Lost in all of the love and praise for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is that the raw rookie is the only player who has scored on home ice; well he’s the only one who has been credited with a goal. This replay one this one shows Hall definitely touched the puck, (final five seconds), but was puck completely over the line. It’s debateable, but the point is the Oilers need more guys scoring.
We can debate whether Nugent-Hopkins scored that goal or not, but either way he has been in on four of the five goals. That is great for him, and thankfully it will stop the talk of sending him back to junior, but the Oilers offence has been struggling.
The H2E line looked great v. the Canucks. The three former first-rounders, RNH, Hall and Jordan Eberle love playing with each other and they’ve discovered some instant chemistry. They had seven points on Saturday and they have 10 of the team’s 15 total points; unfortunately the rest of the team hasn’t done much.
Ryan Smyth has the other goal, while Ales Hemsky and Eric Belanger each have an assist. Magnus Paajarvi, Linus Omark, Shawn Horcoff, Anton Lander, Ryan Jones and Lennart Petrell have combined for zero points and 19 shots in 260:36 of combined icetime.
Six of their next eight games are at home, and if they want to be in the pack at the end of the month they will need to find some more scoring. So far Eric Belanger, even though he has an assist, hasn’t done much offensively. He’s been great in the dot, 57.1%, but he needs to generate some more chances. Omark has been almost invisible in his two games, Paajarvi is skating well, but I’d like to see a bit more urgency around the net. Horcoff works hard, and made two very subtle plays that led to PP goals v. the Canucks, but he needs to bear down when he’s in a good shooting lane.
I know it is only three games, but the Oilers can’t afford to have so many offensive passengers.
Ryan Whitney and Sam Gagner took Tom Renney’s "drop-off" test today. Renney pulls out his stopwatch and monitors their cardio, but most importantly he wants to see where they are at with their recovery time.
Prior to doing his test, Whitney was joking around and looked up at Kevin Quinn and I, only guys in stands, and did the sign of the cross and then smiled. He really wants to play.
Renney puts a pylon on the goal line directly in line with faceoff dots, and then another pylon at faceoff dot just outside near blueline. Players start at pylon outside blueline. Renney blows whistle, and players go there and back three times with stops and starts. It took them around 23 seconds. He saves their time. Then they get an 80 second rest and go a 2nd and a 3rd time. He expects their final time to be within a half a second or so of their original time.
After the stops and starts they do three trials with figure eight turns around the two pylons instead of coming to a complete stop. They do this three times as well.
I jokingly asked Whitney if a guy could dog it a bit during the first time so it would be easier to match it in the 2nd and 3rd attempts. "I tried that," he laughed, "but Tom told me to pick it up a bit."
Whitney passed his test and his return will depend on how the Oilers play tonight. I get the sense that if the Oilers lose tonight, he’ll likely play tomorrow, but if they win or play very well, he’ll get an extra two days off and play Thursday v. Minnesota. That is just a hunch, Whitney nor Renney said that, but if they lose tonight, I think Renney will want his best D-man back as quick as possible.
Sam Gagner also took the test and passed, but he will take another test on Wednesday. A longer one that takes about 45 seconds per test. Gagner will return Thursday at the earliest, but likely not until Saturday.
The goalie rotation continues with Khabibulin starting. Only Ty Conklin has a better GAA at this point, although both of them have only played one game, but Khabibulin was solid in Minnesota. Ben Eager will make his Oiler debut, replacing the injured Darcy Hordichuk on the 4th line, while the top three will stay the same.
Renney told us that an unnamed forward is battling the flu, and if he can’t play then the Oilers will dress seven D-men. Just a guess, but it seems Petrell or Lander might be the guy battling the flu. I spoke to Hall, Eberle, Horcoff, Smyth, Jones, RNH, Eager and Belanger and none of them looked like they were under the weather. Paajarvi was very vocal on the ice joking with his teammates, so I doubt he’s sick.
If the forwards are good to go, Theo Peckham will be the odd man out on the blueline. Jeff Petry was paired with Cam Barker, with Tom Gilbert skated with Ladislav Smid and Corey Potter stayed with Andy Sutton. Peckham struggled on Saturday and Renney will let him watch from upstairs if the forwards are healthy.
If the Oilers go with seven D-men, look for Peckham or Potter to take a shift up front.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: After combining for three goals and seven points on Saturday, the H2E line continues to roll with two more goals. Eberle and Hall, on the PP, actually get some help from another line as Horcoff finds the net as well. Oilers skate past the Preds 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Rexall will be busier earlier than usual as fans flock to pick up their Ryan Smyth bobblehead. This is Smyth’s 3rd bobblehead – 2nd with the Oilers and one with the Kings. By 6:45 p.m. there will be at least ten Smyth bobblehead dolls for sale on Kijiji. Jordin Tootoo will raise the ire of the Oilers and their fans with a clean, heavy hit on one of the Oilers skilled forwards midway through the 2nd period.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After spending ten minutes at the end of practice working on his faceoffs, Nugent-Hopkins will have a breakout game in the dot and win five of 11 faceoffs. Considering he has won 7 of 38 (18.2%), winning 5 of 11 will be a massive improvement.