This is a game the Oilers must win. The Flames played last night. They are starting their backup goalie. The 1984 Stanley Cup winning team is in the building.
If the Oilers want to turn the corner these are games they MUST win. It is that simple.
The best part about opening night is the unbridled enthusiasm that home crowd carries into the rink.
It is a new season.
There are new players.
New line combinations.
The Oilers need to take advantage of the energy that will be emanating throughout Rexall Place this evening. The energy will be amplified tonight because of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey, Semenko and the rest of the boys being in the house, and the Oilers need to grab hold of it and use it to their advantage.
One game will not set the tone for the entire season, but the Oilers must ensure they make it harder on visiting teams. The Oilers play 13 of their first 21 games at home and if they want to be in the playoff hunt after the first quarter of the season, they need to become a dominant home team.
The Oilers were good at home in the preseason. I realize the opposing lineups weren’t great, but this team needs to develop a winning feeling, and even though it was preseason, they took care of business at home.
Today will be the last time I write about the Oilers pathetic 4-15-2 start last season, but as bad as they were overall, they were even worse at home ice. The Oilers were 1-7 in their first eight home games. Their only win was a 5-4 shoot out victory over the New Jersey Devils.
They scored eight goals in their first two home games, but then the offence dried up. It was painful to watch. They scored a measly three goals in their next six home games. That wasn’t a typo. They lost 4-1 to Montreal, then 4-1 to Washington and then they got shut out three consecutive games, (sorry to relive the horror) 4-0 by Toronto, Detroit blanked them 5-0 and Dallas won 3-0 and finally San Jose beat them 3-1.
It was beyond awful for fans. At least when you are at home you can channel surf, or leave the room, but when you are in the stands the carnage is much more real.
The Oilers were shutout seven times on home ice last year. They scored one goal ten times. In 17 home games they scored 10 freaking goals. Too often their efforts lacked the necessary intensity and drive to compete in the NHL. That can’t happen this year.
The endless cycle of losing and not dominating on home ice has to stop. The schedule maker and reunion organizer have given the Oilers every opportunity to start the season on the right skate blade. It has to happen, especially against the Phlegms.
Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell and Leon Draisaitl will make their Oilers debut tonight. They are collectively more skilled than the five they replaced, but they also average 6’2 1/2″ and 206 pounds which makes the Oilers much heavier and stronger. It is a welcome change and should help them win more battles, especially Pouliot and Fayne.
Every Oilers media person and fan had the top nine players slotted into the top three lines. There were different combos tossed out leading into training camp, but everyone expected these nine to be in the mix. The Nugent-Hopkins line is clearly the Oilers best line. They’ve shown excellent chemistry in the past and with the Nuge coming off his first summer of proper training, due to no injuries, I expect this trio to be even more dangerous.
The second and third lines have never played together before, so it might take them a few games to get comfortable, but Draisaitl and Yakupov seemed to mesh well in the brief time they played together in the preseason.
I expected the top two pairings to look like this on opening night, but I don’t know anyone who had Hunt in the starting six. Give him credit — he has played well — but I’d rather have Oscar Klefbom paired up with Schultz. I don’t see Hunt being a better NHL player than Klefbom or Darnell Nurse, so I’m perplexed why both former first rounders are in the pressbox. They like Hunt, especially on the PP, which is fine, but I don’t see the point in having two young guys in the pressbox for any extended period of time. It is only one game, and I’m sure as the season progresses we will see more of Nurse, Klefbom or Martin Marincin, but tonight Hunt gets the opportunity of a lifetime. Good for him.
I don’t see either goalie as the bonafide #1 right now. Viktor Fasth played well in the preseason and he will start Saturday night in Vancouver. Eakins plans to rotate them until one of them plays so well that it forces him to deviate from the rotation.
Scrivens grew up in Edmonton and with Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog in the building, he will be jacked up to have a strong game.
Last night David Jones and his $4 million cap hit sat in pressbox, and tonight Dennis Wideman and his hefty $5.25 million cap hit takes a seat. Wideman could be nursing an inury, from the hit last night, but those two UFA signings by Jay Feaster’s look eerily similar to many of Steve Tambellini’s signings.
- Draisaitl will be hard pressed to score a better first goal in the NHL than Eberle did in 2010. Eberle scored shorthanded in his first NHL game and the Oilers won 4-0. That tally ended up being goal of the year on TSN. Here is how the long it took the other young stars to score their first NHL goal.
Hall: Scored in his 8th game vs. Columbus. He only had one point in his first seven games so don’t freak out if Draisaitl doesn’t score right away.
Nugent-Hopkins: Scored in his first NHL game. His goal tied the score at one with less than five minutes to play vs. Pittsburgh. Oilers won in a shootout. He scored a hat trick in his 3rd NHL game.
Yakupov: Scored in his second NHL game. The Oilers lost 6-3 to the Sharks that night, after the Sharks scored six goals in the first period. Yakupov’s goal made it 2-1, but that was the only highlight of the game.
Schultz: Scored the same night at Yakupov, in his second NHL game.
The young guys all scored very early in their careers, and I suspect Draisaitl will do the same.
- Joensuu scored in his 1st game, and so did Gazdic. Gazdic scored in on his first NHL shift last year. Gordon scored in his 2nd game, Perron in his 5th, Purcell in his 6th, Acton in his 6th, Hendricks in his 8th, Klefbom in his 9th, Fayne in his 10th, Pouliot in his 11th, Petry in his 11th, Ference in his 15th, Arcobello in his 17th, Nikitin in his 17th and Hunt has yet to score in three games, while Nurse has yet to play an NHL game.
- The Flames don’t have much skill, but they work hard. If the Oilers match their work ethic, they should win. They have much more skill.
- Eakins told me that he plans to use the Schultz/Hunt pair with RNH line in offensive situations. The Oilers will be much more aggressive attacking the puck. Expect all their defence to jump up in the rush.
- Bob Hartley will want his #1 D pairing of Giordano/Brodie matched up
against 4/93/14 as much as possible, and I wonder how hard Eakins will
try to avoid that scenario, or just roll his lines.
- The Oilers want to improve their PP, which is good, but it is their 5-on-5 play that must improve if they want to stay in the playoff race. Here is a quick look 5-on-5 scoring the past three years.
Year GF GA
2014 130 (28th) 183 (30th)
2013 82 (21st) 91 (19th)
2012 139 (22nd) 153 (20th)
Here is their PP scoring the past three seasons:
2014: 17% (21st in % and 21st in GF with 46)
2013: 20.1% (8th in % and 6th in GF with 34)
2012: 20.6% (3rd in % and 5th in GF with 54)
Between 2014 and 2012 they scored 8 fewer goals on the PP, but the biggest collapse was at ES. They Oilers were -53 at 5-on-5 last year. It will help if the PP becomes more efficient, but their ES play must improve significantly for them to stay in contention for the playoffs.
Watch and see how much more aggressive they are when they have the puck, and see how the Flames respond.
**Our pal Lowetide is on verge of being inconsolable as he prepares for another season of no playoffs, so we thought we’d help him with a pic of his 2nd favourite lady. His wife is #1 of course.**
GAME DAY PREDICTION: All the arrows point to a blowout. Flames played last night, they aren’t that good and the Oilers have the legends in the building. The Oilers pay homage to the 1984 team, who averaged over five goals a game, by winning 5-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The RNH line dominates. They combine for eight points.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Brad Hunt scores on the PP. For one night everything that could go right for the Oilers does, and Oilers fans get a much-needed win before they sit in their seats tomorrow night for a fun trip down memory lane with the 1984 team.
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