For me, the highlight of the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 shootout loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Sunday was guffawing like a slobbering knucklehead when Sportsnet play-by-play man Kevin Quinn slipped on a Freudian banana peel and called Theo Peckham "Theo Pecker" during the first period.
Suffice to say, with 72 games in the books and the Oilers on the way to yet another lottery pick, my attention span is not what it should be, so Quinn’s gaffe provided a welcome distraction, as I noted on Twitter, just as several of you did in response.
It was bound to happen, of course, with Peckham being paired with Corey Potter by coach Tom Renney. Potter and Peckham. Potter and Peckham. Potham and Pecker. As a wiseguy calling himself Rascal Gas Tweeted, Sportsnet is probably thankful the Oilers don’t have Clitsome playing with Pitlick, but I digress . . .
The Oilers begin a four-game road swing through Nashville, Tampa Bay, Florida and Columbus with a record of 28-36-8 for 64 points. That puts them two better than the 62 points they managed the past two seasons (25-45-12 in 2010-11) and eight points ahead of the total they had last season through 72 games (23-39-10).
OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD
— I liked the overall physical response of the Oilers to the lick Cory Sarich laid on Taylor Hall in Friday’s 3-1 win over Calgary, but the old-school part of my brain insists somebody had to exact more telling retribution. Ryan Whitney pushing punches at Sarich, a barrage not even deemed worthy of a major, doesn’t count.
Hall getting starched was partly his own doing, of course, as he lost his footing fell into the check by the charging Sarich, who has spent his career playing with a physical edge (four seasons with 100-plus PIM). It didn’t help that Renney didn’t have Darcy Hordichuk or Ben Eager in the line-up. That said, I’d like to have seen somebody – hello, Teddy – demand a fistfight. Don’t ask Sarich, tell him.
— His scoring totals aside, Jordan Eberle is showing me something each and every time out of the gate these days. Aside from continuing to pile up the points, Eberle showed a lot of jam in the loss to Phoenix. He got rocked three times in that game and didn’t back-off even a little bit. Big talent. Big brass. And, as fanboy Wanye notes, he smells like cinnamon.
— I’m also liking the team-first approach Lennart Petrell has shown more than once this season, the last time being against the Coyotes in his scrap with Keith Yandle. Petrell, who has fit in nicely in the bottom six and quietly impressed with his willingness to take the body, has doffed the leather twice now. He can play in my bottom six any time.
— Ales Hemsky had a helluva game against the Coyotes. He’s looked like a different player for weeks now. It looks like those of us who wrote Hemsky off as having zoned out and looking for the next train out of town as the trade deadline approached were dead wrong. I know I mis-read him.
— In the nine games he’s played with the Minnesota Wild, Tom Gilbert has scored 0-2-2 and is minus-4. In 10 games with the Oilers, Nick Schultz has 0-4-4 and is plus-3. Might Schultz, characterized by some as an offensive downgrade from Gilbert, produce at the rate No. 77 did here playing in a more offensive-oriented system than in Minnesota?
BY THE NUMBERS
While the Oilers haven’t shown the degree of improvement in the standings a lot of fans anticipated going into this season, there are areas that suggest the team has made some substantial strides.
— The power play has shown the most marked improvement as it sits ranked third in the NHL at 21.1 per cent (51 goals on 242 attempts). The power play was ranked 27th in 2010-11 at 14.5 per cent (44 goals on 304 attempts).
— The penalty killing has also been on the uptick. It’s ranked No. 18 at 81.7 per cent (46 goals-against on 251 attempts). It was a black hole last season, finishing ranked 29th at 77 per cent (74 goals on 321 attempts).
— While even-strength scoring has been a weak spot, the Oilers have already scored 190 goals while allowing 213 for a team minus-23. They scored just 193 goals last season while allowing 269, a team minus-76.
— My best guess is the Oilers will pick up eight points from their final 10 games, which would give them 72 and bump them to a double-digit increase over last season. Good enough, when the other improvements are taken into account?
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.