man for the goal. I could have sworn you were supposed to take the lane and give the shooter to the goalie on a 2-on-1, but I only played until Pee-Wee so what do I know?
The Oilers showed some pushback after the goal and generated a half chance through Hall before heading into the second break down 1-0.
I started making food during the second intermission, so if I’m misremembering the start of the third, so be it. No ragrets. The sandwich really was sublime. To be fair to me, the Oilers had failed to score a proper goal in five whole periods by that point. Just appreciate the effort it took to still be awake after forty minutes.
The Oilers started the third brightly, and were generating the bulk of the pressure in the first few minutes. This pressure led to an early powerplay that the Oilers promptly pissed away. At some point, Nugent-Hopkins had a goal called back after it was deemed he kicked it in. He did. Credit to the team, they kept pressing and earned themselves another powerplay. Big Idiot, two minutes for cheating, I believe it was. This time, the Oilers looked like they almost knew what to do with the man advantage, and generated a few scoring chances. None of them went in, of course, but it was looking like a real NHL powerplay for a change.
After the Oilers wasted their second powerplay of the period, Nashville started to grow bored with just being there, and decided to hockey a bit themselves. Not long after that, the Oilers’ newest assistant captain Andrew Ference showed us all why he was Craig MacTavish’s greatest mistake and gave the puck away behind the Oilers net, earning the assist on the Predators’ second goal. Not thirty seconds later, Ference took a poor penalty in his own zone, but the Oilers killed it off easily. The Oilers had the best chance during those two minutes, and looked better than they did on any of their previous man-advantages.
From there, the outcome was never in doubt. The Oilers pulled the goalie, but neither team had a real sniff. The Oilers have now played two full games without scoring a goal of their own. It’ll come, maybe?
Man. The Oilers will be in tough to win eight games this year if they continue to struggle so mightily with moving the puck north. I think there are two and a half men back there who can make an actual hockey pass out of their own zone, and the Oilers’ attack is suffering because of it. When the Oilers enter the o-zone with control they’re almost always a handful, but those instances are few and far between. Andrej Sekera has yet to be that stabilizing force on the back end that we hoped he could be, and Eric Gryba has come, unfortunately, exactly as advertised. Nurse can’t develop soon enough. He really can’t.
Cam Talbot continues to play excellent in the games that matter, and kept this game from getting out of hand in the first with a handful of excellent saves in close.
Connor McDavid has so much talent it’s gross. Moving Yakupov on his line provided the Oilers with a spark in the second period, and I hope it’s something they continue to explore. I think Yakupov could score 400 goals this year if he plays with McDavid, and that’s probably conservative.
Up next, the Oilers take their traveling circus to
South Beach Texas on Tuesday, hoping to score a goal or two. If they don’t, we might need to come up with a new contest.