On February 24th, 2009 Steven Stamkos played his first NHL game at Rexall Place. That night he scored his 11th goal of the season, had four shots, won eight of 12 faceoffs and played 17:17. When we left Rexall that night, little did we know that was the begining of Stamkos’ coming out party. He went on to score 12 goals in the final 20 games that year, followed it up with 51 last season, and now he has 21 goals in 28 games to start this year; 84 goals in his last 130 NHL games. Not bad.
The scary part for the Oilers is that he comes into Edmonton tonight with no goals and only two points in his last six games. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks out, and tonight will likely be the night.
Stamkos and Marty St. Louis could be the most dynamic duo in the NHL (The Sedins might argue), and with Shawn Horcoff out of the lineup it will be interesting to see who Tom Renney uses to counter them. He could go first overall pick v. first overall pick. I know Taylor Hall is a winger and won’t really battle Stamkos as a centre, but it would be a great test for the youngest line in the NHL; Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner.
Hall is huge fan of hockey. He watches it every night and he has been monitoring Stamkos’ progress the last few years.
"I followed him pretty closely. He had his struggles early his first year, then got it together and was almost a point a game guy for the second half. His career is something I could look forward to; he scored 50 goals his second season, although I’m not expecting that and he is a good guy too, and someone I do follow to see what he is doing."
Does Hall get up more playing against guys like Stamkos, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin?
"I don’t think so; it is very cool to play against these guys though. One of the best things about playing in the NHL is the competition, getting to play against these awesome players. For me it is more about we have to shut him down. He is one of their best players and if we want to win he’s going to have to be pretty quiet."
Hall is a very respectful young man, and he spoke glowingly about Stamkos’ great quick release and his goal-scoring prowess, but he is also highly competitive and with Horcoff going down Hall wants to show that he can still be a key factor for the Oilers. It will be intriguing to watch Hall develop this season, but you know that he’d love to match stats with Stamkos tonight.
ONE LINE TEAM?
With Vinny Lecavalier and Steve Downie out of the lineup, the Bolts basically have one scoring line. Stamkos, St. Louis and Simon Gagne are a trio and Renney said this morning he is leaning more towards a committee of lines against them rather than just one. He hinted he might not want to use Gagner’s line right away.
JF Jacques will skate with Colin Fraser and Gilbert Brule tonight, and Brule admitted he needs to be more involved. Look for them to play a very simple dump and chase game and try to create turnovers by consistently delivering body checks. Brule hasn’t been as physical as he or Renney would like, and tonight’s demotion to the fourth line will serve as a wake up call.
The Oilers should have an advantage in goal tonight. Khabibulin has allowed three goals in his last three games and looks solid. The Lightning is the only team that gives up more goals than the Oilers. The Oil have surrendered 3.41 goals/game while the Bolts have allowed 3.46. Dan Ellis has a 0.878 SV% and Mike Smith is even worse at 0.872. The Oilers don’t get a lot of shots, but if they fire 30 or so on net tonight, their chances of winning will increase dramatically.
DEVOLOPING EVERYONE BUT….
Renney has talked about the development process of his team and individual players all year. He has stated he needs patience and is happy with the development of his young guys. Unfortunately he isn’t developing Devan Dubnyk. I’m perplexed as to why this team is hell bent on bringing along all their young players except Dubnyk. If Dubnyk was struggling I could understand it, but it makes no sense to have him sit out four straight games. His development curve seems to be on a complete different chart than every other positional player.
ICE WOMEN OF THE WEEK
It sounds like the Oilers dance team might not make their debut tonight, so I will introduce you to a few other worldly beauties.
Monica Brant is one of the top fitness models in the world, and you can see why. Cori Nadine is also a fitness model and I wanted to represent a Canadian beauty, Melyssa Ford. She is a Canadian Hip Hop model. If you abs aren’t flat like these ladies; gentlemen, you might want to hit the gym….
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Lightning were put through an intense practice yesterday. They did 15 minutes straight of a 3-on-3 battle drill in one corner of the rink. Guys were hacking, slashing and banging one another. Bob Stauffer told me it was the hardest practice drill he’d seen from any team in the last three years. The Bolts didn’t skate this morning, so they will be rested and probably a bit annoyed after yesterday. Look for a surprisingly intense game that will see the Bolts skate away with a 4-3 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Stamkos won’t go seven games without a goal, and he will rip a PP one-timer from the left circle off a St. Louis pass. Marc Pouliot will dress for the Bolts tonight and JW will be extra pumped to watch his former favourite Oiler, unfortunately for JW, Pouliot will not continue the ex-Oiler scoring trend at Rexall. Pouliot was called up for one game earlier this year and was minus three and quickly sent back down. Also, Gene Principe will interview O’Marra as the bench hit tonight, because he is more polished than Omark.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Read below….