TULSA, Okla. —The Tulsa Oilers began their 27th season as a professional hockey with a pair of games against the Idaho Steelheads. The Oilers battled the Steelheads to a 2-1 win on Saturday night and suffered a 5-4 shootout loss to them on Sunday afternoon.
Though it was a yin/yang sort of opening weekend for the club, Oilers head coach Rob Murray has few complaints moving forward into the second week of the season.
“It’s a good weekend, three out of four points,” Murray said. “I like it. There were a lot of good things. We could have been more potent offensively. We did not generate all that much offense, but we did have a couple of good looks.
“But overall taking three out of a possible four points as I said is a good start, and we’ll move on from there.”
The two games did reveal a developing flaw in the area of special teams. The Oilers are up to the task for the most part on the penalty kill, but they somewhat lack on the power play. Tulsa was 0-for-6 on the man advantage before defenseman Kyle Rhodes dented the twine in the second game this weekend for the Oilers first power-play marker of the season.
The overtime/shootout solution which presented itself in game two of the weekend has its problems that Murray is struggling with.
“I’m not sure how we missed a couple of opportunities in overtime, but (Evan) Fitzpatrick did a great job.” he said, “Their chances were better than ours in overtime, and I think (Fitzpatrick) made some spectacular saves.
“We can’t score in the shootout, you know, same old same old. I mean, we’re not even close, and I don’t know what to do about it. It goes back to your gut feeling about who can score, and Dylan Bredo was the best in practice, so he led off, but in the past, I’ve always had a guy who’s had that ‘special move,’ who was just money, and you knew were going to score. We don’t seem to have that dynamic, or that dynamic guy that we can bank on to score in the shootouts.”
Offensively, the Oilers were tentative, but at the same time productive. Team captain Adam Pleskach replicated a goal scored last season from a nearly impossible angle to score the Oilers first goal of the season, and Pleskach fed rookie Jared Thomas for the first goal of his professional career in the opener as well. Sunday afternoon, Peter Sivak punched in two goals, with Rhodes getting the third and Tesink the fourth. They do not lack on offense, but they aren’t up to full speed either.
Defensively, the Oilers are solid, but in two games the one thing that the blueliners aren’t doing very well is clearing the puck from in front of the net. The goalies are working harder, and while that didn’t seem to be a problem for Oilers primary goalie Devin Williams on Saturday night, it added to the anxiety for backup rookie goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick, who despite the extra work stood on his head and helped push the Sunday game into overtime and eventually the shootout.
In the end, it was a good weekend to open the season. Some items need addressing, but overall the Oilers are off and running on a high note.
Next up for the Oilers is another Sunday matinee, this time featuring the Allen Americans on October 21. Allen had a near schizophrenic opening weekend, suffering a crushing 5-1 loss to the Kansas City Mavericks on Friday night and handing the Wichita Thunder a 4-0 shutout on Saturday night.