At this pace it’s going to be difficult for fans not to raise their expectations once the real season starts. The Oilers improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a win over the Canucks, and for the second straight game one of the young guns led the way.
Three days after Magnus Paajarvi’s four point night, Jordan Eberle made a statement with two goals and an assist, and I get the feeling Eberle will start the season on a line with Shawn Horcoff and Taylor Hall. Outside of Eberle’ s heroics, most fans had to be focusing on Nikolai Khabibulin.
Khabibulin played his first game in ten months, and outside of a soft goal by Ryan Kesler he looked solid. His best save came early in the 2nd frame when he went cross-crease to stop Mikael Samuelsson. Khabibulin claims he is healthy, and for one game he looked good. If he can stay healthy the Oilers might have a shot at the playoffs, but that is a big might.
It is way too early to tell if this team is good enough to actually make the playoffs, but they will be entertaining.
FIRST PERIOD NOTES
- Linus Omark dances around two guys but can’t bury it. I like Omark’s skill level, but he is in tough to make this team.
- Thirty seconds later Eberle takes a pass from Ryan Whitney and rips one short-side under the bar and the Oilers lead 1-0. Eberle might be the best pure shooter on the Oilers right now.
- Johan Motin can’t catch or make a pass tonight. He is a long ways down the depth chart.
- Easy gift goal for Dustin Penner as he taps one in. Second straight PP goal. It will be interesting to see who Tom Renney uses on the PP this year.
- Eberle with a great rush up the ice, undresses Keith Ballard and Horcoff burys the rebound. Eberle looks much quicker this year.
- Shots were 13-4 twelve minutes in for the Oilers.
- Eberle caps off a great first period with another goal, when he finishes off a two-on-one with Horcoff. Eberle and Horcoff have some chemisty.
- Teemu Hartikainen has played much better. He’s had two solid hits, and he looks much quicker tonight. He is destined for OKC, but he played the gritty style that the Oilers expected he could.
- Theo Peckham turns down Darcy Hordichuk. Peckham wasn’t very good in Vancouver, but started out better tonight.
I really think the top three lines to start the season will be Hall/Horcoff/Eberle, Paajarvi/Gagner/Hemsky and Penner/Cogliano/Brule.
SECOND PERIOD NOTES
- Chris Vande Velde will play for the Oilers in the future. He has great hockey sense, and scored for the second straight game. He needs to improve in the faceoff circle.
- Cory Schneider has been below average for the Canucks. The Canucks want to play him in at least 20 games, but he’ll need to be much better than he has been so far.
- Great scrap between Hordichuk and Zack Stortini. Hordichuk landed a big right early, but Stortini fought back and landed a great uppercut late in the fight. Both guys were chucking fast and hard.
- On the ensuing faceoff Renney sends Vandermeer out late to line up as a winger against Aaron Volpatti, but the referee, Brad Meier, sends Vandermeer back to the bench. I like that Renney wants his team to play tough.
- Jeff Petry has played another solid game. He makes smart plays in every zone on the ice. He is making a case for himself, but he needs some AHL seasoning. Petry moves the puck very well, and the Oilers don’t have other young guys who can move the puck like he does.
- The Canucks look awful tonight. The Oilers have played well, but the Canucks look disinterested and in preseason form.
- Whitney takes a puck in the face and goes straight to the dressing room. (Whitney returned in the third for a bit, but then left for good. He said after the game he is fine).
The Oilers got a little sloppy late in the second period, but they have been the better team by a country mile tonight. The more I watch Petry, the more I like him. He’ll get another preseason game or two, and then he’ll go down to the AHL. But he will be the first call up when a D-man inevitably gets hurt, and if he plays as well then as he has so far he could be here longterm. The Oilers have no other D-men in the system like him. Taylor Chorney doesn’t move the puck as well, nor does Alex Plante.
Most Oiler fans look at Chicago and hope the Oilers can emulate their success, by going with a youth movement. Right now the big difference is the Oilers don’t have any like Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook. Petry is best candidate at this point. I’m not saying he will ever be as good as Keith or Seabrook, but right now he is best candidate they have for a future puck-moving D-man.
THIRD PERIOD NOTES
- The Oilers waste no time jumping all over the Canucks. Horcoff scores his second of the night, as he whacks home a rebound. The Oilers have scored some highlight reel goals tonight, but they’ve also scored some greasy-work-hard type goals.
- Omark finally gets rewarded as he dances around a few Canucks and undresses Schneider. Penner had a huge smile on his face when he congratulates the young Swede. After the game Penner talked about the goal, "That was fun to watch. I think I’d seen it on Youtube before, but it was nice to watch it live. His natural skill is incredible."
- Motin continues to struggle. He has looked nervous all night long. I don’t see him being an Oiler at any point, there are too many better D-men in the system now.
- Peckham started strong, but after Hordichuk challenged him he has tried to do too much. The Oilers have invested a lot in him, but right now Shawn Belle and Richard Petiot have had better camps. That doesn’t mean he still won’t make the roster, but he will need to play much better the next time he plays.
- Khabibulin continues to look sharp. His positioning has been very good. He has been square to the shooters, and his rebound control has been very good considering he hasn’t played a game since last November.
- Penner gets another easy tap in goal. The key play was Omark’s pass to Brule. Omark is exceptional in the offensive zone, but he likes to freelance a bit in the other zones, and I’m not sure if Renney can overlook that. I think everyone wants to see more from Omark, including Renney, "I’m certainly not going to draw any conclusions just yet. He had one of those games that excites people, and excites coaches too. He played well and I we can afford ourselves the luxury of putting the best team on the ice that we can. If we can back people off and gain respect for being an offensive team that attacks from different points of view and can score in different ways that is good. We have to evaluate under some more NHL type circumstances, and we will."
The Oilers will have an off day tomorrow, but Renney hinted that some cuts will be coming. Don’t expect any surprises with this round of cuts.
The biggest challenge for the Oilers and their fans will be to temper their expectations. The two home games have many fans thinking the rebuild might happen a lot faster. It is possible, but remind yourself that the first three or four preseason games are never an accurate reflection of how the season will go.
Regardless of how the Oilers start the season, it seems obvious that they will be much more entertaining than they have been in years. Shawn Horcoff told me he thinks they have the most talented, skill-wise, nine or ten forwards they’ve ever had during his tenure, but cautioned that you need more than just talent to win.
The Canucks had four NHL D-men dressed tonight and the Oilers still dominated them, so you can’t just erase what they have done so far. In fact, it is clear that this organization has more natural skill than they’ve had in decades, and now it is just a matter of whether that natural skill can turn into proven NHL skill.
Watching how it plays out will be interesting and, most likely, very entertaining. Enjoy the view.