Oilers hockey set to return with raised expectations but without fans
EDMONTON -- Edmonton Oilers hockey is set to return Wednesday night in what will be a season like no other.
There will be no fans in attendance when the team hosts the Vancouver Canucks tonight to start a season that promises to be a race to the finish.
"We'd like to do it but only when we get the right signals from the health authorities in Alberta and across the country," said Bob Nicholson, the CEO of the Oilers Entertainment Group.
"We want everyone to be safe but I would love nothing more than have this building packed and roaring again like we have in the past."
The National Hockey League will play a compressed 56-game regular season in four months.
The Oilers also have some new division rivals with the league moving to an all-Canadian division due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. The team will face its Alberta rival the Calgary Flames 10 times this year.
The team will also have tributes to two late team legends before tonight's game as both Joey Moss and former coach John Muckler will be honoured.
Led by premier forwards Draisaitl and captain Connor McDavid, as well as off-season depth additions up front, goal scoring shouldn't be a problem for the Oilers this season as they take on the six other Canadian franchises in the one-time-only North Division.
The Oilers' play without the puck is the issue. Their goals-against five-on-five ranked 26th in the league last season.
“I don't think we have a problem scoring goals,” McDavid said. “It's keeping the puck out of our own net.”
The Oilers have finished outside the post-season 12 of the last 14 years. A second-round appearance in 2017 and last summer's qualifying round is the extent of their playoff success in that span.
Draisaitl, 25, and McDavid, 24, are entering the prime of their careers.
For the hockey world to get an extended look at them in the NHL playoffs, more is required from the Oilers' supporting cast.
“This is my sixth season here and we haven't done a whole lot of winning,” Oilers forward Zack Kassian observed.
“We've had some success. We've had some bright spots, we've had some good stretches, but at the end of the day we've had some failure and some upsetting moments.
“I feel like we made a lot of good strides before the pandemic hit. We just have to get back on that horse and continue to get better.”
With files from the Canadian Press