AT RANDOM VI: THE WAY I SEE IT

Are the Calgary Flames as bad as they’ve looked and the Edmonton Oilers as good as they’ve looked early this season? Likely not on either count, but it’s an interesting juxtaposition going into the latest edition of the Battle of Alberta tonight in the City of Cows.

What I know is this: if the Oilers, who face Calgary with a 2-1-1 record after a 3-1 win over Nashville, beat the 1-3-0 Flames, fan bases in both cities are likely to get carried away, as they tend to do.

So far, the Flames are headed in the wrong direction even faster than people expected. Despite a hot run at the end of last season, it’s pretty obvious the Flames are a team in decline. So, is this an early season hiccup or are the wheels coming off Jay Feaster’s outfit already?

The Oilers, meanwhile, have fans who predicted they’d contend for a playoff spot this season pumped. They’ve been better than expected early — very early — but an early buzz is better than no buzz at all.

It has me wondering about the pre-season contention by David Staples of The Journal that the Oilers could surpass the fading Flames in Western Conference standings this season, a contention he backed off on when I challenged him on it.

If the Oilers win tonight, it might be a whole lot closer than I thought it was going to be. That could be fun, even if we’re talking about two teams battling for non-playoff position scraps of credibility.

UPDATE: WHITNEY RETURNS

I got it confirmed at 10 a.m. that Ryan Whitney’s right ankle is good to go and he will be in the line-up tonight at the Saddledome. The Oilers morning skate is optional today so we’ll have to await word on what the defensive pairings for the game will be and who comes out..

KHABBY BATTLES

— Hands up everybody who thought Nikolai Khabibulin would perform as well as he has through his first two starts this season — a 0.96 goals against average and a .957 saves percentage. Sure you did.

Yes, it’s very, very early and blah, blah, blah, but given how just about everybody I can think of wrote Khabibulin off, his performance after a tough first start in pre-season and through two games is impressive.

He’s obviously not content to hand over the starting job to Devan Dubnyk and collect his salary sitting on the bench. If Khabibulin and Dubnyk can provide even average goaltending this season while tussling for the No. 1 job, the Oilers will finish a place or two better than most pegged them.

— Tom Gilbert gets way more love from the stats crowd than he does from old eye-ballers like me, but I’ve liked his game this season. He’s added a physical edge. He’ll never be a punishing hitter, but leaning on people and getting in the way as he has works just fine.

Still haven’t seen marked evidence of improvement on that muffin of a shot of Gilbert’s — he worked on it during the off-season — but No. 77 has been the best of the blue line early.

— Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t score that third goal for the hat-trick in the loss to Vancouver. Yes he did. No he didn’t. Yes he did. No he didn’t. Whatever. He’s delivered way more than expected.

What I’m wondering is this: after scoring 31 goals with Red Deer last season while flanked by decidedly average wingers in Andrej Kudrna and Johan Persson, might RNH take a run at that total with the Oilers this season if Tom Renney keeps playing him with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle?

MULLET OVER

— Cam Barker has been underwhelming so far. He’s a plodder who seems to have to slow everything down. I asked in pre-season if Barker would turn out be pocket lint or found money after Steve Tambellini took a chance on him this off-season.

So far, he looks more like the former. Does he get a seat in favour of Whitney tonight?

— To my eye, Anton Lander and Lennart Petrell have been only OK in the games they’ve played. They look to me like the prime candidates for a ticket to OKC when Sam Gagner is ready to roll, which will likely be by the time the Wild roll into town for a game Thursday.

— Is Theo Peckham in game shape?

— Ryan Smyth’s bobble-head needs more mullet.

JUST ASKING

 — I’m wondering what prompted the Oilers to relieve Allan Watt, the vice-president of communications and broadcast, and Brad MacGregor, vice-president of sales in corporate partnerships, of their duties Monday.

— Former Oilers assistant GM Scott Howson has to be feeling the heat in Columbus thanks to a slow start and a swollen payroll. Now, Jeff Carter is out with a fractured foot. Might Howson give up a defenseman for one of Edmonton’s extra forwards, say Linus Omark?

— Let’s get that dangling oil derrick fixed or, preferably, removed before the puck drops against Minnesota, shall we?

BY THE NUMBERS

— Jarome Iginla is the biggest gun in the Battle of Alberta. In 82 career games against Edmonton, he’s scored 32-43-75.

— Whitney has played faced the Flames just eight times in his career, but he’s scored 0-7-7.

— Hall doesn’t have a point against the Flames. He was held off the sheet in the four games he played against Calgary last season.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Chaz

    My 2 Cents:

    Even though I agree that Khabby has played well so far, his handling of the puck outside of his crease has been God-awful. He has to get better with this IMO.

    Can we lose the “Nuuuuuuge” chant before it becomes engrained in the fan-base? Sounds way too much like the “Loooooooou” chant for Luongo which I hope we can all agree is a blight on society. Seriously Oiler fans, can we not be more original with this???

    • 1983 and This Year

      I find it fun, if used in moderation, rather than the over use of Luuuuuuu(ser).

      We need more fun things and less depressing things attached to Oilers hockey games.

      • Chaz

        What I’m worried about is that it won’t be used in moderation. I guess if this is what I’m complaining about in Oilers Nation these days, then things must be looking up. If anyone deserves a chant so far this season, it’s RNH!

        GOilers!!

        • 1983 and This Year

          Agreed. So it’s settled:

          Rexall announcement of RNH goal or assist = acceptable Nuuuuge chant.

          Nuge touching the puck = unacceptable Nuuuuge chant = bang head against wall.

  • RexLibris

    Calgary Symphony Orchestra to play the Flames goal song at the game tonight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tqxzWdKKu8

    I’m looking forward to tonight. I just hope the Oilers haven’t let themselves get too confident after beating Weber and Suter. Calgary’s defence is nowhere near as good, but they only have to be good enough. Personally I’d like to see Smyth’s crease-blocking and Hall’s net-crashing drive Kiprusoff nuts tonight.

    Ever notice how regional rivals are already trying to get in on the Oiler’s bright future? Hall is suddenly referred to as a Calgarian, even though he grew up in Ontario also, and then the many references the other day to “Vancouver’s own RNH”.

    I guess fans from other Canadian teams are going to have a reason to start hating us again. Yay!

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Well personally I couldn`t care less what Calgary wants to write down, Lets just see how much they like chirping over the next few years. As far as Gagner coming back, I would put him on the wing with Smyth and horcoff. And Jones on the 4th line swaping out with Hordi when hes healthy. I still don`t think Jones is that great and I see Eager as better option than Jones. I would also test out Lander playing with Omark and MPS thoughout games just to see what kind of production you get. Just swapping him and Belanger ever now and then. But I think the likely combinations they will put out would be Kid line, then smyth, Gagner, Jones. MPS, Omark and Horcoff. Belanger, eager and petrell. Lander will go down to OKC. and when Hemsky is back Petrell will got to OKC or the press box. As far as defense, so far to my eye I think that Potter and Petry have out played Peckham and I think so far Barker seems to playing it safe all the time he needs to step it up a bit or he will be passed. Give him a night in the box and work with him on confidence issues as I think that may be the only thing holding this guy back.

  • Crash

    I think we need to sign Ryan Suter, and make a pitch for Ryan Miller in goal. Imagine a starting lineup of Ryans. And I’m sorry I ever ripped on our glorious captain, who will keep up his 3 point per game pace tonight.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Since before training camp many here felt that Hall Hopkins Eberle line was going to be a good fit even before they hit the ice, no real surprise here me thinks. There’s also a good fit with Paajarvi Lander and Omark as well if they give that line a chance, give them a couple weeks to become more familiar with each other. Paajarvi still looks lost in this lineup over a yr into his time here. Since the most experienced unit is altered due to injury, it might be an option to move 94 and 10 down to the 3rd line and bump 91 57 and 23 up to the second line and see how they do with more minutes.

    Pretty sure i was the only whacko on here that believed Khabibulin could bounce back and finish the yr with close to .925 sv pct. Long ways to go i know but 35 may not be done yet. If he’s anywhere near that 925 at the trade deadline the Oilers may even have an opportunity to move him.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        The Oilers won’t know what they have until they try it really. Paajarvi is a top six forward and having him flounder with no real linemates to speak of on the third line doesn’t appear to be working at all. Like Renney has done with Hopkins, throw him in the deep end, sink or swim time.

        • French Toast Mafia

          You would move him up to the second line because of his linemates but you want to bring one of the 2 linemates up with him? That doesn’t make sense to me. He is already playing with Omark. Are you also suggesting that playing with Lander would be an upgrade to playing with Belanger??

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Yup. Anton may not be as effective in the faceoff circle as Jesse but who cares, it’s how the play ends that counts on the scoreboard. Give them 5 games together and see if there’s a fit. To me, it’s as natural a fit as 4 14 and 93 has been so far.

            94,10,83 – 4,93,91 – 91,57,23….watch those second two lines push that first one down the chart by seasons end.

          • French Toast Mafia

            Really??? Belanger is a pretty solid player and he has looked good so far this year. Lander is 4 games into his NHL career and he is already above Belanger? I also haven’t seen Lander lighting the lamp anymore then Belanger so i dont know why you would how the play ends is what counts.

            I know you like your prospects Quicksilver but common thats a stretch.

            I also think we have looked good so far. The Belanger Omark MP line looked really good last night and so did the rest of the team so why would you want to mess with it now.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Not big on Belanger. He’ll be pressed out of service before his contract expires. There are a few solid players on the hockey club but can they lace’em up for 75 nights a season. For Paajarvi to make the next step he needs a center to go with him. Lander is more capable to accompany Paajarvi to that 45 pts plateau, not sure Belanger could do the same as 57.

          • Romulus' Apotheosis

            Belanger is the long sought after Jarret Stoll replacement. but at half the price. For that i’ll take him. but he’s never had more than 40 pts and that was last year… so there’s no reason to diss him. Seems like he’s in his scoring prime and he continues to win faceoffs, which is primarily why he is here.

          • French Toast Mafia

            Why is Lander more capable of carrying MPS to 45 points? Lander has never scored an NHL point? I like Lander a lot and think he is gunna with the team for a long time but whats with you taking proven effective players and throwing them under the bus? maybe Belanger might not be playing every game in the third year of his contract but to say right now that he should be moved somewhere else in the lineup to make room for Lander is nuts.

        • Quicksilver ballet

          What deep end is Hopkins in? Renney can’t get him off the ice fast enough when the pucks not in the offensive zone.

          If anything, the fact that Paajarvi and Omark are the part of the group responsible for playing both ways is plenty of evidence that they are the ones who are being entrusted to sink or swim.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Almost 18 minutes last evening on the first line….there aren’t many areas of the pool deeper than that, agreed?

            Give Paajarvi 18-20 mins a night with the same centerman for a week or two and see what shakes. I’d like to see someone really drill Paajarvi, can’t remember if i’ve seen him play mad yet.

          • There certainly are.

            When you are only being sent on the ice for offensize zone draws and pulled off the ice for defensive zone ones, that isn’t very deep.

            That line is being put out in the best possible situations to succeed offensively. Meanwile Paajarvi and Omark are taking actual NHL shifts, not getting great matchups and are starting at both ends of the ice.

            One group is being thrown into the deep end, the other group is hanging out in the shallow end.

            It’s not about ice time at all, but instead the situations both groups are being put in and what is being asked of them.

    • Rob...

      I think a lot of people realised the possibility of a bounce back season for Bulin but it was unlikely and still seems unlikely to happen. I think a big difference right now is that they are splitting the games down the middle between the two goaltenders and I think if they keep doing that it will only help Bulin. But if they try and make him play 10 in a row again then there maybe some problems.

    • John Chambers

      Yes, good for Bulin. After all he is Chambers’ chosen star! Like a phoenix or like Robert Downey Jr he will rise from the ashes.

      And I was wrong about the Nuge. Wrong wrong wrong. I used to think he should be wearing Rebel red this year, but I was lost and now am found.

      From now on I am an apostle of might Arch … except that I disagree about Omark and whatever else he’ll preach from his pedestal next week.

  • Big Cap

    You have top believe H2E Line will dominate tonight.
    They played Fantastic against the “Best Team in the West” and reigning “President Trophy Winners”.
    They dominated last night against one of the best d-man pairings ijn the league.
    The Flamers are older, slower, and generally not as good.
    Once they get buzzing and tossing the puck around it might mean trouble!!

    The Vets will now be playing with Confidence at both ends of the rink.

    Eager has one game under his belt so lets hope he starts storming around.

    Our 3rd and 4th lines know their roles.

    Dubey is solid and feeling good.

    IF the Oil can play their game and we stay clear of dumb penalties and turnovers…
    5-1 Oilers.

    GO OIL GO!!!

  • RexLibris

    the kids are awesome,what a line,i like horcoff and smyth chemistry,nice to see eager back for some playing grit,whitney is back tonight and gilbert and smid seem on track,lets just pray habby gets another dui and hemsky is out for the season,ganger comes back 100 percent and this team is rolling.lets face it oil fans over the last 4 years losing hemsky was season ending,this year its a blessing,good things are on the way.p.s.thats brownlee on the left(hahahahahah)

  • Junker4ce

    According to @NHL_Oilers, Taylor Hall was the one with the flu yesterday…
    And yet the kids still skated around Suter and Weber.

    Calgary got lucky if Hall doesn’t play.

  • Big Cap

    @ Dipstick – I agree with you man. Those would be some tough Minutes on the second line for a young trio.It seems like the coaches have a good system for the 1st and 2nd line and rotating them in and out.

    I too would like to see 57 centre 91 and 23. At least try it out. They seemed to have a good thing going in TC. Belanger can still rotate in and take any of the bigger draws.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    You take the Puck…… no you take the puck….. no way, you score….. ok, I’ll score. Nice problem to have last night! I hope to see more of the same tonight…. For my money, up until the Smytty and Horc took over the game, MPS, Omark and Belanger were the best line. I LOVED how Omark would not back down to Weber and went right at him with the puck. A little puck luck for that line and they will start scoring without a doubt!

    • Rob...

      MPS is definitely stronger and more bold than last year. It’s nice to see him try to will his way through opponents and I can see him eventually doing it successfully with consistence. Meanwhile, Omark is going to tire out defenders… it takes a lot of energy to repetitively crosscheck someone in the back.

  • bazmagoo

    “Is Theo Peckham in game shape?”

    I don’t think he is Robin. Was at the Vancouver preseason game on Oct 1. When Peckham fought Lapierre he gassed after about 15 seconds. That was my first clue that Teddy ate a few too many steaks over the summer.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    Agreed on the “Nuuuuge” chant. Break it out when appropriate otherwise it sounds like we are emulating Canuck fans. What’s next, those retards in orange body suits at Oilers games?

  • book¡e

    RB – what is the number of games played mark for when Khabi can officially be identified as having shoved it up the backsides of his critics?

    I am glad to see Khabi doing well because he has the Oiler crest on his chest, but I am not yet convinced that he has staying power.

    • Number of games doesn’t have anything to do with SIUTBOHC.

      If Khabibulin can post a GAA of under 3.00 and, more important, a saves percentage of .910 or better this season, that would have to be considered a nice rebound at his age the way the past two seasons have gone, no?

      Since you brought up one of my favourite terms, what sort of numbers do think Nugent-Hopkins needs this season to SIUTBOHC?

  • Jerk Store

    While I agree it sucks that Calgary has won 12 / 13 (believe me I know, I have paid out many sheckles to friends in Calgary) let me say this . . . I have had the opportunity to watch a few Flames games in the Saddledome the last couple of years and it is like watching paint dry. If it is a choice between watching a BORING team finish 9th or an exciting young team finish 13th, it is no contest. The building is a morgue, the Flames are old, slow and now have as much edge as a wet Kleenex. They have ZERO young stars in the wings to give them hope. Calgary’s future looks as promising as Lindsay Lohan’s career as a guidance councilor. Long Live the Oil!

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I agree with the Barker sentiment. He hasn’t done anything that would indicate that he was a former 3rd overall pick. Yet, he has not been a liability either. Barker not bleeding scoring chances and give aways gives him a stable foundation to step forward. Let’s just hope he takes that step at some point this season.

  • Jerk Store

    RB,
    You are correct about Gilbert and I think there were a few hints in the pre-season. I am a little foggy on the details but during a Vancouver pre-game there was a bit of a scuffle along the boards (this ended up being the Peckham / Laperierre scrap) after one of the young Oilers got tagged. Gilbert was the first one on the scene and went after the Canuck (Bieksa?) who threw the hit, with fervor. He never accomplished much but it was a response that previous editions of Gilbert would not have exhibited and he would have chosen to stay on the perimeter. He does not need to become an enforcer but it will not hurt him to lean on the odd forward in our end, give guys the odd whack and show up for his teammates once in awhile. Hopefully he keeps it up.

  • Romulus' Apotheosis

    Khabibulin has been decent, so although I was one of the guys wanting him sent down to the Barons, kudos to him for what he’s down so far and please keep it up for another 35-45 starts. In the interests of full disclosure, I must say, I’m a “Dube” man myself.

    As for Barker, it’s like being promised that the last donut at the bottom of the box is really a Horton’s maple glazed, but really it’s just cake… and a day old… and from the Co-Op bakery… will it get you by until supper? Yes, but I expected so much more.

  • stevezie

    It’s not just Barker’s mediocrity, Potter and Petry both looked good at doing similar things.

    RB, are any of Howson’s D solutions to out problems? We have five or six third pairing guys already, what we need is a top 3 defender. Are Tyutin or Clitsome good enough to fit that bill? (I’m not challenging you, I really don’t know.)

  • I’m genuinely happy for Khabbi that he has had a stellar start to the season. I hope he keeps it up even though I did put the goaty mcgrebeshkov’s on him as my goat pick.

    Interesting about Allan Watt and the inside org moves.

    It’s been a nice start to the year with some feel good stories. Lets keep it goin and kick some Clowntown A double S tonight!!!

  • stevezie

    If you’re going with Finger-Clitsome on the back end, then you’ve got to put Hakan Loob between Corey Pecker and Luca Cunti up front.

    I said, “Pardon?”