I’m not going to throw a wet blanket on the Edmonton Oilers 4-0 waxing of the Calgary Flames because there’s plenty of wannabe deep-thinkers doing it already, cautioning, "It’s only one game" and "Ooh, don’t get carried away." One game constitutes a "short sample size." Derrrrr, the Oilers aren’t going to go 82-0?
Whatever, Poindexter. I’m with Jason Gregor when he says "Soak it in." Chances for Oilers fans to yell their faces off have been few and far between the past four seasons, so there’s nothing wrong with a fist-pump here and hell ya there after what we saw at Rexall Place. Why not?
With Nikolai Khabibulin ridiculously good in his first game in 11 months, the Oilers speed exposing the slow-footed Flames, Jordan Eberle scoring a highlight reel goal and Steve MacIntyre sending a big-time message with his KO of Raitis Ivanans, it was a bit of a perfect storm.
It’s not something that’ll be repeated more than a handful of times by Tom Renney’s outfit this season — only elite teams have all the pieces and put them together like this with any consistency — but what we saw was more dimensions to the Oilers than we have in a long, long time.
We saw possibilities.
WAYS TO WIN
No, this was not a flawless effort. Far from it. Allow 37 shots against a team with more offensive skill than the Flames (just about everybody else in the NHL) and you’ll get a different result most nights. There were too many defensive lapses, even for opening night.
That said, the Oilers showed us some promise in areas that have been woefully wanting in recent seasons.
— Khabibulin’s back might yet become a factor, but rust from his layoff obviously isn’t. His bad contract and all the "KhabbyBoozin" distractions aside, the man can stop pucks.
It doesn’t look like he’ll need 10 or 15 games to re-find his game, and that’ll be critical in getting off to a decent start. Getting out of the gate didn’t do a damn thing for this team last season, but this is a different group. A little success early won’t hurt.
— The Oilers can attack and pressure the puck with more overall speed than they’ve had in a very long time. And there’s some hands attached to that speed. This isn’t a pack of Todd Marchant clones. Eberle’s goal? Ridiculous. Taylor Hall had his chances. He didn’t look the least bit overwhelmed. Some nights he will, as will Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi, but, mercy, they bring some speed and dangle-factor.
— The lines with change as they always do, but it looks to me like the addition of Eberle, Hall and Paajarvi provide Renney some options in his top nine. And who is this No. 10? Who’s that kid? I see some depth.
— The Oilers will be tough enough to protect the kids and dictate how the game is played. MacIntyre’s KO of Ivanans was a jaw-dropping bit of face-breaking, but it happens, as MacIntyre will tell you. What impressed me most was the Oilers willingness to engage and throw down as a team. They didn’t even dress Zack Stortini.
SETTING THE BAR
Teams with reliable goaltending, speed, depth and toughness have a chance to get something done. That’s not a news bulletin. Teams that consistently draw on all those aspects are special teams.
The Oilers remain a long way from being one of those teams. They won’t always get goaltending like that from Khabibulin. Eberle won’t wow ’em with highlight reel goals every night. MacIntyre won’t win every fight, at least not like he did against Ivanans.
My sense, though, is this edition of the Oilers might be capable of putting together those aspects more often and sooner than long-suffering fans and over-cautious tall foreheads-in-training might have thought. That’s just what my old hockey writer’s gut tells me.
Yes, it was only one game, but it was a helluva game that produced two points and the kind of energy and buzz that’s going to sell like hotcakes with a fan base that’s more than willing to buy.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.