In 2007 the Houston Dynamo of the MLS made the playoffs, and were looking for their 2nd consecutive championship and had this highly motivating slogan of; DREAM. SCREAM. BELIEVE. It clearly worked as the Dynamo won their second straight title.
Tonight is game 30 on the NHL schedule for the Oilers and Leafs, and while neither fan base has any expectation of the playoffs, both teams feel they are a four-game winning streak away from being in the hunt. God bless their naivety.
I wouldn’t expect a different belief inside any professional dressing room, because the players play to win, not to rebuild or look to the future. There are players in both rooms who won’t be in the NHL next year, so they don’t have a mindset to think that far in advance.
Luckily for them, they have plenty of media and fans who can look into our own crystal ball and see the future for them.
When the Oilers arrived in Toronto on December 2nd, some media outlets had the audacity to ask which team has the better future. I know Leaf fans get a bad rap around the league for being blindly loyal, a bit self-centred and sometimes irrational, but even the most diehard Leaf fan could see that Nazim Kadri by himself doesn’t match up to Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi.
Brian Burke has tried to rebuild the Leafs by trading away two first rounders and over hauling his entire lineup, except Tomas Kaberle in the past 18 months. The Phil Kessel trade will haunt him for years, while he fleeced Darryl Sutter in the Dion Phaneuf and Keith Aulie trade.
Matt Stajan is making $3.5 million, has been a healthy scratch for two games and has one goal in his past 43 games as Flame. He has four in 52 games since being acquired for Phaneuf. Niklas Hagman has 12 goals in 58 games.
Still Burke and his congenial coach, Ron Wilson, still believe they can make the playoffs, and the feeling is mutual inside the Oilers room. Don’t tell Hall or any of the other kids that it would be best for them to finish in the bottom five and get another elite pick. Leave that to the media and fans.
It’s great that neither team realizes they have little chance to make the playoffs, so we should see a decent effort tonight.
It looks like Tom Renney will insert some toughness into his lineup tonight, with Steve MacIntyre, Zack Stortini and Jason Strudwick all dressing. Ryan O’Marra, JF Jacques and an injured Jim Vandermeer will replace those three in the pressbox. It sounds like Vandermeer will be out at least a week and the Oilers will probably recall someone before Thursday game v. Columbus. Shawn Belle seems like the likely candidate.
MacIntyre will surely dance with Leafs tough guy, Colton Orr. Those two have fought close to 15 times dating back to junior according to MacIntyre, and i’d be stunned if they don’t chuck the knuckles again tonight. Orr might be the most willing fighter in the game.
A few years ago when Strudwick played with Orr on the NYR, Strudwick told me on my show about Orr’s first trip to Minnesota. "After the morning skate I see Orr in the dressing room and he looked dejected. I asked him what was up and he told me that he just found out Boogaard (Derek) wasn’t injured and wouldn’t dress tonight. Orr was seriously upset. He wanted to test himself against the big guy, and all day he was really down. The guy knows his role and embraces it. I’ve never seen a guy that upset about not getting to fight."
Being a heavyweight is a thankless job on many nights, and Orr might relish the job more than anyone. MacIntyre knows this and will be prepared to renew acquaintances tonight.
BRULE TO THE MIDDLE
I’ve wanted to see Gilbert Brule play centre for awhile, and tonight we’ll get to see the former sixth overall pick skate between Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones. "I grew up most of my life and in junior playing centre, but I like playing wing as there is a little less responsibility in your own zone. I will need to have my head on a swivel tonight, but going back to the middle should allow me to use my speed a bit more," said Brule about making the switch tonight.
Renney is hoping that moving Brule to the middle will get him more involved.
"There is a lot to like about his game when he is playing well, and I have to give him a chance to rediscover his game. He is a good little centreman. He’s a good faceoff guy, and by his own admission he realizes he has been a half step away from what needed to be done, whether it was jumping to a lose puck, finishing a check or picking up a man. It is a function of making sure his feet are moving and we think that maybe with a little more responsibility in the middle, and the need to move the puck he c an feel better about that part of his game and the rest of it will go."
Renney will also switch up his lines a bit and has moved Linus Omark up to play with Andrew Cogliano and Dustin Penner, so Penner can return to his natural LW position.
D’OH…LET’S TRY AGAIN
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Leafs are still smarting from that 5-0 blowout loss to the Oil twelve days ago, and the Oilers have added some muscle to the lineup tonight. We’ll see more fights than goals early, which will get the crowd more into the game, and they will witness an exciting 3-2 SO win for the Oilers.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gene Principe will start his intro with some sweet Italian dance moves as the era of the Oilers cheer team begins. They will announce the name at five o’clock today, and as long they aren’t called a drilling term like the Blowouts, Kicks, Gushers, Vibroseis, Mousehole, Centrifugal pump or Cat cracking (oops that was already used) and hopefully not the Puck Hogs then most fans will be proud of them. (All those years working in the oilfield finally paid off for an article)
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: When OT starts the fans will be praying no one scores, with the hope they can witness Omark’s second SO attempt. Renney will stick with Hall, Eberle and Omark, and the kids will try to one-up each other. Eberle will use a quadruple deke, in-tight spin-a-rama move and score.
Hall will wheel in at full speed, put the brakes on, flip the puck up, juggle it three times on his stick and then one-time it out of mid-air, but he’ll be stopped by JS Giguere. Omark will come in across the blueline, and Giguere will charge out at him, so Omark just calmly skates by him, narrowly missing Giguere’s blocker, which he threw. Omark slides the puck into the open net, and has to avoid an irate Giguere on his way back to the Oiler bench.
After the game Giguere is still fuming, and says he will retire if they don’t remove the shootout because the kids in the league don’t respect old guys like him. Nazim Kadri is mad that none of his teammates wanted to try and match the young Oilers’ creativity, and Omark is disappointed he didn’t get use his planned move where he plays hacky sack with the puck, while doing a double-axel, and turning his stick upside down and shooting with the butt end of his stick.
SEE WHAT THE ENEMY IS SAYING
What do those clever folks over at TheLeafsNation think about tonight’s game?
"Tambellini is a moron and has no idea how to run a team. Maybe when the Oilers change their locale and move to Quebec City they’ll change their GM as well and finally stop being a perennial bottom feeder."
If you want to win a free pair of Oiler tickets, follow me on twitter (@jasongregor). Answer my question on Twitter regarding the dance team and if you are correct, you might win tickets to Thursday’s game. Don’t answer here, the winner will come from a reply on Twitter.