The Oilers arrive at the midway point of the season tonight in Dallas, and despite registering only 13 wins in their first 40 games, this first half isn’t even in the top-five worst first 40 games in franchise history. In the Oilers’ inaugural season of 1979/80 they went 9-23-8, but made the playoffs going 19-16-5 in their final 40 games.
They had some kid name Gretzky, and another named Messier along with Kevin Lowe, Blair MacDonald, Stan Weir and Brett Callighen. They used six different goalies that year, and fans had faith things would improve.
The next season, 1981, the Oilers didn’t start much better going 12-21-7, but another strong final 40 games, 17-14-9 got them into the playoffs and the first meaningful playoff series, a stunning 3-0 sweep of the Montreal Canadiens. The next eleven years life was great in Oilersnation, with eleven playoff appearances, six trips to the finals, and five Stanley Cups.
Since 1992, there hasn’t been a lot of joy in Edmonton, excluding the magical 2006 run to the Cup.
The remaining worst first 40 games in franchise history all occured in the 1990s.
1994… 11-24-5… 27 points
1995… 14-23-3… 31 points
1998… 11-20-9… 31 points (They did go 24-17-1 in final 42 and then upset Colorado in round one.)
1996… 13-21-6… 32 points
2011… 13-20-7… 33 points
1993… 14-21-5… 33 points
Last season the Oilers were 16-20-4 in their first 40, but game 41 was the first of 13 consecutive loses and the Oilers went 11-27-4 down the stretch to finish in 30th place. That second half collapse gave them Taylor Hall, and it gave Oiler fans a reason to believe.
With Wanye still vacationing in some hot exotic locale, I have to find my own pics. I love the Internet. I google "Looking forward to the future" and this picture of Lindsay Lohan comes up. Those are some sweet green leggings. I don’t ask why it comes up, but I feel the need to share..Okay back to the game story.
It is crazy how your perception can change.
Despite a worse first half than last year, most Oiler fans are much calmer and surprisingly upbeat about their team, compared to a year ago. An influx of youth, skill and a supposed plan for the future has limited the catcalls and now with another top-five pick almost a certainty most Oiler fans are dreaming of a future filled with wins, 90-point players and consistent beatings of the Calgary Flames.
The outlook of the future might take a bit of a twist tonight, when Taylor Hall plays centre for the first time in his NHL career. Hall will be flanked by Dustin Penner and Ales Hemsky, and some are already digging up the Mark Messier comparisons. I know Messier made the transition rather smoothly from LW to C, some 30 years ago, but he also missed a flight and got sent to the CHL, but I don’t see Hall doing that.
It is fun to suggest that Hall will follow in Messier’s footsteps, and he just might, but because one of the top 15 players of all time was able to do it doesn’t mean Hall will make the switch just as easily. People need to keep their expectations in check. We shouldn’t doubt that Hall is capable of it, but today’s game is much different than the Messier dominated in.
I don’t think the switch to the middle will effect Hall that much in the offensive zone, but the defensive responsibilities for a centre in 2011 are plentiful. I’m very interested to see how Hall adapts. The kid doesn’t lack confidence, his skating won’t hinder him at a new position, and his hockey sense is very high, but will that be enough? We will find out starting tonight.
The other lines will see Sam Gagner with Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi, Andrew Cogliano flanked by Liam Reddox and Ryan Jones, while Colin Fraser will skate with JF Jacques and Zack Stortini.
Taylor Chorney was recalled from OKC yesterday and he will likely play tonight in place of Jason Strudwick. That means the Oilers will have dress three D-men, Theo Peckham (68), Taylor Chorney (44) and Jeff Petry (5) with a combined 117 NHL games.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tom Renney experiment with a lot of different combinations in the 2nd half of the season. The Oilers won’t be making the playoffs, and the main focus in the final 42 games should be about finding out what he has for next season. Hopefully Renney can discover who he doesn’t want moving forward and let Steve Tambellini know as early as possible.
THE STARS ARE SMOKING HOT
Just to be clear, I was actually looking for a picture like this. I didn’t google "Octane equivalent" and get this.
Not only do the Stars have the one of the best Ice Girls groups in the league, they are also the surprise of the 2011 season with a record of 25-13-5, and they are tied for 4th in the NHL. Brad Richards is 6th in the NHL in scoring with 49 points while Loui Eriksson might be the most unheralded scorer in the game.
He sits 8th in the NHL with 46 points. Toss in Brendan Morrow, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and Jamie Benn and the Stars have pretty solid top-six. Kari Lehtonen has been solid in the pipes, and their young blueline has played well.
I’m a bit skeptical that they will be able to keep winning at this clip, but they are a sure bet to make the playoffs, and if GM, Joe Nieuwendyk can add a veteran defender before the deadline the Stars would make some noise.
After getting schooled by the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, we’ll see if a two-day golf trip to Palm Springs will re-energize the Oilers so they can at least compete with one of the elite teams in the west.
SOMETIMES FATE SUCKS
GAME DAY PREDICTION: A two-day golf trip was surely enjoyable and it allowed the Oilers to forget about Friday, but coming back to reality won’t be much fun. The Oilers are 5-23-2-2 in Dallas, and I don’t see them getting their 6th win tonight. A gutsy effort will keep them close, but the Stars have too much offence and they’ll skate away with a 4-2 victory. The Stars have lost five straight at home, so they will be fired up to end that ugly streak.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Hall will be 50% in the draw and that alone will be enough for every fan to think he should never play another game on the wing. Considering how bad the rest of the centres have been in the draw, it will be hard to argue against that.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: In the next installment of Oil Change, we will realize that Taylor Hall was mic’d up for this game. He won’t be as witty as Dustin Penner was when he was ripping Ryan Getzlaf, "I’m two for two v. you in the draw. I thought you won a Gold medal," but we will get to hear one of the great chirpers Steve Ott. Ott, who readily admits he tries to get star players off their game, will introduce himself to Hall on mulitiple occasions.
After the 3rd time Ott chirps him, we will hear Hall talking with Penner on the bench, "Who is that guy, and why does he know so much about me, my family and that episode at Oil City?" Penner just looks at him and says, "Don’t let your friends post pictures of you on facebook. Ott has 18 different facebook profiles and he is probably one of your friends, and you don’t even know it."
Hall laughs and says, "Come on man, everyone on facebook is real." Penner stonefaced looks at him and says, "You never went to school with a Brooke Sanderson*, but you added her as a friend on facebook didn’t you. I’m Brooke." Hall loses his next three faceoffs and everyone thinks he sucks in the draw, when in fact he is thinking about who is actually a real person on his facebook. When watching this episode of Oil Change, many fans start wondering who is creeping on their facebook page.
*If your name is Brooke Sanderson, I just chose a random name and by no means am I suggesting you are a Steve Ott alias. Just to clarify*