Hot October was everyone’s favourite time of this past year.
It gave us hope. And not in some trendy anagram, it was real hope. For a week, the Oilers led the entire NHL in standings. They looked down at teams like Detroit, defeated teams like Washington, and shutout teams like the NY Rangers at home.
This was very real. As young teams (and aching fanbases) are wont to do, our eyes became glazed over like the finest of maple doughnuts from Tim Horton’s. Surely, this had to be our year, the year where we skipped out of work early to begin our playoff Caesar regimen.
Cart before the horse, and all of that.
On the last day of October, I was giddy as a schoolgirl because the Oilers were 7-2-2 and looking down at a whole lot of other teams that were supposedly in worse shape. Look where the Rangers are today.
Look where they were in October.
Star rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins landed early, scoring in his first career regular season game, a game the Oilers would go on to win 2-1. A few games later, RNH provided all three goal in a 4-3 defeat to the Canucks. Were there any other rookies even playing the game? There were quite a few, actually. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins finished the month of October with eleven points (5-6-11) in 11 games.
Nikolai Khabibulin played the best hockey of his career as an Oiler through October, maybe even his career. Khabibulin stopped everything. I have a hard time believing that we’ll see anything like that ever again over an entire month. Khabibulin’s save percentage was hovering around .950 for the month, a number that’s tough to sustain for one game, let alone for an entire month. While Dubnyk needed some extra time (and some extra starts) to get his feet wet, Khabibulin was running wild. Character blue guys like Corey Potter were experiencing career moments. Potter would go on to sign an extension based on his play early in the season.
Ladislav Smid was scoring goals, two at a time. Ryan Smyth was running neck and neck with the Nugent-Hopkins’ and the Eberles at the top of the scoresheet. We’re going to live forever!
‘Forever’ lasted about one month. The Oilers were allowing an average of 30 shots per game, and the youth and inexperience of Edmonton’s defence would soon show. Khabibulin’s SV% would come down to earth, Andy Sutton would pick up an eight game suspension for a high hit to Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog. 4-14-93 would keep on trucking, but 91 would never really get his feet off the ground.
After going 7-2-2 in October, the Oilers would go 8-17-2 through the months of November and December. By January, talk of playoffs had evaporated.
While Hot October may have lasted just a month, it was the closest thing to the playoffs that anyone had felt since…2006. Oh, alright, there was that time in 2008 where if Calgary lost their last two games, the Oilers might have somehow fit it, but this…it lasted for a month. Watching the Oilers defeat the undefeated Capitals on home ice really gave people a good feeling about this team. It was overdue.
All this team needs is three or four really good Hot Octobers next year. Throw them around the season a little though. Put one in December, and a couple near February and March.