What feels like a long time ago, in a season far, far away, the Edmonton Oilers pooped the bed. Real bad. And while I might be getting my movies mixed up for this analogy, there’s a ragtag team —named the Edmonton Oilers— ready to turn the ship around, and they’ve got a serious chip on their collective shoulderpads for the 2018-19 NHL season.
The fans had questions, and they were demanding answers (like, why the hell did they raise the price on beer at Rogers again?). Was last season strictly an anomaly? Does this team have what it takes to make it to the playoffs and get some more of that sweet, sweet playoff experience necessary to turn pretenders into contenders? Will the players most in need of a bounce-back actually bounce back? Would the tough October schedule mixed with a season opener overseas spell another slow start out of the gate? Will our depth, or lack thereof, on the wings keep us from flying high beside the winged angel that wears the number 97 sweater?
This was the familiar echo to the chorus of Oilers fans getting ready to riot on Whyte Avenue during this year’s preseason. And while, yes, it was only preseason, there were a number of signs that pointed to the Oilers turning the ship around. Cam Talbot seemed to be in fine form, stopping (nearly) everything that came his way, including this highlight reel robbery that’ll end up as the save of the season—before the season even starts.
Scoring depth on the wing? Forget about it. Oilers wingers ranked 1, 2, and 3 on the preseason goal scoring chart, with Jesse Puljujarvi and Tyler Yamamoto finally looking like they cracked the code to playing in the bigs, and Ty Rattie making the most of his goal scorers pedigree with the absolute honour of playing beside McDavid. The McDavid/Rattie combination on the first line was looking like Gretzky/Kurri in the late 80s. Add in Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear, both playing excellent hockey on the back end, and Nurse being signed to a bridge deal, and it was no surprise that a good portion of the city was already planning the parade route!
Perhaps the team engaged in too heavy a diet of beer and brauts while Dr. Drai showed them around Ze Deutschland, since the team got off to a very slow start against New Jersey in Sweden for their season opener. The defence and Talbot both looked shaky in a 5-2 loss. Their next game, played when it felt like most of the NHL was already seven games in, was an equally uninspiring 4-1 loss to the Bruins. Panic was starting to spread among even the most hopeful, and a Saturday matinee in New York against a Rangers team that’ll most likely be competing for a draft lottery spot made game 3 of 82 seem like a must win. Win they did, although not convincingly, and a dark cloud still hung over the city (matching the weather, unseasonably cold, even for Edmonton). The team still had no idea what time the games started, often mistaking the second period for first. Facing a murderer’s row of surefire, playoff-bound teams to start the season, and a poor record wasn’t going to cut it. As a matter of fact, the Oilers hadn’t had a winning record since their first game of the 2017-18 season. All of a sudden the scoring on the left wing dried up, Talbot couldn’t stop a beach ball, and the team as a whole looked like they were destined for another early collapse. Letting Winnipeg —one of the top teams in the west— jump out to a 4-1 lead in the fourth game of the season seemed to be the nail in the coffin. The good always die so young (RIP Uncle Steve). But then…
Oh Captain, My Captain!
Like so many times before, Connor McDavid put the team on a set of shoulders broad enough to support a zamboni, and led an absolutely inspired fourth period comeback. His second, third, and fourth points of the game (including a mind-blowing fake shot/drop pass to Ty Rattie, which he absolutely meant to do—prove me wrong) knotted things at 4 a piece, setting an NHL record (his first of many) for scoring on or assisting each of his team’s first nine goals to start a season (always the most humble man in the room, McDavid said of the record, “It’s whatever”). His point streak was only stopped when Darnell Nurse skated in during OT, unassisted, before walking the Winnipeg defender and wiring a wrister on the short, stick-side. The comeback was complete, and the team regained its confidence, beating Boston for their home opener two nights later (a home opener that occured 13 days and 20,000-kilometres after they started their season).
The Edmonton Oilers are back, and the crew at Team Ford couldn’t be more excited. We’ll be hosting our first minor hockey team in the Ford FunZone on October 20th, with more FunZone events and Small-Stars games to come. Stay tuned to Team Ford for more in the way of Oilers talk, plus all things Ford. Don’t forget to make the heads-up play and slap a set of winter tires on your ride this Oilers season. Hopefully we’ll be playing well into the spring.