What COVID-19 has taught us about long-term care
Building an equal future for women in Atlantic Canada
SaltWire Selects: Stories you don't want to miss
SPECIAL REPORT: Facets of family violence
Have you tried the SaltWire News app?
UPDATED: COVID-19 news and numbers
Continuing coverage: Mass shooting in Nova Scotia
What's working for businesses in 2021?
It wasn’t supposed to matter much.
With no fans in the stands, there wasn’t supposed to be such a thing as home-ice advantage in this coronavirus-pandemic inspired, compact 56-game Canadian division schedule.
But how do you explain the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers?
The Leafs are 7-1-1 on the road and a slightly more modest 9-3-1 at home.
The second-place Oilers are 8-3 on the road and now 6-6 at home with a 4-0 loss to Toronto at home Saturday.
It’s a question that requires an immediate answer as the Oilers are currently on a seven-game home stand featuring a three-game set against Toronto, a one-game visit by the Calgary Flames and another three-game series to follow here against the Ottawa Senators.
When it comes to the Oilers, being terrific on the road and so-so at home is a condition that seems to persist regardless of whether there are people in the pews or not.
Last year, the ‘pause’ came just before the Oilers were to finish up with seven of their final 11 at home. But when the regular season shut down, they were 20-14-3 on the road 17-11-6 at home.
And, of course, when the NHL returned to play in the Hub City bubble in their own building, the Oilers made an extremely disappointing early exit, losing three of four games to Chicago, the lowest Western Conference seed in the qualifying series for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The year before, Edmonton was 18-19-4 at home and 17-19-5 away. And the year previous to that they were 19-18-4 at home and 17-22-2 on the road. That’s a combined 60-54-14 at home and 62-58-10 on the road.
There was always a theory, dating back to the Oilers’ dynasty days that the nature of Edmonton fans was that they’d provide the most marvelous atmosphere in the entire league in the playoffs but almost exactly the opposite during the regular season.
Northlands Coliseum was frequently referred to as The Library, or the Northlands Mausoleum.
The fans, many wearing minor hockey team jackets with ‘coach’ stitched on the sleeve, to me, watched the game much like the people in the press box. There’s no cheering in the press box.
With the modern-day Oilers coming out of the Decade of Darkness, it was like the fans came to the games waiting for the team to earn their support by the way they played in the first period.
On a Saturday night Hockey Night In Canada 8 p.m. start, that would often be different if they’d already loosened their personalities with a few beers.
One of the theories lately has been that with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers came to Rogers Place with the mindset of wanting to put on a show, whereas for the away games, it was much easier for a coach to convince them to involve more checking and more defensively responsible hockey.
But this is 2021 and there are no fans in the stands.
Tyson Barrie, who had been playing brilliantly for the Oilers but Saturday against the Maple Leafs, reverted to the form he displayed when playing for them, saying it’s something the team needs to be more conscious about.
“Obviously, you want to make your home building tough to get points in and playing .500 hockey at home isn’t really sending that message. So, maybe that’s something we focus on now, is playing our best at home. The road successes are probably a little tougher to get and it’s nice we’re having that but maybe we should focus a little more on our home games.”
To me, if the Oilers had to pick one game to focus on, I believe they made the right choice in Thursday’s game to get the two-game series sweep in Vancouver rather than Game 1 of the three-game set with Toronto.
Yes, the focus of the nation was on the game against the Maple Leafs, but keeping the Canucks well behind Edmonton in the battle for playoff positions was way more important than any real or imagined battle for first place against Toronto.
To head coach Dave Tippett, there is no real home or away this year.
“Every game feels like it’s generic, whether it’s at home or on the road, right now with no fans. It’s just the way it’s turned out.
“The one thing you have when you go on the road is a real hard, simple mindset that you have to have all the time. We need to have that whether we’re at home or on the road because it feels the same no matter where you’re at right now.”
Tippett is an interesting study at the moment.
“We’re going about our business of trying to build a team for the long run here,” he said Sunday about not being willing to engage a member of the media in any ‘Boy, the next game really is a big one,’ sort of storyline.
Understandable. But at some stage here, building a team that seldom loses at home has to be part of that.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @byterryjones
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021