EDMONTON — Saturday night proved to be a wakeup call for the Edmonton Oilers. They still have a long way to go to compete with the League's elite.
A day after losing 6-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, Oilers coach Dallas Eakins questioned his team's compete level.
"(Saturday) night's game was an incredible thing, and part of the message that I said to the players is that they are greatly confusing me," Eakins said. "I can show them clips where we have no compete level at all, and then showed them clips where their compete level is way more than I even expect. And it's out of the same people.
"It would be like showing you a clip of me on the ice doing nothing, then three minutes later, I can show a clip of me on the ice being Superman. They're confusing me. I see they want to do it and then they're falling back."
The Oilers were dominated by the Canucks on Saturday, outshot 44-23 in the loss. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk didn't make it out of the second period, giving up five goals on 31 shots. Jason LaBarbera will get the start Monday against the New Jersey Devils.
"Maybe it's the new habits," Eakins said. "Maybe it's 'OK, we're trying' and they revert back. But as bad as it was, there was a little bit of good. It's just that those flashes of good were too few and far between. So I'm a little confused by the group, but that's part of the process here of forming new habits."
The Oilers started Saturday's game well, scoring the opening goal, but were then overrun by the Canucks. Dubnyk struggled, unable to provide the Oilers with timely saves. He's yet to impress this year as the Oilers undisputed starter, struggling in the first two games of the season.
"Our goalie made some saves, but he was hung out to dry, too," Eakins said. "You need everybody. The problem with that goaltending position is that you're totally exposed.
"It's easy to point fingers at the goalie, because it's such a vulnerable position. You're the last line of defense. But you do need saves, you need better defense, you need everything. It all works together. It's like dominos falling a lot of times."
The Oilers went into their first two games of the year without their top centers in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner.
Taylor Hall was moved from left wing to the middle in an effort to fill the void. However, Hall had a tough night against the Canucks, turning the puck over and finishing with a minus-four rating. He's minus-five through the first two games of the year.
Against the Devils, Hall will move back to the wing, playing on a line with Jordan Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins, who will make his season debut, returning from shoulder surgery.
"I was minus-five in two games, so probably not the greatest," Hall said, asked about his performance in the middle. "I thought I did some things well, my face-offs were pretty good. I feel that you can be on for goals that you don't have anything to do with, but at the end of the day, I really didn't get the job done as well as I wanted to."
While it's too early to press the panic button, the Oilers recognize they have a lot of work to do in order to snap a seven-year playoff drought.
Eakins has come in as the team's fifth coach in six years, looking to change the culture of the club. He recognizes, change is a work in progress and feels the team doesn't yet have a firm handle at where the compete level needs to be.
"You have to get detailed with it," Eakins said. "You have to show instances of what we expect in compete level to be.
"I think they're trying to find their way, where they're going to do it a new way and then they fall back to an old way. But that's OK. I didn't think we were going to come in here and flip the switch and I would say 'Do this' and they would all turn into robots. There is a muscle-memory to this, there is a process and I love a good fight. I'm steadfast that I'm not going away soon and I'll keep hammering on it until they get it."