The preseason has begun. It’s time to get the microscopes out on what will undeniably be the most intensively examined Oilers’ teams in recent memory. The Edmonton Oilers either have a lot to lose or a lot to prove in 2013-14 after picking first in the draft three years in a row, bolstering the club’s youth and talent, and making some essential offseason acquisitions in an attempt to improve the team’s grit and defense.
The competition to make this team is heavily intense this year. With a stockpile of young, talented forwards and a healthy abundance of capable defensemen, the Edmonton Oilers have some pretty tough decisions to make before their October 1st season opener against the Winnipeg Jets.
After the Oilers and the Calgary Flames shared a win each during two split-squad games in Alberta a few nights ago, a select few players made the trip to Winnipeg for the team’s next preseason game against the Jets. How fitting. There could be no better location to start the rabid scrutiny of these desperate players than in Winnipeg against the Jets—the team the Oilers’ will welcome to Rexall Place when the real season begins.
But hold on a second. Did the players wearing an Oilers uniform on Tuesday night get the message that they actually have an opportunity to make this team? After watching that monstrosity of a game, I don’t think many of them did.
Linus Omark, Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, Ryan Martindale, Denis Grebeshkov: Where were you guys?
Omark, like most of the others mentioned, was invisible for the majority of the game. The play utterly died on the stick of Omark and the Oilers’ forwards who are supposedly competing for a roster spot. And Grebeshkov was caught with his pants down in the defensive zone for the second game in a row. But that’s not to say the rest of the team was any better.
The Jets were all over the Oilers in the opening two periods. Winnipeg was fast and energetic and they picked apart the Oilers’ defense—breaking into the Oilers’ zone with speed and finding holes through the Oilers’ sloppy positioning. But Oilers’ goalie, Richard Bachman, made some impressive saves to keep the game scoreless through the first half of the game.
The Jets outshot the Oilers 26-16 through the first two periods and went ahead on the scoreboard 2-0 midway through the second frame. The two goals by the Jets magnified the Oilers’ slipshod play.
After some line juggling between the second and third periods, the Oilers locked down defensively and didn’t allow a shot on goal through the first 13 minutes of the third. Nevertheless, with four and a half minutes remaining in the final frame, Anthony Peluso bounced on a loose puck in front of the Oilers’ net and whacked in another Jets’ goal to put the home side up 3-0.
Seconds after the Peluso tally, it was Phillip Larsen to the rescue for the Oilers. Larsen, the defenseman acquired in the Shawn Horcoff trade, collected the puck in the Jets’ zone, swooped around a Jets’ defender and backhanded a shot towards the front of a crowded crease where Mitch Moroz was battling. Moroz deflected the puck past goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to make the game interesting with only a few minutes remaining.
Again, only 23 seconds later, Nail Yakupov passed the puck from behind the Jets’ net to Larsen who had enough time to flip a sneaky shot over the shoulder of Pavelec and put the Oilers within one goal with just over three minutes remaining in the third period.
Moments later, the Oilers pulled Bachman for the extra attacker. The Jets missed on several chances to score on the empty net and the Oilers were turned aside by some spectacular sprawling saves by Pavelec who helped his team hold on for a 3-2 win over the Oilers.
The score of the game itself doesn’t mean much because, well… it’s preseason and the Oilers didn’t dress most of their star players. And despite the lackluster effort by the aforementioned players, there were some Oilers players who did stand out for positive reasons.
Sam Gagner was all over the ice and already looks to be in midseason form. He was very close to opening the scoring on a shorthanded break with Ryan Jones, but Gagner’s tricky backhand shot barely grazed Pavelec’s pad and trickled wide. Yakupov also had some great opportunities to score throughout the game. His best chance was made possible by a nifty behind-the-back pass from Gagner. Tyler Pitlick played a smart, simple game. He was very involved in the play on Tuesday. He took hits to make plays and battled hard for the puck all night. And the standout defenseman for the Oilers on Tuesday (there weren’t many) was Oscar Klefbom. Klefbom, the young Swede defenseman, was rarely out of position and made sure to take the body at every opportunity.
The Oilers’ next game is tonight against the Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver.