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Not only were they headed on the road desperately needing to get wins to make up for a 1-3 start to their season, it is also now the Edmonton Oilers turn to go on the road and get a win against COVID.
So far the NHL teams aren’t doing so well versus the coronavirus now that they’re playing outside the Stanley Cup playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton.
Seven games have been postponed and/or rescheduled involving the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes and opponents. And Wednesday the actions of Alex Ovechkin and three other players on the Washington Capitals brought on a fine of $100,000 for player violations during a four-game road trip to open their season. The players will miss a minimum of four games each.
The Oilers haven’t been on a plane together since early March and starting off in Southern Ontario where Connor McDavid and so many other Oilers have families or played on teams in the OHL is a test.
The Canadian division is providing unprecedented game-in-and-game-out interest and competition so far and has yet to have a game rescheduled or players punished for violations of the protocol. But the league that didn’t have a single positive test in the Toronto and Edmonton environments, quite clearly, isn’t faring well with the portable bubbles. If it gets much worse you have to wonder if the league will be able to complete the season as planned.
The teams are each playing a 56-game schedules with road trips involving mostly two-game visits to other cities such as Edmonton’s pair of games in Toronto and Winnipeg and the three-game series that Montreal is currently playing in Vancouver.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and the league executives can worry about the other 30 teams but the Oilers can only concern themselves with the Oilers.
Dr. Dhiren Naidu, the Oilers team doctor who headed the entire Hub City testing and medical set-up for the 81 games in Edmonton, is on the road trip with the team.
“The Oilers are just starting to travel and with travel we need to be very cautious,” said Dr. Naidu.
“Protocols developed by our medical staff for planes, busses and hotels have been diligently followed and implemented by T.D Forss and Kaite Doyle,” he said of the head athletic therapist and manager of team services.
“So I’d say we’re cautiously optimistic so far.
“The continued positive cases found in our league and the NBA and NFL are an important reminder how this virus can spread. But I can tell you that I believe our players and staff have bought in,” said Dr. Naidu.
Having to begin the process in Southern Ontario is like diving into the deep end of the pool for the Oilers.
Connor McDavid is from Richmond Hill, Darnell Nurse from Hamilton, Zack Kassian from Windsor, Devin Shore from Ajax and Slater Koekkoek from Winchester.
“I love coming to play in Toronto because it’s usually a bit of a homecoming to see friends and family, but obviously we can’t do that right now,” said McDavid.
“My brother is three minutes away and I can’t see him.
“But we’re here to play hockey. We’re here to do a job. So that’s the way it is,” added McDavid.
“It’s definitely a lot different but it’s different for everybody right now. You got these big masks on that are tough to breath through and everything but we’re just super fortunate to be able to play and have this season going and give people something to watch and to cheer for. It’s definitely different but we have to be grateful for the opportunity we have here,” said first-year Oiler Tyson Barrie.
“It would have been nice to go for a nice dinner and get together with every one but it’s not in the cards this year but we’ll get together in the future I’m sure,” said Barrie, the new Oiler of getting together for a visit with his former Toronto Maple Leaf teammates.
While there’s plenty of time, with 27 road games to go, to go stir-crazy with being alone in hotel rooms and no activities beyond practices and games, head coach Dave Tippett thinks this first trip is probably a good thing.
“It’s certainly different. But the reality is that the whole team eats dinner together at the hotel. It’s not in a restaurant but we’re eating the meals together. There’s a lot of time around each other and I just think the change of atmosphere is going to be good for each other.
“I think it’s going to be good for our group. We haven’t played a road game since last March.”
Whatever, fixing the power play, improving the play defensively and five on five, convincing the players to bring up their compete level and win the little battles and races to the puck that continues to be the difference between winning and losing with these Oilers, isn’t all Tippett has to worry about this year.
Beating COVID is it’s own battle.
The Dallas Stars play their first game Friday. They’ll now have to play their 56 games in 109 days.
With another outbreak (six players and two staff tested positive at the same time) that might create a penalty box from which there is no escape.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021