Many of you awoke this morning, sat up quickly and said, "Did that happen, or was I dreaming?" Then you realized you were still wearing your Oiler jersey, and the last time you wore it to bed was after game six of the 2006 Cup finals. The fact is, no Oiler fan would have dared to dream what unfolded last night at Rexall Place.
If you were one of the lucky 16,839 at the Rex, you witnessed history; The first ever shut out in a season opener. You also saw a highlight reel goal, that has to be in the running for greatest first NHL goal, a thunderous KO and an atmosphere of belief and utter happiness that hasn’t been in Edmonton on opening night since probably 1984; when they raised the first Stanley Cup banner.
Rexall was electric last night.
The crowd was into it early, and the Oilers responded by outshooting the Flames 19-9 in the first frame. How many of you forgot what it was like to watch entertaining hockey complete with hustle, skill, hitting and desire from the Oilers? Based on the comments from fans in the building, here on the Nation at via twitter I’d say many of you were floored.
Taylor Hall almost had the Cinderella start to his career early in the first, when he was robbed on a one-timer by Mikka Kiprusoff. The fans were trying to cheer their way to a goal for the new #4, but it wasn’t meant to be for Hall on this night. In the first period he had three shots, two great scoring chances, took a penalty and had the most icetime of any Oiler forward at 6:45. A pretty solid first period of pro hockey I’d suggest. He will learn to take shorter shifts in the future, but that’s a story for another day.
But tonight wasn’t about Hall. Instead his new roommate, Jordan Eberle, earned himself a Highlight Of The Night on TSN with a beautiful shorthanded goal. After dominating the Flames in the first, Calgary responded by outshooting the Oilers 18-7 in the 2nd, and seemed to have the momentum going into the third.
Unlike last year, hell the previous four years, the Oilers didn’t fold their tent or try and hold on for dear life, instead they came out attacking and Eberle buried his shorty 1:24 into the 3rd and Rexall was alive. The reaction on Shawn Horcoff’s face as he congratulated Eberle spoke volumes; the FUN is back in Edmonton.
"I said to someone that has to be one of the best first goals in the history of the league. I mean, toe drag, step over the stick, backhand shelf. Good for him," said an amazed Ryan Whitney.
The building was still rocking when only a 1:19 later Ales Hemsky raced down the right wing and ripped a slapshot through Kiprusoff. Yes, Hemsky took a slapshot and scored on it, and then if you watched his reaction, even Hemsky was caught up in the excitement. How could you blame him. Hemsky hasn’t had this much skill around him at any point in his career, and he seems like a new person. Two minutes and twenty-one seconds later it looked like Eberle had his 2nd of the night, but it was ruled after the game to have gone in off Horcoff’s body. What mattered is the Oilers had their 2nd PP goal of the night, and a commanding 4-0 lead.
Throughout all the excitement of the offence, Nikolai Khabibulin was quietly working on a shutout. He ended up with 37 saves and the first ever season opening shutout for the Oilers. The Oilers have only been shutout once in a season opener, October 3rd, 2001 when they lost 1-0 in Calgary. Khabibulin was square to the shooters all night, and I don’t recall him having to make a spectacular save, probably because his rebound control and puck control (pushing shots to corner) was exceptional.
And to cap off the night, Steve MacIntyre Ko’ed Raitis Ivanans with a thundering right with 2:20 remaining in the game.
I can’t remember the last time an Oiler knocked a guy out like that. It was a strange 30 seconds. When Ivanans went down the building and Oiler bench went nuts, but after a few seconds, when he didn’t move, the tone changed to concern. I’ll give those fans credit who cheered when Ivanans eventually got to his feet, even though he was clearly on Strange Street and needed to be helped off the ice, it was nice to see him get up.
"At first it is huge excitement, and then you are worried about him a little bit. I don’t know if he is going to remember any of that to tell you the truth. You hope the guy is okay, obviously. It’s the toughest job in sports, what they (heavyweights) do. But it was pretty impressive for Mac tonight, he hit him right on the button," said new captain, Shawn Horcoff.
It was an exclamation point on a dominating evening for the Oilers. For Oiler fans the game had everything; scoring, lots of speed, big hits, four fights and a shutout.
Even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have dreamt a better scenario.
For one game, okay let’s be honest for at least three days, Oiler fans will be proud to cheer for the Copper and Blue again. When the horn blew to end the game, it seemed the euphoria from what you’d just witnessed almost instantly erased the past four years of losing. (Now those feelings might resurface later this year, but for now you have banished them to the back of your memory, hoping they never return.)
As much fun as this game was for the rookies and veterans, it might have been more fun for the fans.
I was told that within minutes after Eberle scored his highlight reel goal, five fans bought an Eberle jersey. I don’t doubt this because I ran into Wanye after the game and he was sporting a brand new #14 retro jersey. True story. He said it was the first jersey he’d bought with a name on the back since Bill Ranford’s #30. And he didn’t have any beer spilled on it, so I knew he must have just got it.
After the game I had ten different fans approach me with, "Do you think they can make the playoffs?"
After a performance like that I can understand why fans want to believe this team can get back to the dance. Rather than rain on your parade and suggest, "It’s only one game," I say put on your new Eberle jersey, or Hall, or Paajarvi, or MacIntyre and soak it in.
It is too early to worry, or care, about making the playoffs, just enjoy the ride because it seems likely that they will be highly entertaining, and for Oiler fans that is all they want.
Just say, "Thank you boys, may I have another?"
POST GAME NOTES
- Gilbert Brule left the game after Theo Peckham collided/fell on him inside the Flames blueline. Tom Renney didn’t have an update after the game, so we’ll find out Brule’s status at tomorrow’s morning skate.
- After the game Renney said he wanted to get Paajarvi on the ice more, but he played 15:53, 6th most amongst forwards. Renney wants to play the kids. Hall had 16:59 of icetime, while Eberle played 16:11.
- Penner only played 13:48, which seems surprising. He didn’t kill any penalties.
- Hemsky played 2:02 on the PK tonight, that has to be the most in his career.
- Andrew Cogliano was 50% in the dot, going 5-5. If Cogliano can stay around that mark he and Renney will be happy. Brule was 5-1 until leaving with his undisclosed injury. Horcoff was only 38% going 6-10, but the Oilers finished 52% as a team.
- Theo Peckham blocked six shots, had three hits and got into a spirited scrap with Tim Jackman. He played 2:46 on the PK, and after Oiler powerplays, the coaches weren’t afraid to put him and Vandermeer out against Iginla’s line. Peckham was solid and showed why they kept him over Petiot and Belle. Renney likes his toughness.
- Ryan Jones had two big hits on Bouwmeester and played feisty all night. If he can play that way most games he’ll be an asset.
- Kurtis Foster didn’t have a shot on goal. He only took one, a one-timer on the PP that missed high and wide. In fact Smid, Vandermeer and Peckham didn’t register a shot either. Whitney and Gilbert had two each.
- Did you notice who Renney had on the ice at the ensuing faceoff after MacIntyre’s KO? He had Vandermeer, Peckham, Penner, Fraser and Jones; guys who can handle themselves with the gloves off. Renney wanted to make sure if the Flames tried to redeem themselves through fisticuffs, that the Oilers would be ready. Nothing happened, but don’t underestimate the "old school" thinking of Renney. He doesn’t want his team to get pushed around or intimidated this year.