The major league game was always so far away, a lifetime removed from my front yard. The best hockey was played in Boston, Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Detroit and Chicago. The closest city to my front door was 22 hours by car and I didn’t have a car! It was big news when Vancouver got a franchise in 1970, but I never got to see them at the Pacific Coliseum. I was in the Coliseum, only it was in summer, for a Jehovah’s Witness convention. I remember sitting there and wondering if God was laughing at me or feeling bad about the terrible and tragic irony. When the Oilers came in 1972, I was thrilled. I loved the Oilers before their opening faceoff, adopted the WHA in a heartbeat. The Oilers arrival in Edmonton was a match made in heaven, more fertile soil did not exist in 1972. The legend lives on and the history is rich, the future is bright. The now? Music! Anticipation stands at 11, anthem singers at the ready 20,000 at a time, we are a nation prepared to be amazed by the impossible. It’s hockey night in Edmonton, and nothing else matters now, we’re together again.
The Edmonton Oilers begin their 2017-18 season with more of everything: more expectations, more injuries, more pressure and in many ways more question marks. It’s going to be a long season, once again relying heavily on Connor McDavid and Cam Talbot. The formula works, we saw it a year ago. Will the complementary players push this team higher? That’s the question for this year. Game is 8pm local time. Last year’s GDT had 1,169 comments and most of them reflect satisfied customers. Last year’s home opener was the best since 2010, can this team do it again?
OILERS IN OCTOBER
- Oilers in October 2015: 4-8-0, goal differential -7
- Oilers in October 2016: 7-2-0, goal differential +10
One of the keys to last season was a strong beginning for the Oilers. An organization that literally found itself crawling from the wreckage needed to put some distance between themselves and the second division. Mission accomplished, the club led the Pacific Division on Halloween night 2016. That’s a fine goal for this October 31.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM OCTOBER
- At home to: Calgary (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Vancouver (Expected: 1-0-0) (Actual: 0-0-0)
- At home to: Winnipeg, Ottawa, Carolina (Expected 1-1-1) (Actual: 0-0-0)
- On the road to: Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh (Expected 1-1-1) (Actual 0-0-0)
- At home to: Dallas, Washington (Expected 1-1-0) (Actual 0-0-0)
- Overall expected result: 5-3-2, 12 points in 10 games
- Current results: 0-0-0
It’s always difficult at the beginning of the year to estimate these things, we can’t really know what the Washington Capitals will bring compared to their own recent past (as an example). The Oilers should get off to a good start, their record needs to be handsome on the night they hit Chicago.
TONIGHT’S PROBABLE ROSTER
- The McDavid line scored more than a goal a game last season, 97 went 2-1-3 opening night against the Flames one year ago.
- The Nuge line features three men who have a lot of pressure on them. Milan Lucic needs to score 5×5, Nuge needs to lead a productive offensive and possession line, and Kailer Yamamoto has nine games to make his NHL impression. This line might not last the first period.
- The Strome line looked like it improved in Vancouver and by the third period the group was finding its stride. Among the two less proven forward threes, I think this one has the best chance to succeed.
- The Letestu line usually has an exhausted center on it but both wingers are big, heavy and move well. The trio has interesting possibilities.
- Klefbom-Larsson could play 30 minutes tonight. If the team has a late lead they may not leave the ice.
- Russell-Benning have more pressure on them than the Nuge line. If it doesn’t work out, suspect we might see some in-game tweaking that could involve breaking up the Swedish pair.
- Nurse-Gryba will probably get regular 5×5 and plenty of PK minutes. The Flames are a heavy team and this pairing should be able to handle their size. If the game is close their TOI may fade later in the third period.
- Cam Talbot stopped 37 of 41 in picking up the win against CGY one year ago, Brian Elliott stopped only 21 of 27. Oilers have had some tough games against Mike Smith, including a frustrating Sunday game a year ago when Smith shut them down well enough to allow the Coyotes to win. It was a bad (broken stick, horrible coverage) and unlucky afternoon, but Smith was the key.
We often dance around his importance to the team, mostly because we’ve already lost scale on him. Connor McDavid is fire, is biblical, is history made in every stride. How can any man go so fast while staying under control? It is the stuff of legends, 8 o’clock tonight in our town. In the book of Oiler, he is Chapter One, Verse One. A giant walks among us.
A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. After Kailer Yamamoto won the NHL job from Jesse Puljujarvi and others, it seems many Oilers fans have buyer’s remorse. I’m not sure I understand that, but we’ll see how the next nine games roll out.
Here’s what we know: Edmonton needs a skill RW and auditioned several options. Yamamoto delivered in most every game he played during camp and we’ll see how he shines in these NHL contests. Tonight’s matchup includes Matt Tkachuk and that’s no easy road. For me, Yamamoto is a truly unique player with a lot of what makes him that way sitting underneath the helmet. When you see a chance, take it. His story will be told in the coming days, for me it’s one of the most interesting aspects of early days 2017-18.
COMPLETE RE 17-18
- I picked Leon Draisaitl to play RW 70 percent of the time on McDavid’s line, we’ll see if that holds up. If he plays 2C 70 percent of the time, his point total probably lands around 60.
- Anton Slepyshev should be back soon and he will have a story to tell.
- I posted some past opening night rosters, scared many so bad therapy may be required.
PETER CHIARELLI’S OILERS
I believe we have found our places as a group, each deciding what view suits best. It seems we have settled on one of three viewpoints on PC’s work in Edmonton.
- Nothing he does from today forward will ever make up for the damage done.
- He improved the team immediately and markedly while bleeding assets. He will bring a Stanley to this city, but may not deliver multiple championships during the McDavid era.
- He has done a commendable job in surrounding 97 with championship calibre complementary help and Stanley is nigh.
I land with the second group, and will add that one Stanley would be sweet music to my soul. Winning a Stanley in the 1980’s was not the same as winning one in 2017, and winning two in a row was much different than today. Peter Chiarelli is tasked with bringing Stanley No. 6 to Edmonton and that could happen next spring. Todd McLellan faces the same challenge.
If you ask me “does one Stanley forgive the Taylor Hall trade?” my answer is it is not mine to forgive. The task at hand on the day Peter Chiarelli was climbing Everest. I’ve never cared how he got there.
LOWDOWN WITH LOWETIDE
At 10 this morning, we get you ready for tonight’s Oilers game. Hammer of the Gods and some analysis thrown in for good measure. Scheduled to appear:
- Darcy McLeod, Because Oilers. Expectations, Jagr, Yamamoto.
- Ryan Pike, Flames Nation. From the other side.
- Jeff Krushell, Krush Performance. MLB playoffs!
10-1260 text, @Lowetide on twitter. what. a. day!