Tomorrow the Edmonton Oilers will play their eighth game of the season, through the first seven games they currently sit at the top of the North West division and because of that are ranked third in the west. Let’s have a look on how they’ve done so far and if this pace is sustainable.
So far the team in blue and orange has managed 9 out of a possible 14 points, have a positive goal differential (+1), are getting good goaltending, and have three players from two different lines at a point per game or better (Taylor Hall, Sam Gagner, and Jordan Eberle). Special teams are not too shabby, sporting the league’s third ranked powerplay (31.4%) and seventh ranked PK (85.3%).
Wait, what? The Oilers are playing to everyone’s expectations? Not bad. They have fought through adversity, coming back from two goal deficits twice this season, once against the Vancouver Canucks, and again last night against the San Jose Sharks. This is not the same Oilers team we have been used to watching the last few seasons (few is being generous). For me there have been more highlights than lowlights so far in this young season.
Obviously the play of the Oilers top line, through the first seven games they have a combined total of 21 points, Hall leads the way with 2 goals and 7 assists. The chemistry these kids have is obvious; each game they have shown moments of brilliance, they enjoy cycling the puck and can make give and go passes in a phone booth. I have read quite frequently that people might be worried about Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and his early performances, but come on people, the Nuge has 5 assists so far and has had plenty of chances, he has missed the net a few times by just inches when the goalie has been down and out. It is only a matter of time until RNH starts burying those chances and adds to the top lines point totals.
Another big positive so far has been the play of Sam Gagner. I knew he would be ready for the season and felt he was ready for his break out year as the Oilers clear cut number two center. But his play so far has surpassed even my expectations (3g 5a for 8p in 7 games). He looks stronger and faster than he has at any other point of his career. February, not January is normally Sam’s month for point production; it would seem that playing in Europe has helped out tremendously. It will be interesting to watch and see if he can maintain the pace.
In goal Devan Dubnyk has been exceptional. Playing all but 2 periods so far and looking like a vet doing it. If you take away the first period of the game against the Sharks in Edmonton last week, Duby might have the best GAA and SV% in the league. The knock has always been that he would let in one bad goal a game, while he is responsible for a few softies this year he the one stinker a game thing seems to be history, at least so far.A few other good things that stick out for me are;
- Scoring from the second line, the first line hasn’t had to be counted on all the time to get things done even if they are doing it anyway.
- The play of Teemu Hartikainen, he leads all forwards in hits, is averaging 15:15 TOI/game, and has been impossible to knock off the puck in the offensive zone.
- The bottom 6 forwards all together have been playing very well. The last number of seasons if the top line wasn’t on the ice you could almost guarantee that there would be no action in the Oilers offensive zone.
There are two things that are bugging me with regards to the Oilers play so far this season. First off is the defensive breakdowns; Ryan Whitney, Cory Potter, Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry have had some terrible miscues in each game, none as obvious as the back to back giveaways last night that against San Jose that resulted in goals. Those are just two examples of many, but luckily Dubnyk has come up huge bailing out the team in front of him on numerous occasions.
The other is what I think the Oilers are missing. They still don’t have someone that can hit, fight, and play well defensively, someone who can play 7 to 12 minutes per game. Don’t get me wrong I like Darcy Hordichuk and I think he is great for the dressing room but his two and a half minutes per night don’t won’t cut it. The Oil need a guy who can agitate and protect the kids that won’t be a defensive liability every time he is on the ice. There was quite the twitter conversation on this subject today, and really there were no good solutions brought to the table by us armchair GM’s, but if it is on our minds I’m sure Tambellini and the rest of the head office tall foreheads are thinking the same and hopefully trying to do something about it.
Comment below if you think you may have the solution to our tough guy problems.
One More Thing
I didn’t leave this out of the highlights, I just saved the best for last, Nail Yakupov’s beautiful goal celebrations! So here they are for your re-viewing pleasure!
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Jeff – @OilOnWhyte
Ian – @ibleedoil
Jonathan – @jonrmcleod
Troy – @heavyoilcountry
Dave – @rustyknuckler