After starting the season with an opening night thumping of the (just as inept) Calgary Flames, and then following it up with a 2-0 victory over Florida, the Oilers were the talk of the league. People were asking if the team was for real and fans were having visions of last year's Colorado Avalanche dancing in their heads.
Then reality set in.
Since that 2-0 start, the Oilers have only won three of their previous 18 games, albeit twice against the champion Blackhawks. The team is a collective -30 in the goals for/against department, including a terrible -16 in the first period alone.
The Penalty Kill is easily the worst display of defending I have ever seen, and that includes my old Peewee hockey team. Through the first 20 games, the Oilers' PK units have allowed 26 goals, over a goal a game. Jordan Eberle has scored two beautiful shorthanded goals this year, but that is the lone bright spot for a squad that currently sits at 67.9% efficiency.
The Power Play is better, but barely. In 78 opportunities this year, it has only been able to convert 11 times. Good for 14.1% and 25th in the league. The PP has also allowed two shorthanded goals against, bringing its plus/minus to only +9. The Vancouver Canucks, on the other hand, are at +19.
The Colorado Avalanche, this team is not.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. The big three of Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall and Magnus Pajaarvi have shown the flashes of brilliance that are keeping Oil Country alive with hope. Eberle has clearly been the best of the three with 12 points through the first 20 games, including quite possibly the goal of the year on opening night.
After having seen how Eberle performs against the bigger bodies of the NHL, I have to say that he has a little bit of Crosby in him. Eberle and Crosby are both smaller players with incredible intelligence and puck handling skills, but the comparisons do not end there. Crosby has shown that he is dominant when it comes to using body position to win puck battles in the corners and along the boards below the goal line, and the same is true of Eberle. When Eberle is engaged in a battle with a defenseman along the boards, nine times out of ten he is winning that battle.
Those battles are crucial to maintaining control in the offensive zone, especially on the Power Play, and as Eberle continues to mature and learn how to better use his linemates, this will lead to more chances in the offensive zone and more goals.
If Jordan Eberle has a bit of Sidney Crosby in him, then Taylor Hall has a bit of Alexander Ovechkin. Both players have blinding speed, dazzling moves and a lightning quick release. In addition, they both like to carry the puck across the blue line, then make a speedy cut into the middle before using that quick release to get a quality shot on net.
Right now Hall is trying to do too much on his own and is still learning how to properly use his linemates to create enough space for himself, but he will figure that out sooner rather than later, and when he does, watch out.
As for Magnus Pajaarvi, well, he's struggling right now. Most thought that he would be the most NHL ready of the three, and his hat trick during the preseason seemed to prove them right at the time. But now there are some who think he needs to be sent to Oklahoma for a while and that Linus Omark deserves his spot.
If Taylor Hall is holding on to the puck too much right now, then MPS is holding on to it too little. Pajaarvi is big, strong and fast and when he wants to take the puck to the net, there's not much anyone can do to stop him. It just seems like he is playing timidly right now, but he was the best Oiler on the ice against Phoenix on Tuesday night, so he may be turning the corner.
Right now, it can still be painful to watch the Oilers on most nights, but the difference between last season and this season is that if you changed the channel last year, you wouldn't miss anything.
If you look away for a split second this year, you may just miss something spectacular.