After a ferocious comeback led them to a shootout victory on Monday, the Oilers will be looking to carry that momentum into tonight’s clash with the Montreal Canadiens. The Oilers have trailed by three goals heading into the 3rd period 285 times in franchise history, and Monday was only the 5th time they came back to win the game. Those types of comebacks are extremely rare, but the enthusiasm and confidence the Oilers gained from that game has been evident the past few days.
The players were more relaxed. This team is still quite young, especially their offensive leaders, and even though it was only eight periods of hockey, you could tell some of them were frustrated with their lack of production prior to the 3rd period explosion vs. the Devils.
Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Nail Yakupov desperately want to lead this team offensively. They feel their primary job is to score goals, and you could see they were getting frustrated not doing it. They have high expectations, and since Monday’s victory you could see the relief on two of their faces.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored in his first game, so he wasn’t feeling any frustration, but he’s just as hungry to lead this team as the other three.
As they mature, they will realize that on nights where their offence is struggling they can still help the team by playing solid defensively. It is easy to say, but much harder to accept. Very few young offensive stars can accept that playing great defence is as important as scoring a goal. They were able to dominate at every other level, and most of their domination came offensively.
This isn’t a knock or a criticism, just a fact in today’s game. The best offensive players become some of the best two-way players if their teams want to win. Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Patrice Bergeron are excellent two-way players, and Nugent-Hopkins is constantly talking about wanting to emulate them.
Hall, Eberle and Yakupov are equally aware of it, but it will take time before they don’t get frustrated when the offence dries up. Usually their slumps won’t last very long, so it won’t be a big issue, but even a two-game drought can frustrate young snipers.
Hall’s third period goal was a huge relief, and even though Eberle didn’t score a goal, he contributed with an assist and he too was more relaxed the past few days.
Yakupov loves scoring goals, and after scoring six goals in his final three games he was hoping to carry that momentum into this season. It hasn’t happened, yet, and you can see the frustration in his game. It seems many in Oilersnation want to blame his linemates for his lack of production. That is a lame excuse, and not one that Yakupov is thinking about.
Elite players don’t think that way. Yakupov can score regardless of who he plays with, and when I spoke to him yesterday he said he just needs to shoot more and react better to plays. He’s played most of the season with Boyd Gordon, who has a point in every game, so the excuse of weak linemates is not only a cop out, but also inaccurate.
Yakupov needs to shoot more, but he also needs to work harder to get into better shooting lanes. It is only three games, and no one should be that concerned, but stop blaming his linemates. Gordon is playing the best offensive hockey of his career, yet he’s an anchor for Yakupov? It doesn’t jive.
Yakupov will start producing, and when he does it will likely coincide with him simply working harder in every aspect of his game.
I’m sure many will complain that Yakupov is playing with Smyth, but Eakins isn’t afraid to juggle his lines, so I’m sure we will see Yakupov play with other duos as well. Eakins won’t hesitate to switch up the lines if they aren’t producing, but he stated yesterday he’d much rather keep his lines together, because that means they are playing well.
The Canadiens lost 3-2 in Calgary last night and didn’t skate this morning, but Peter Budaj will get the start in goal for the Habs. Josh Gorges was injured and only played one shift in the third period last night, so he’ll be a game time decision.
- David Perron is another scorer who wants to be a main contributor. After a solid preseason, five goals, he too was pressing for his first as an Oiler. After he ripped one over Brodeur’s right shoulder he admitted he felt a great sense of relief. It is nice to see a bunch of players who truly want to contribute and win. Once this team learns to play better away from the puck, I believe they will be a handful for opposing teams.
- Last year many wrote how Eberle’s shooting % was unsustainable, and he would clearly regress. It is interesting how none of those same people wrote similar stories about Yakupov. Yakupov had 17 goals on 81 shots for a sizzling 21 SH%. If Eberle’s 18.9% wasn’t going to be repeated, shouldn’t those people expect Yakupov to regress as well?
- Perception and human nature is a funny thing. It seems some have decided it is Eberle vs. Yakupov, instead of hoping that both have great success. I sense that some would rather see Yakupov succeed than Eberle, mainly because he was the #1 overall pick. After a 76-point season many stats guys wanted to show why Eberle couldn’t maintain those numbers, yet after Yakupov’s rookie campaign many automatically assumed he’d become a 35-goal man. Why was Eberle’s season critiqued due to SH%, but Yakupov’s used as a stepping stone to future success?
- Lars Eller is off to a great start for the Habs. He has four goals and six points in three games, while Aex Galchenyuk has five assists. Eakins likes to go power on power so we could see the RNH line vs. Galchenyuk which should be exciting.
- I loved Tomas Hertl’s goal. It is extremely difficult to pull that off in a game, and outside of Adam Oates, it seemed most hockey fans appreciated it. I liked Hall’s response when I asked him if he feels it was disrespectful. "I think it is more insulting if a team stops trying against you than if they run up the score or score a flashy goal," said Hall.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers can’t afford to go on the road with only one victory. They will play their best game of the early season and skate away with a 4-2 victory.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Gordon has had four three-game point streaks in his career, but he’s never had points in four consecutive games. He’ll set a career high tonight with an assist, and make everyone forget about the dreadful two seasons of the Belanger Triangle.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Midway through the first period Alex Galchenyuk, the 3rd pick in the 2012 draft, will crush Yakupov, 1st pick in 2012, with an open ice hit. Yakupov is slow to get up, but on his next shift he rips a one-timer for his first goal of the season. Instead of a crazy celebration, he just stands still and raises his hands above his head with a big smile. After the game he thanks his former teammate for waking him from his early season slump.