EDMONTON — Last year, the Edmonton Oilers began the season by finding ways to win. On Saturday night, they’ll face the Montreal Canadiens in the midst of a troubling penchant for finding ways to lose.
The Oilers (1-1-1) take on the Canadiens after a dropping a 4-3 shootout decision to the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Edmonton gave up the tying goal against the Flames on a deflection by Rene Bourque with just 1.5 seconds remaining in regulation time.
There was also a 4-3 loss to the Flames to open the season Oct. 3, a game that seemed destined for overtime until goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin came out of his crease and misplayed a puck that David Moss chipped into the open net with 49 seconds left in regulation.
The Oilers have looked considerably better on the ice than their record suggests but there are no asterisks in the standings.
“I think we’ve played well enough where we could have more points,” said defenceman Steve Staios. “At the same time, a little bit of adversity will test us early in the season.
“As a group, we can build off that. We’ve got to learn how to play in those tight situations and close games out. The overall effort has been positive. Facing this type of adversity, where we play some good games and don’t get points, might be a bit of a rallying cry for us.”
On Friday, Oilers coach Pat Quinn was fined $10,000 by the NHL for inappropriate public comments made following the shootout loss to Calgary.
Quinn’s was angry about an between Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla that took place 18 seconds into the second. Souray crashed into the boards after being tripped by Iginla, who fell on the Oiler defenceman.
Souray required assistance off the ice and didn’t return. He has been diagnosed with a concussion.
“I don’t understand the players of today,” Quinn said. “If that had happened in the old days he would have got hit over the head with a stick right after. It was a pretty dirty play in my opinion.
“He poked his feet out and then piled on top of him. Somehow they never deal with that … and they won’t let the vigilante stuff happen to deal with it. It’s disappointing.”
Added Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations: “Mr. Quinn’s comments were inappropriate and without justification.”
Edmonton could make a case for having a 3-0 record based on how it has played, if not for Khabibulin’s gaffe, Bourque’s last-second desperation deflection and five goals that have taken odd bounces into their net.
At the same time, the Oilers weren’t nearly as good as the 4-0 record they had to open the 2008-’09 season when they got great goaltending from Mathieu Garon and a lot of bounces. This is the flipside.
“The bounces have not gone our way early on, but there’s a lot of hockey left to be played,” Sam Gagner said. “I’m sure we’re going to get some bounces as well, so we’ve got to continue to stick with the game plan, continue to work hard and get better every day.
“If we do that, we’ll be successful.”
The challenge, as Gagner says, is shaking off Thursday’s loss to Calgary when they face the Canadiens (2-2), who are coming off a 7-1 loss to Vancouver on Wednesday.
“I don’t think you can think about it too much,” he said. “We want to focus on the process in here and the things we’re doing right.
“Obviously, if you want to be a playoff team, you need results as well, but we feel it’s going to come. We’re playing well and we’re doing a lot of things right. If you do things right, things are going to happen for you.”
Three games in, the Oilers are already a banged up bunch as they face the Habs. Staios was back on the ice Friday for an optional skate after sitting out Thursday with a concussion suffered against Dallas on Tuesday. He’s day-to-day.
“We’re playing a lot better than we did last year,” Andrew Cogliano said. “I think we’re a tougher team to play against for the first three games.
“We’ve got four lines that can play and play hard. It’s tough to lose in situations and games like that where you think you’re playing well and should get better results, but it’s early and we feel good about our game.”
The Oilers are still without injured forwards Fernando Pisani (back) and Marc Pouliot (pubitis).