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Young but not restless, Edmonton Oilers regroup after two straight losses


Albert Einstein was 26 when he published a paper titled Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?

We know it better as the famous equation E=mc².

Napoleon Bonaparte was 26 when he conquered Italy.

Steve Wozniak was that age when he co-founded Apple Computers.

So, yeah, 26 is a good age to start leaving your mark on the world.

That just happens to be the average age of the Edmonton Oilers as the 2017-18 season gets underway, making them the fifth youngest team in NHL, a team with the weight of great expectations on its shoulders, a team that failed to meet those expectations on Saturday in Vancouver (3-2 loss) and two nights later at home against Winnipeg (5-2 loss).

After a day off, Oilers coach Todd McLellan had his young players in the video room on Wednesday, then put them through a hard, sweaty 45-minute practice on the ice.

The drills ranged from backchecking, to one-on-one play, to some heavy work along the boards.

“Feels pretty tough right now, the legs are tired,” defenceman Oscar Klefbom said after the on-ice session. “But this is what we need right now.”

‘We’ll be better for it’

Asked if he was surprised the team needed such a session a week in, McLellan said no.

“We have a young group that’s learning how to do it, day in and day out,” he said after practice. “Sometimes the willingness to do it gets away on you a little bit. So our young group had to be reminded and we’ll be better for it.”

Any talk with his players that had happened behind closed doors will remain there.

“They took their lumps in the video session,” McLellan said. “We got a lot out of practice as well. But it’s what we do with it. Teams have to be reminded, especially early in the year, that it’s tough to win.”

The Oilers aren’t alone in their early-season funk. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens (1-3 with two points) or the Jets themselves (1-2 with two points).

The season is a week old, but for fans it’s never too soon to begin the airing of grievances or the second-guessing about who plays where and when and with whom.

A quick look back at the last two games shows where some of the problems lie.

On Saturday, the Canucks scored their first goal when Bo Horvat beat defenceman Matt Benning to the outside.

‘There’s a lot of games left’

Benning is 23, with a grand total of 65 NHL games under his belt. He’s playing second pair with Kris Russell every night and averaging about 17 minutes. He’s carrying a heavier load due to the injury last spring to Andrej Sekera, who was signed as a free agent in July 2015 and averaged 21:28 of ice time last season. There is no timeline yet for Sekera’s return.

The second Canucks goal Saturday came on a bad bounce, when a pass behind the net deflected off Russell’s skate and went straight to Brandon Sutter in the slot.

Horvat scored again 32 seconds into the second period when Klefbom momentarily lost the puck in his skates. The Canucks new top-line centred scooped the loose puck and swept it between the post and goalie Cam Talbot’s pad.

On Monday, all three of the Oilers defence pairs were on the ice for goals against.

The first Jets goal came off a bad bounce exacerbated by poor defensive coverage. The second came when the Oilers covered everyone in their zone except the guy with the puck. The fourth was the result a total defensive breakdown, which McLellan characterized Wednesday as players being “slow to the puck” combined with “missed assignments.”

The point is made. Mistakes cost goals. Losses cost points in the standings, which leads to frustration for everyone from the coaches to the players to the fans.

Let’s leave the last word to Klefbom, who is all of 24 and growing nicely into his role as a No. 1 defenceman who can provide some offense from the back end.

“There’s no need to push the panic button right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of games left. We’ve got to stick together and play better.”

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