Where: Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta
When: 9:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, TVA (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: The Copper and Blue
Let's accept a fact right now, that it's early and very early for that matter. The NHL season only started on October 8th; we're less than two weeks into the season. Some teams have had heavy schedules early (the Calgary Flames have already played seven games this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will face them tomorrow) while others have had a light schedule in general (we noted in Saturday's preview that the Vancouver Canucks had only played three games this season prior to the Saturday match-up). The Lightning have played five, going 3-1-1 and putting them 11th in the general NHL standings (they're third in the Atlantic Division behind the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators).
In northern Alberta, early be damned, sirens are going off. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! The Edmonton Oilers have played five games this season and are winless, going 0-4-1 for the worst start in franchise history. The team has been outscored 25-11 in those five games. Their last loss was Friday, being shut out by the Canucks... And our old friend Teddy Purcell is among team leaders in points with 3 (1 goal, 2 assists).
It's early, but that 0-4-1 record puts the Oilers at the very bottom of the NHL, last place. Even the Buffalo Sabres, who have been outscored 22-8 in the six games they've played this season, have a win to their name. This furthers the panic and fierce urgency of the now for the Oilers to get their act together and put one in the win column. Or at least it should.
There's undoubtedly frustration among the players in the Oilers dressing room regarding play and results, I don't doubt it. What I do doubt, what I do ponder, is if those higher up in the Oilers organization have the notion that things need to change - the attitude, the culture - throughout the franchise in order to regain control of a derelict ship that's been adrift at sea since 2006. The fact the Oilers seem to do the same thing over and over again - finish low in the NHL and gain a draft lottery pick, sign free agents, change the head coach when a scapegoat is needed and then do it all over again - has certainly gotten to the fans to one degree or another, who are throwing jerseys on the ice out of frustration.
It's early, though. One little change could restart the season in a moment for Edmonton. Want proof, Oilers fans, look at what the Philadelphia Flyers did last season: the worst start in franchise history and they still made the playoffs. It can happen.
In a way, though, I feel like I'm giving false hope. I don't have confidence in Kevin Lowe or Craig MacTavish, and Lowe is the guy who has stocked the franchise in so many ways while things haven't improved much despite a roster inundated with high draft picks (Taylor Hall, Ryan NNugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Jordan Eberle among them) and high expectations.
The road trip ends for the Lightning at the end of the week. They have two back-to-back sets scheduled before then, starting tonight in Edmonton (the only game on the NHL docket), with the flip-side game being played in Calgary. They'll venture east to Winnipeg on Friday and then to Minnesota to take on the Wild Saturday. They'll be doing these four games without Victor Hedman (who is tied for the team lead in points with 7). They'll also be doing these games (how many isn't absolutely clear) with Jonathan Drouin in the lineup. When that happens, when Drouin cracks the lineup, it will be his long-expected NHL debut. Drouin doesn't serve on the blue line, though. Luke Witkowski, who was also called up from the Syracuse Crunch yesterday, is. It'll be his NHL debut as well when he cracks the lineup.
The Lightning power play took a hit against the Canucks on Saturday (kudos to Vancouver's penalty kill) but the club is still ranked 4th in the NHL with a power play efficiency of just under 30%. While that's pretty darn impressive, the numbers will dissipate as the season progresses (...or so it should). The Lightning penalty kill is also an effective 89.5%, good for sixth overall in the NHL. Edmonton, on the other hand, is 14th in the league at the moment on the power play with a 20% efficiency and the penalty kill unit... leaves something to be desired. They're 25th overall in the league, killing off just over 73% of opponents power plays. To summarize, if the Oilers play sloppy and go to the penalty kill, the likelihood is that this is over.
Then again, if the Lightning are arrogant and cocky, the Oilers have all the opportunity in the world. This is a trap game - or the potential to be one. The thing working against that notion is that it's early (there's that word again). The Lightning are still getting in gear and a mental lapse is less likely now.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter