Led by the powerful one-two punch of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Edmonton Oilers were a popular preseason pick to make a strong run at winning a Western Conference title and the team’s first Stanley Cup since 1990.
But heading into Saturday night’s game with visiting Winnipeg, Edmonton already finds itself eight points behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in the Pacific Division thanks to a 1-3-0 start. The Oilers are just one point above last-place San Jose.
Granted, the season is still less than two weeks old. But for a team that had high ambitions, the slow start, which included an ugly and lethargic 4-1 loss at rebuilding Philadelphia Thursday, had several Oilers grumpy afterward.
“(Effing) not good enough, excuse my language,” Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft said. “I thought our game lacked urgency. I didn’t see second and third efforts in all areas of the game, up and down the lineup.”
“It’s unacceptable and we need to do batter,” forward Warren Foegele added. “We simply just got out-worked. They wanted it more than us, and you can’t win a game if you don’t want it.”
“It’s hard to win in this league. Really hard,” said McDavid, who has two goals and four assists. “It takes everybody and it takes everything you’ve got. So we’ve got to get back to that.”
The Oilers now begin a stretch that sees them play five of their next six games at home to try and right the ship.
“Lucky for us it’s only four games,” McDavid said. “But having said that, it’s been four games. It’s time to put our best foot forward and start playing good games.”
Winnipeg, which lost to Vegas in five games of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs last season, is also to a slow start, winning just one of its first four games and residing in last place in the Central Division with two points.
The Los Angeles Kings and the Golden Knights swept the Jets during a mini two-game homestand this week, getting outscored 10-4 in the process.
Winnipeg rallied to tie the Golden Knights, 3-3, midway through the third period Thursday on Alex Iafallo’s second goal of the game. But Vegas took advantage of a Iafallo slashing penalty on Jonathan Marchessault to take a 4-3 lead on a power-play goal by Jack Eichel with 4:36 remaining. Nic Roy added an empty-netter to seal the win.
Jets coach Rick Bowness said the Jets have struggled getting the puck out of their own zone. Winnipeg has allowed at least four goals in each game this season and five in three of them. The Jets are minus-six in goal differential.
“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot,” Bowness said. “It’s a mental thing. No question. You want to get the puck out of your zone, you make high percentage plays and you make hard plays. We’re making poor percentage plays, and we’re making soft plays. It’s a bad combination.
“It’s everyone. Soft plays at the wrong time. We’re playing the Stanley Cup champions. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re aggressive and we’re making soft plays.”
One bright spot has been the play of Iafallo, who has three goals in four games.
“He was outstanding,” Bowness said. “He’s been very consistent for us, every shift, every game. He’s a hockey player. He comes to the rink, he’s ready to work every day.”