Let the good times roll.
The Oilers have won three straight, Taylor Hall gave fans some afternoon wood after scoring a natural hat trick v. Atlanta on Saturday and once again you can watch an Oiler game without peering through your hands to see how the horror show will end. Life as an Oiler fan is liveable right now, but when you’re looking at a fifth consecutive spring without playoffs liveable doesn’t equate to satisfied.
Let’s get the necessities out of the way.
The Oilers are on their second-best streak of the season as they face the 7th place (also tied for 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th) Wild tonight, but when you line up against a team with 12 more wins and 22 more points it’s clear you are the underdog. Throw in the fact the Oilers have lost a mind-blowing 14 straight in Minnesota, the odds don’t look favourable for the 30th place Oilers to win four straight for only the second time all season.
SCORE FIRST OR LOSE
If the Oilers have any hope of winning tonight they will need to score first. The Wild is 24-2-4 when they score first and 7-20-2 when they give up the first goal. The Oilers are 13-7-3 when celebrating first, and they are a woeful 6-25-5 when giving up the first goal.
- Ales Hemsky is rolling with seven points in his last three games, and he was named 3rd star of the week for his efforts. Hemsky and Hall combined for two PP goals against Atlanta and you wonder if Tom Renney will use them together again on the man advantage.
- Hall’s hat trick has people thinking about the Calder trophy again. He will need to have an excellent final 23 games if he wants to beat out Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture, Michael Grabner or Sergei Bobrovsky. Right now Bobrovsky might have a slight edge on the others, but with a quarter of the season left to play lots can change. Couture has slowed down a bit, while Grabner and Hall have picked it up lately. It will be a hell of a race.
- It doesn’t always lead to a momentum change, but when JF Jacques man handled Mark Stuart on Saturday it seemed to energize the Oilers. Jacques has played much better the past three games, and it seems Renney has finally realized his top three lines aren’t productive enough to only play the 4th line five minutes a night. The fourth line has been given more than a minute or two in the first period during the three wins and they’ve been effective.
- Mikko Koivu is out with a broken finger that will sideline him for a month. That is a devastating blow for the Wild and it will be interesting to see if Chuck Fletcher makes a move to fill the void before Monday. Guillaume Latendresse is also at least two weeks away from returning, and you wonder if the Wild have enough offensive depth to keep pace in the ultra-tight western conference?
- Nikolai Khabibulin will start tonight, and Dubnyk will go tomorrow for the Oilers. There won’t be any other lineup changes for tonight’s game, and if they win look for Renney to dress the same 18 skaters tomorrow.
CLOCK IS TICKING ON A TRADE
It was nice to see actual hockey trades made over the weekend. Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk to the Blues for former first overall pick, Erik Johnson, and a first rounder was a ballsy move by both Doug Armstrong and Greg Sherman. Some feel the Blues won the trade, but it is too early to tell and i’m sure the deal will be debated for years.
Pierre Lebrun told me that a GM informed him he had phoned Armstrong last week and asked about Johnson and was told he wasn’t available. So it is clear that even when you ask about a player you might not get an honest answer, even if you are an opposing GM.
Yesterday James Neal and Matt Niskanen went to Pittsburgh for D-man Alex Goligoski. I’m a huge Neal fan, and unless Goligoski surprises me I think the Pens won this trade. While it’s exciting to see GMs making blockbuster moves, many in Oilersnation are wondering when Steve Tambellini will get in on the action?
It’s a valid question.
The Oilers have no D-man equal to Goligoski in age or salary, so I don’t understand why people feel Tambellini missed the boat. Sure, he’d love to have Neal, but the Stars needed a puck-moving D-man and Tom Gilbert’s price tag wouldn’t work in Dallas. Same goes for the Avs/Blues deal. It is clear that some GMs are willing to shake up their team and Tambellini needs to at least be part of the conversation.
If Neal, Stewart, Johnson and Goligoski can be moved, why not Sam Gagner? It seems everyone is only looking at Dustin Penner and Hemsky as trade bait, but why not explore options for Gagner. The Oilers are still too small in their top-nine, which is why I wouldn’t move Penner, unless I got size back, so I’d look at moving Gagner.
Of course there is some risk involved in moving a 21-year-old, because you don’t truly know how good he’ll be, but if Tambellini can get some size, grit or scoring in return I’d seriously look at moving him. Hemsky is attracting the most attention from rival GMs, and if someone is willing to overpay for him, then Tambellini should pull the trigger, but I’d throw out Gagner’s name and see what the response might be.
The bigger question is; Do the Oiler young players have value around the league?
Hall, Eberle and Paajarvi won’t be on the table, but if no one is even calling about Gagner then maybe that is a more telling statement. This is clearly the most volatile trade market we’ve seen in the NHL in some time, and if Tambellini can’t get involved now, then he is either being too cautious or there isn’t much interest in his players.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Despite losing 14 straight in Minny, the Oilers will remain confident and skate away with a 3-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Wild are still boring as hell, and even a four-game winning streak won’t make this game exciting. The 2nd period will be the most sleep-enducing period we’ve witnessed in weeks, but the 3rd will produce a Hemsky-to-Hall PP beauty that will make the 2 1/2 hours worthwhile for Oiler fans.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After hearing there is more interest in Hemsky, Penner decides to amp up his game. When Penner scores his 2nd goal of the game, Sportsnet will run a D-Train image across the screen. During his next hit, Geno will be wearing a conductor’s hat.