The Oilers have had an extra bounce in their step at practice the past few days, and considering they are the second hottest team in the league, (Pittsburgh has won ten straight, the Oilers four) it is easy to see why. The Oilers have shown flashes of brilliance lately, and they’ve excited some Oiler fans. We will find out in the next five home games if it was just a tease, or in fact, a full on display of their assets.
The Oilers are a perfect 3-0 in December after an abysmal 4-8-2 November, and look to extend their winning streak to five tonight against Lubomir Visnovsky, Todd Marchant, Joffrey Lupul and the Anaheim Ducks. The Oilers are playing so well right now, that even when an ex-Oiler scores, Roman Hamrlik, it isn’t enough to beat them. Things are just ducky in the OilersNation right now, except for those fans who actually believe you can lose on purpose, and winning games is somehow bad for the progress of the team.
Don’t fret, the Oilers aren’t going to match their best December ever, 11-3 in 1990 the year after the one their final Cup, so you will have ample time to get excited about a loss, but right now this team of young kids, still-in-their-early-years-and-not-sure-what-type-of-player-they-will-be, castoff veterans and a few thirtysomething players are playing their best hockey of the season.
Taylor Hall is becoming a star right in front of your eyes. The kid will have some off nights, but his enthusiasm and excitement is infectious in the dressing room. All of the veterans are enjoying watching his progression as much as the fans.
"I was there in Stamkos’ second year where he really decided to take over, and his biggest attribute was when the game was on the line he wanted the puck. You can already see that in Taylor. It’s just starting now where he is gaining confidence and you can tell that when the game is on the line or it’s a big shift or a key powerplay he wants the puck. Those are the things that make great players — They want the puck in key situations and that’s when they shine," said Kurtis Foster.
HOME COOKING NEEDS TO IMPROVE
The Oilers have the fewest home wins in the NHL, with four in 12 games, and they’ve only scored 25 goals at Rexall Place. Tonight is the 2nd of six straight home games and the players want to make Rexall a tougher building for teams to play in.
It has to start on the PP. They are 7 for 43 with the extra man at Rexall Place and many of the players were talking about being more efficient in front of their fans. "We need to get them on our side earlier in games. They have been incredibly supportive this year, and if we can give them something to get excited about early, then their excitement will give us more energy," said Ryan Whitney yesterday.
Speaking of Whitney he and his defence partner Jim Vandermeer are both in lengthy droughts. Whitney doesn’t have a goal, despite 21 assists and Vandermeer doesn’t have a fight in 21 games.
"It’s getting up there. It shows the way the game is changing and who we are playing. If you are up or down by three or four goals the opportunities just aren’t there. If you break your hand in a lopsided game that’s not very smart. It’s just a matter of time before it happens, but you don’t want to get rusty.
The most nervous I used to get was the first fight of the year after coming off the summer and not playing in a couple months. You want to make sure you aren’t caught off guard with tying up, letting go or switching hands and stuff like that. I’d like to throw down soon though," said Vandermeer with a laugh.
KHABIBULIN TO START?
In somewhat of a surprise move, considering what he said yesterday, Tom Renney will start Nikolai Khabibulin tonight. Yesterday Renney admitted he needed to give Khabibulin more rest, and wasn’t going to play him as often. Devan Dubnyk beat the Ducks on Nov 21st, and with Khabibulin’s former team, the Lightning, in town on Friday, tonight seemed like a natural start for Dubnyk.
Khabibulin has played exceptional since returning from his groin injury, two wins and a 0.50 GAA, so I understand why you stick with the hot goalie, but when Renney admitted he didn’t rest Khabibulin often enough early this year, I thought Dubnyk would start tonight. We won’t see Dubnyk until Friday v. the Bolts or Sunday v. the Canucks.
The rest of the lineup remains the same as Saturday.
The Ducks could be without future Hall of Famer, Teemu Selanne tonight. Selanne will be a game time decision.
CAN THE MADNESS CONTINUE?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I’m not sure how, but I’ve picked four wins in a row. The outcome won’t affect me either way, but Wanye sent me a text last night saying, "Clearly the Oilers read your predictions now, so keep fooling them into believing they are good. I need to see more wins." The founder of the Nation is still oblivious to the realities of sports, but I will indulge him again…Oilers stun the NHL world and win their 5th straight…5 to 3. I want some to see some damn offence at home. The Oilers have only scored four goals once on home ice.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After watching Logan Couture score a pair of goals last night in Detroit to lead all rookies with 12, Hall wants to stay close and buries a pair of his own. The Ducks, after being shutout in their previous two games, celebrate like they won a playoff round when they score their first goal of the game.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The four game winning streak has occured on all four of the Oilers TV partners. Ottawa was Sportsnet West, Montreal on TSN, Toronto on Sportsnet Oilers and the Blues on CBC. Gene Principe is seen pacing feverishyl in the pressbox during the TSN intro, when they make no reference to duck hunting or Ryan Whitney shooting for his first of the year. In the 2nd period Whitney hits the post and Geno calmly mentions, "Had they used the obvious analogy that would have went in." He then fist pumps when he realizes the next eight games are on Sportsnet channels.