Michael Myers refusing to buy the farm again and again in that seemingly endless series of Halloween slasher flicks has nothing on Nikolai Khabibulin and the Edmonton Oilers when it comes to scripts that are absolutely unbelievable.
It’s 10 games into the 2011-12 season and the Oilers are actually thinking of dressing up as a contending team for Halloween as they sit atop the Northwest Division with gaudy 6-2-2 record after a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver as the St. Louis Blues come calling at Rexall Place tonight.
That’s the best start the Oilers have managed in a decade, since they got off to a 9-4-1 mark to open the 2001-02 season — about the time Halloween V (Michael Milks the Box Office Again) was attracting garden variety mouth-breathers and those with rubber bull nuts hanging off the bumpers of their pick-ups to the silver screen and scaring white trash in trailer parks across the nation.
Smack-dab in the middle of the ridiculous storyline is the 38-year-old Khabibulin, who was dead-and-buried to the majority of Oilers fans after last season but will face the Blues tonight with a record of 4-0-2, a goals-against average of 0.97 and a .964 saves percentage. In keeping with the sequels theme, tonight could be SIUTBOHC VII.
Trick or treat, indeed.
SO GOOD IT’S SCARY
The Oilers come in on a four-game winning streak thanks to 40 saves from Devan Dubnyk in Denver, a stretch that equals their longest streak last season.
The Oilers have been winning with great goaltending from Dubnyk and Khabibulin, improved special teams and a defensive corps that has been unexpectedly tighter than Wanye’s change purse thanks to Corey Potter’s emergence, Tom Gilbert finally deciding it’s better to give than to receive and Cam Barker showing signs of snapping out of a two-year coma.
The Oilers have allowed just 10 even-strength goals against in 10 games and have allowed more than two goals against in just one game — a 4-3 loss to Vancouver. While the Kid Line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle have garnered most of the ink with a promising start, it’s been Edmonton’s ability to keep the puck of the net that’s been the difference-makers so far.
Tom Renney’s over-achievers will need more of the same against the Blues, who have beaten the Oilers for fun over the last couple of seasons, winning six of the last eight games between the teams. St. Louis is coming off a 3-1 loss in Calgary.
It’s also worth noting that the Oilers are going to need every one of those 14 points they’ve banked going into November because they will play six straight games on the road after facing the Blues tonight.
Here is Renney’s line-up, based on today’s morning skate.
Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Eberle
Smyth – Horcoff – Jones
Paajarvi – Belanger – Gagner
Eager – Lander – Petrell
Smid – Gilbert
Barker – Petry
Peckham – Potter
OF NOTE . . .
— Andy Sutton is suspended for tonight’s game pending a hearing with Brendan Shanahan Monday for his headshot on Gabriel Landeskog of the Avalanche. With Sutton being a previous offender — he was given two games for a hit from behind on Pascal Dupuis — and being summoned to New York, bet on a suspension of four games or more.
— With Ryan Whitney out for as long as three weeks with a sprained right knee and Sutton awaiting his fate, the Oilers have called up Alex Plante from Oklahoma City.
— Ales Hemsky (shoulder) skated with the Oilers this morning but won’t play. So did winger Linus Omark, who goes into Halloween dressed up as an unhappy spectator once again.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers make it five straight wins with one for the road and beat the Blues 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Khabibulin continues to dumbfound his critics in his return from Tent City with 36 saves . . . Ryan Jones gets credited with the winner when a botched Shawn Horcoff one-timer bounces off his backside and the crossbar and trickles across the goal line . . . Gene Principe does his pre-game introduction for Sportsnet wearing a Bozo costume despite taking a wayward Alex Steen slapper off the orange fringe during warm-up.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle combine for four points but are quietly reprimanded by Renney after St. Louis team officials complain that several of their players were awakened at the team hotel after midnight Saturday by knocks on the door and burning paper bags full of dog crap.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.