|The Oilers faced some stiff competition this week in Boston, Detroit and Chicago (photo by Getty Images)
Through October and the first week of November it was 'all good' for Edmonton. Sitting atop the Northwest division is where they were and also riding near the top of the overall standings. Riding a ridiculously hot Nikolai Khabibulin
, a smothering, shot blocking defence and timely goals by Ryans named Smyth and Nugent-Hopkins and Edmonton was the early-season story of success. Turned around from two last place seasons and at or near the top in one off season. Hard to believe but still believable until the last few days when a large dose of reality was splattered all over in the final half of Edmonton's 6 game road trip.
This should not come as a surprise. Not when you you look at who Edmonton played in succession. It was like a hockey version of murderers row. 2011 Cup Champ Boston on Thursday, 2008 Cup champ Detroit on Friday and 2010 Cup champ Chicago on Sunday. Who did Edmonton upset at NHL offices to get this kind of schedule? Three games in 4 nights is tough enough but make it all elite, recent champions and the task gets tougher for a group of kids mixed in with veterans who are trying to prove they belong. They proved they are not there..YET.
I can tell you this the Oilers are not being treated like a last place team from the last two years. In fact it's the opposite. With all the attention given to this club and most of it because of the kids there is no chance opposing teams are taking a squad that had 62 points last year lightly. Instead they are intent on showing these kids that they are not what people are making them out to be. It was interesting to see top end talented teams like Boston, Detroit and Chicago trying to squash the Oilers into thinking the great start was just a mirage.
Their experience with three of the four recent champs (they also played Pittsburgh the 2009 Cup winner and beat them on opening night) was a revelation on how many different ways a team can be built to win. Boston is big, bad and bruising and wears you down. Detroit has succeeded on a team concept with the parts adding up to winner and Chicago boasts some back end talent but mostly a front end loaded skill level hard for anyone to match. Three teams, three winners and three different ways to be successful. It was an education in how to build a beast of a hockey team.
There is no doubt concern with Edmonton stringing together 3 straight losses. It's the first time it's occurred all season long. However no need to panic but more importantly time to reflect on what just happened and why. The Oilers will regroup off this latest string of setbacks. It was a little humbling but not insurmountable. In fact this will make them better for knowing and experiencing first hand Cup calibre teams. A lesson learned in losing to gain ground when it comes to knowing what it takes to win the game of hockey's ultimate prize.