Monday, October 20, 2014

Weekend wrap: When a bad start isn't just a bad start

A look back at the biggest games and emerging story lines of the NHL weekend.

Theme of the Week: When a Slow Start Isn’t Just a Slow Start

Last week we talked about the value of patience, and of not overreacting to an especially hot or cold streak over the season’s first few games. But sometimes a short streak isn’t just a short streak, but the continuation of a long-term pattern. And when that’s the case, it gets a lot tougher to appeal to a fan base’s sense of patience.

No team is riding a more embarrassing long-term stretch than the Edmonton Oilers, who’ve been among the worst teams in the league ever since their surprise run to the Stanley Cup final in 2006. That included three straight years in which the Oilers picked first overall at the draft, which is the sort of injection of surefire young talent that’s supposed to make an eventual run of success all but inevitable. It hasn’t happened yet in Edmonton, and it’s starting to look like it never will.

Last year, the Oilers went into the season with a new coach and plenty of optimism, then saw any hopes of so much as sniffing the playoffs smashed by the end of October thanks to a horrific start marked by laughably bad goaltending and defense. This year, somehow, they’ve been even worse. The goaltending and defense are awful once again, they’re sitting in last place overall, and the early reviews have been withering.

There are a handful of positive signs, including a respectable effort in their most recent loss, a 2-0 decision to Vancouver on Friday night, and a rock-bottom PDO that suggests they can’t possibly be as bad as the scoreboard says they are. But given recent history, it’s hard to tell an Oilers fan to stay optimistic. Somehow, they may be just weeks away from once again turning their attention to organizing draft lottery parties.

To a lesser extent, we’ve seen a similar reaction in Toronto. The Leafs haven’t been awful they’re 2-3-1 and have shown some improvement as a puck possession team after emphasizing that all summer — but they’ve already had a pair of home games interrupted by fans tossing jerseys on the ice. That sort of display seems vaguely ridiculous just six games into a season, and it is. But when you’ve only won three playoff games in a decade, it’s hard to act surprised when your fans jump the gun.

We’d probably see the same sort of reaction in Winnipeg, except they’re still in the final stages of their honeymoon period, and in Florida, except nobody’s at the games. And then there’s the Avalanche, who’ve recently seen long stretches of losing interrupted by the occasional Cinderella season inevitably followed by more losing. Their fans may not know what to think right now, but that picture is clearing up by the game. More on them in a minute.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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