Indeed this is unchartered territory for the Nation. Since this site debuted in the spring of 2007 you have mostly been witness to losing seasons, an endless parade of players to the infirmary, skilled players who weren’t that skilled, a lack of size, questionable goaltending and you’ve sat through four seasons of losing hockey, yet your loyalty to the team and the Nation never waned.
You found solace and understanding here. You and your fellow Oiler fans could vent about inept powerplays, bad trades, brutal signings, donair-loving players and horrendous music at Rexall. You would flock to the Nation to feel comfort after another brutal loss, or through the painfully long off-seasons, but finally it looks like you might come here to actually celebrate.
Don’t start planning the parade route Wanye and don’t start chanting playoffs, but it is clear the Oilers finally have some legitimate skill. No offence to Sam Gagner, but remember when many claimed he was a legitimate potential future stud. I think we’d all agree he has lots of ability, and could still be an important part of this year, but Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are showing you what true top-three skill is.
All three of them are averaging a point-a-game thus far, and while I don’t expect them to keep that pace, it is clear that they possess the ability to be legitimate threats every night.
The Oilers didn’t deserve to win last night, but they did. Tom Renney stated the Capitals are a better team, but when the Oilers get exceptional goaltending and timely goals for their PP and perfect penalty-killing they can be competitive. It is clear that the H2E line has a bright future in Edmonton, but when you looked at Washington’s lineup you realized how far the Oilers need to go before they are a consistent threat for the Cup.
The Oilers have 10 forwards less than 200 pounds, the Capitals had one. The scary part about the Caps is they have size and skill. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Laich, Knuble, Brouwer and Semin are hard to knock off the puck. As you watch this season unfold start visualizing who the Oilers can acquire or develop who will bring those attributes. They have the top-end skill emerging, but they need some size on their 2nd and 3rd lines over the next year or two. Maybe it is Tyler Pitlick, Teemu Hartikainen or Curtis Hamilton.
Lennart Petrell, my preseason surprise pick, is becoming better every game. He doesn’t provide much offence, but Shawn Horcoff called him, "A shot blocking machine," after last night’s victory. Petrell is great at getting in the shooting lanes. He is physical, and rarely does he get knocked off the puck. He is great role player. He has a role and he is playing it well.
Anyone who suggests that when Ales Hemsky returns, Petrell should come out isn’t paying attention. Successful teams need players who are great in specific areas. The young guns are here to provide offense, Petrell is a guy who kills penalties, blocks shots and doesn’t get scored on very often. Linus Omark and Sam Gagner can’t play that role, so don’t expect them to. For the first time in a long time, it looks like the Oilers have guys who fit and can play the role the coaches demand of them.
Of course, the Oilers need more offense from Magnus Paajarvi, Eric Belanger, Anton Lander and Sam Gagner while Ryan Smyth needs to add something on the 2nd PP unit, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
The only changes you might see tonight are in goal and possibly on the blueline. The Oilers have recalled Jeff Petry so he might draw in. Earlier this week Renney hinted slightly they’d monitor Andy Sutton and maybe rest him in back-to-backs, so you never know. Also, when I asked Renney about Devan Dubnyk he said the plan was to play him tonight, but he was going to talk to Nikolai Khabibulin and it is possible the coach might change his mind. Khabibulin is playing so well that other goalies might be inclined to spend two weeks in Tent City next summer. He leads the NHL is GAA at 0.97 and SV% with a sparkling 0.964, but I wouldn’t dress him.
Khabibulin had two days between the win over the Rangers and the Canucks, so why would anyone think resting him tonight would cause him to lose his mojo. He could play Sunday and have the same two days off between games. If Renney changes his mind about Dubnyk I’d be surprised, and also stunned considering the stance he took on RNH.
The Oilers told Nugent-Hopkins agent Rick Vallette at the start of camp that they wouldn’t make a decision until after nine games. Earlier this week it was clear to everyone that RNH wasn’t going back to junior, yet the Oilers stubbornly decided not to deviate from their original "after nine-games" plan.
They announced earlier today he was officially staying, which was like telling us that Willis like stats, Brownlee hates bullnuts, Wanye love Eberle or Lowetide thinks Scarlett Johansson is hot. Thanks for the update tips.
For some reason they felt it necessary to hold onto this plan, yet I’ve seen them change directions on a few others because of stellar play. Devan Dubnyk wasn’t supposed to play only three of the first nine games, but he did because Khabibulin was playing out of this world. Sam Gagner was supposed to be a centre, but an injury and RNH’s stellar play made him a winger when he returned. I get why they made had to change their mind in these cases, but I will never understand why they didn’t tell RNH after game eight that he was staying. There was no reason not to.
- Ryan Whitney will now be out three to four weeks. The Oilers will be re-calling a D-man, likely Jeff Petry sometime this weekend. The good news for Whitney is he didn’t re-aggravate his ankle, but now he has a knee injury.
- While Theo Peckham had a brutal five-star turnover to Ovechkin last night, the coaches didn’t lose faith in him and still played him, even in the dying minutes while holding onto a one-goal lead. Showing that much confidence in him was an excellent coaching decision and likely could help Peckham re-gain his form from last season.
- Magnus Paajarvi only played 2:14 in the first period last night, and rather than sulk he came out and played his best period of the season in the 2nd. He caused four turnovers in his first two shifts, and if he can find that consistency on most shifts he’ll start to score soon.
- Coaches rarely switch lines when the team is winning, but I wonder if Renney will look at changing up his bottom three lines. Paajarvi and Belanger have zero chemistry right now. Belanger has been excellent on the PK and winning faceoffs, but he looked lost on the PP last night. I wonder if Renney would switch Lander and Belanger five-on-five? Lander and Paajarvi had a great chance on their only shift together last night. Renney wants some more production five-on-five, so I’m curious to see when he pulls a switch. Maybe he swaps Jones and Gagner to try to get more offense out of Gagner and more of a grinder with Belanger and Paajarvi?
GAME DAY PREDICTION: I recieved this email early this morning.
"Gregor, I love your GDP and was floored how you correctly got RNH’s faceoff wins earlier this year. This week you picked the Caps and Canucks to win and they both lost, so can you keep with tradition and pick the Avs tonight. I wouldn’t expect you to do this for every game, but it is positive Friday so what do you think….Cameron. P.S. I’m loving the Nuuuuuge.
Cam, I don’t call guys Cameron, since you asked so nicely and clearly follow the Nation and my show, so I will abide by your superstitious nature. I’ll take the Avs to win 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: If Renney starts Dubnyk and he loses many of you will bitch that he didn’t play Khabibulin. Of course this will prove how bizarre this season has been. Not one Oiler fan could have pictured themselves chanting KHABBY. KHABBY, KHABBY after games or ripping the coach for not playing him. That’s what makes sports so damn fun. They are unpredictable. Did any of you think RNH would have 9 points in 9 games? Didn’t think so.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Avs are 6-0 on the road and 0-2 at home so far this year, so to change things up they let the Oilers choose the warmup music. The Oilers don’t have their music on the trip with them, so they decide to use RNH’s Ipod. The mix of Justin Bieber, LMFAO, Maroon 5, Rihanna and Foster the People produces some hilarious laughs as Hall and Eberle are caught lip-syncing "Sexy & I know it," to one another.