The Edmonton Oil Kings opened the 2017-2018 season this weekend after a tumultuous off season and training camp full of cuts. It is a very different team from the one that finished the 2016-2017 season for the Oil Kings. From the crease outward, there have been changes to the line up the team has iced. Unfortunately for the Oil Kings, their young team was unable to put together a victory on opening weekend.
The Oil Kings started their season on with a home and home series with the neighbouring Red Deer Rebels. The first game took place in Red Deer and despite the Oil Kings standing up to early pressure from the Rebels, the Oil King were unable to keep the Rebels off the board. Travis Child allowed his first goal as an Oil Kings netminder at . Even more devastating, Reese Johnson’s goal was short handed catching the Oil Kings power play unit flat footed.
The Oil Kings struggled to maintain constant pressure, but by early in the third period were rewarded for their efforts by .
In the first game of the home and home series, the Oil Kings were overshadowed by a team with much better execution, discipline, and energy. The Oil Kings looked unorganized and unsure and were unable to respond to Red Deer’s sustained pressure in a consistent way. The lack of consistency left several players trying to do it all themselves and losing the puck to a more organized Red Deer team or taking a penalty for roughing, slashing or hooking.
While the Oil Kings had moments where they controlled the flow of the game, they weren’t numerous. Both the offensive and the defense seemed to be reacting to what the Rebels were doing instead of trying to make something happen. When numerous bad passes, out of position players, and a less than optimal performance from their goaltender were added into the equation, the Oil Kings ended up playing a game that made them look like they were still in training camp and not ready to open the regular season. , it was a spirited game with a stilted flow. Red Deer was definitely able to accomplish more with their powerplays and added a short-handed goal for good measure. If there was one area where Red Deer seemed to outplay the Oil Kings, it was with the man advantage. Red Deer went two for two for five and Edmonton had a much less impressive one for six on the night.
The two teams met again the next day in Edmonton. Determined to create a different result, the Oil Kings exploded out of the gate. The Oil Kings got goals from seeming to stun the Rebels for a moment. The Rebels cut the lead to one before the end of the first period with a marker from Mason McCarty. Still the Oil Kings first period play in Rogers Place definitely had a vitality which was missing from the team when they played in Red Deer the night before. Ty Gerla added a third Oil Kings goal to once again restore their lead to two goals early in the second period. Despite a strong start the Oil Kings were unable to keep their lead. Before the end of the first minute of the third period, the Rebels had tied the game with goals from Brandon Hagel and Reese Johnson, and there was a momentum shift. The Rebels added a go-ahead goal on the power play at 9:21 of the third period from Jared Dmytriw. Hagel added an empty net goal for a final score of 5-3 for Red Deer. Again, the Oil Kings penalty kill struggled allowing three powerplay goals on five attempts. If the Oil Kings hope to be a factor in the WHL’s central division this year, they will need a better special teams effort.
One of the most troubling aspects of the weekend was the lack of direction the Oil Kings seemed to have as a team. While a certain number of mistakes are expected from a young team, the Oil Kings far exceeded the expected number of errors. From top to bottom on Saturday, their line up seemed to be lost. They either didn’t seem to know where they should be in the play or they seemed to have no idea where their teammates and opposition would be. There were several passes to Red Deer players in attempts to pass to teammates or clear the zone. All of these things could just be a young team creating an identity and coming together as a team. It is just disappointing to see so many mistakes in the first home and home series with a division rival.
These first two games will set the tone of the season for many fans. What they will expect from the team will depend on their first impressions of it. In this case, the game on Sunday – the Oil Kings home opener – was important to draw fans in and excite them about the season.
Neither Oil Kings lost will create excitement for the what the Oil Kings have labelled as part of their rebuild as it confirmed the expectations of many that the Oil Kings are currently not in a position to be a force in the Central Division, let alone the WHL.
The first five minutes of the first period of the Oil Kings home opener was like a glimpse at what the Oil Kings could be if everything works exactly right for the team. However, the remaining 55 minutes were a reminder that a hockey game is more than a good start and that the Oil Kings still have some work today. The Rebels took advantage of their opportunities, did their best to ameliorate their mistakes, and had a greater depth to them then the Oil Kings. When the Rebels dug in to shift the direction of the game, they were successful. The Oil Kings were unable to regain any sort of momentum from the middle of the second period. The Oil Kings inability to hold a lead,
What was readily apparent watching the Oil Kings play the Rebels for the second time in two nights is that they are a team with a lot of talent and potential. Unfortunately, they aren’t a team with a unified direction. Even the veteran players seemed to struggle over the weekend.