Not to yank the big jug of Kool-Aid from the blue-stained lips of giddy Edmonton Oilers fans, but they might want to take a snapshot of the gaudy 7-2-2 record the 2013 Stanley Cup champs are boasting as they open a six-game road trip in Los Angeles Thursday.
Despite 11 games that have long-suffering faithful thrilled at a start to the season nobody saw coming, there’s every chance the numbers won’t look nearly as good by the time the team jets home from Chicago with 17 games in the books a couple of weeks from now.
It’s been a start, good for 16 points and the lead in the Northwest Division, built on a favourable schedule, goaltending that has been out of this world, greatly improved special teams and a red-hot start by the line of raw rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle.
Advanced stats guys, not to mention common sense, suggest the kinds of numbers the Oilers have put up early are unlikely to continue — be it Nikolai Khabibulin’s saves-percentage, a penalty kill that sits 25 places higher in the rankings than where it finished last season or the 35-goal, 80-point scoring pace Nugent-Hopkins is on thanks, in large part, to a shooting percentage that sits at 22.7.
All that aside, with stops in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Chicago as the Canadian Finals Rodeo takes over Rexall Place, this trip stacks up as a helluva lot of fun off the ice and a bloody tough swing on it. Bad combination.
If the Oilers fly back from The Windy City packing double-digits in the win column, I’ll be astounded.
Why are you staggering around on your front lawn in soiled pajamas with a half-empty bottle of Scotch in your hand and yelling at the kids in the neighbourhood again, Brownlee? Halloween’s over.
Well, I’m not, actually. I tip my hat to Khabibulin, who has been better than anybody expected he’d be after struggling so badly last season, when it was like watching the wheels fall off Tommy Salo again.
Likewise, full marks to Nugent-Hopkins, who leads all NHL rookies with 11 points and, production aside (including an iffy hat-trick), hasn’t looked the least bit overwhelmed, at least not while being somewhat sheltered by coach Tom Renney in those eight home dates.
And what about Ryan Smyth? The Mulleted One seems to have turned back the clock. Then, there’s Tom Gilbert and Laddy Smid, who have easily been the best of a defensive corps we all looked at suspiciously when the season began. It’s a group that’s given opponents too many cracks at Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk, but that’s held together– and without having Ryan Whitney in the line-up most nights.
Those 16 points are in the bank, so credit where credit is due, but I’ve got a nagging suspicion much of the good fortune and many of the breaks that have gone the Oilers way will turn during this road trip.
THE WAY I SEE IT
— As if Nugent-Hopkins won’t get enough razzing as one of the Oilers entrants in Mo-vember, the whiz-kid with the complexion of a baby’s bum has as much chance of keeping up his point-a-game pace on the road as returning home with more than peach fuzz on his upper lip.
Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle won’t get the match-ups Renney wants on the road, they’ll get the lines and defensive pairings opposing coaches dictate. With the headlines they’ve attracted so far, they won’t sneak up on anybody. It’ll be hard matches shift in and shift out.
— As good as Gilbert and Smid have been, the Oilers won’t have hulking Andy Sutton for four of the six games, Ryan Whitney remains out with a sprained knee and Cam Barker, who has been solid if unspectacular, is dinged up.
They’ll miss the physical presence Sutton has brought and Gilbert and Smid will face a steady diet of top lines. Even if they can handle it, who’s left after them? How many minutes can Renney reasonably expect Theo Peckham play?
— What tinkering will Renney do when Ales Hemsky returns during the trip? Does he play with Shawn Horcoff and Smyth? If you move Ryan Jones down, where does he play and who comes out? Will the power play, a respectable 12th right now, get better with Hemsky?
UPDATE: OMARK DEMOTED
According to a Swedish website, Linus Omark has been assigned to Oklahoma City of the AHL The story can be found at www.kuriren.nu/nyheter/. I contacted the Oilers and the team is not confirming the move, but I suspect we will be getting official confirmation of this as early as Wednesday morning.
Omark, it should be noted, has a clause in his contract that allows him to go to the Swedish Elite League rather than report to the AHL. Stay tuned.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.