Edmonton Oilers balancing great expectations with not-so-great start

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It’s not nearly the way the Edmonton Oilers would have liked to begin the season.

But having half the city up in arms after getting off to a shaky start that has fallen well short of expectations isn’t the worst situation to be in.

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Just ask Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

As the longest-serving member of the dressing room, the 13-year NHL veteran has seen his share of uninspired starts. And throughout the Decade of Darkness early on in his career, they didn’t always draw the same reaction as today.

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“I’ve been here a long time and been on the other side of it, where you go 1-3 and it’s almost kind of expected,” Nugent-Hopkins recalled. “So, it’s definitely a lot more fun for me and for everybody in here to be on the other side of things where there are expectations. And there’s a reason for that.

“We’ve been working over the past few years to put ourselves in this position and you can’t take anything for granted. It’s a hard league. You look every year, there are new teams jumping into playoff spots and it’s a tough league with a ton of parity and that’s the beautiful thing about this game.”

But the thing about those hard-earned expectations is it could turn downright ugly if the Oilers can’t get their game turned right around and back on the winning track. And quick.

“We can’t take anything for granted,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go starting (now).”

If not, don’t worry. The fans will be there to remind them in the stands, in the streets and all over social media.

“We don’t give in too much to it. I mean, obviously you’re going to hear things, but you hear things all the time anyway,” Nugent-Hopkins said. “I think the longer you’re around this league and around this game, the more you can tune it out.

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“There’s always going to be talk about different things. So, there’s internal pressure, internal expectations not just to be a good team, but to play the right way and be a hard-working team and be there for each other. So, I think that’s the most important thing and the other stuff isn’t too hard to tune out.”

It hasn’t just been the early losses, but some big blowout losses early on that has added fuel to the fire of a fan base that couldn’t help but anticipating the same domination on the other side of the scoreboard from a team led by the two top offensive players in the league, according to last year’s points race.

But neither Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl are expected to right the ship alone.

“It’s something that we talk about a lot, is just being connected and I think we’re going to do a better job of that,” said Nugent-Hopkins, who, himself, is coming off career highs of 37 goals and 67 assists to crack the 100-point plateau for the first time. “I don’t think there’s a whole lot that needs to change.

“I think the little parts of our game, it comes down to some mistakes here and there that have been biting us lately and that’s something that I think as we get going here we’ll start to fix. At the same time, you don’t want to let too many slip away and you have to play ketchup. We know that and we expect a better effort.”

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But in all his time in Edmonton, Nugent-Hopkins hasn’t seen his team picked as highly to go all the way as this year.

“I don’t think so, definitely not the outside expectations, the outside pressures,” he said. “We came in here weeks before training camp and we talked amongst the group about what to expect of each other and of ourselves.

“So, it’s internal expectations and internal pressure, but no panic, no rush. It’s a long season, you’ve got to go through the paces and build our game. It’s not the wins-losses that we wanted to start out with but it’s a long season and we’re going to continue to get better.”

E-mail: [email protected]

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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