People are still skeptical about the Edmonton Oilers.
That’s only natural, given the Oilers haven’t made the playoffs in a decade and, in that time, have drafted four times with the first overall pick.
They’ve been a pretty, pretty bad team over the last little while.
And to be sure, the Oilers are still losing games that good teams normally win. Like Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Vancouver, a home game against a non-playoff side that had played the night before.
“We were flat, our execution was poor, we played the game standing still,” head coach Todd McLellan told reporters after that one. “We didn’t go after and skate against a team that played an overtime game the night before. When you stand around and try to do it the easy way, it doesn’t work.”
So when it comes to the Oilers, the skepticism is understandable. In fact, it’s wholly warranted.
Which leads us to their upcoming road trip, starting tonight in Columbus against a Blue Jackets side riding a 15-game winning streak.
If the Oilers would like to prove their doubters wrong, now would be a great time to do it. And to help them, they’ll get Andrej Sekera back after the veteran defenseman missed a couple of games due to illness.
“It’s a good opportunity to play the best team in the NHL right now,” said captain Connor McDavid.
At 19-12-7, the Oilers are still comfortably in a playoff spot, six points up on Dallas and Vancouver. But as mentioned, they have yet to earn the benefit of the doubt that they can hold on. The Oilers could still be caught by Calgary, Los Angeles, or even Vancouver for third place in the Pacific Division. And if that happens, they’d also have to fend off Dallas, Nashville, or even Winnipeg for a wild-card spot.
Talbot has played well, going 18-10-6 with a .919 save percentage, but no goalie has come close to matching his workload, which could make for an interesting stretch drive.
It could also make for some criticism of GM Peter Chiarelli, if things go sideways.
After all, Gustavsson was a curious signing. His career save percentage in the NHL is just .902, the lowest among the 33 active netminders with at least 150 games of experience. Heck, it was Chiarelli’s former team, the Bruins, who didn’t feel confident enough to bring the goalie back for another season in Boston.
In other words, it’s no real surprise that McLellan doesn’t seem to have any confidence in his backup.
So it’s going to be fun to watch, as these Oilers try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Lots of questions remain. Lots of doubters, too.
“You’ve got to look forward to the challenge,” winger Milan Lucic said ahead of tonight’s big game. “You have to embrace it. That’s the fun in being a competitor and on a competitive team. It’s playing the best of the best.”
And hopefully, for the sake of the Oilers and their loyal fans, coming out on top.