1. Scrapping & Clawing
Well, here we are. 10 games into the season & we’re 4-3-2-1. Collecting 11pts over 10games isn’t much but considering the Oilers have been without 3/4 centers for 4 of those games collectively, the record is not too shabby. Finding ways to gain & lose pts in the final minutes of play have made things exciting & nerve racking all-in-one. Needless to say, aside from 1 horrible period in the season home opener & a laid egg in Calgary, the Oilers have been in a position to win 8games thus far. Good sign?
2. Dubnyk Has Been Owwwtstanding!
Goaltending was a huge question mark heading into this season with Devan Dubnyk getting his opportunity as the Oilers starting goalie & he has not disappointed. Starting in every game thus far, Devan has put up excellent numbers including a .923 save % w/a 2.60 GAA & without question is the Oilers best PKer helping the club kill 87.2% of penalties which is good enough for 7th in the league. What’s more remarkable is the fact that only the Carolina Hurricanes have given up more SOG this year than the Oilers. Devan will need to continue being the Oilers MVP if this team is to make a serious playoff push. Don’t be surprised if Dubnyk gets every available start in this short season.
Want excitement? Well you got it with Nail Yakupov! That game tying goal vs the Kings was well deserved given the fact that Quick had flat out robbed him on 3 separate occasions that night. Through 10 games, Nail has 5G 3A for 8pts. He’s scoring on a jaw dropping 27.8% of the shots he’s taken & we know that number won’t last so as an Oilers fan you want him to take more than the 1.8 shots/game that he’s taking now. Playing with line mates Gagner & Hemsky, this line has contributed the majority of the offense this season. One problem, this line is collectively -13 which is the worst out of the line-up but they have contributed to the majority of GWG this season so they have 38games to make up for it at the other end of the ice.
4. Sam Gagner
Gagner has arrived. 10 games into the season & the 23yr old, 5yr veteran center (yes, I said veteran) is finally living up to his offensive potential. I noticed a much quicker Sam Gagner in the short camp but thought it was maybe the others being sluggish but since that time he’s showed everyone. Leading the team w/3G & 8A for 11pts doesn’t come without it’s faults defensively so if Sam & his line mates can keep the puck out of their net a little bit more, this line will become scary good.
5. The Schultz Factor
Pairing Nick & Justin together looks to be a perfect mix of flair & grit . Easily the top pairing on this Oilers roster right now, the Schultz boys are playing well in their own end. Nick getting top PK mins (including 19:08/game) while Justin gets to QBing the 4th best PK in the league. It’s pretty easy to tell them apart though. Nick’s the stay at home type which allows Justin to be the join the rush player that the Oilers haven’t had since forever. Justin has been able to adapt real well from AHL success to NHL success almost instantaneously & with that he has logged more minutes (23:08/game) than any other on the roster. Get used to seeing Justin, a lot, which is a good thing.
6. 5 on 5
Much has been made about this statistic this year. I don’t pretend to be a fancy stat guy or anything but looking at the 5on5 goals for & against the Oilers are terrible & sit @ 29th. With that in mind, they’ve only been in the top half of the league once in this category since the 2005-06 (23rd in 5on5) season . The Oilers were 14th overall in 5on5 in the 2008-09 season surrounded by 26 th in 06-07, 27th in 07-08, 30th in 09-10, 29th in 10-11 & 22nd in 11-12. So, if you don’t think this statistic is an important measuring stick of where a team stacks up, think again. The Oilers will need to be substantially better in this category in order to be a legit playoff team.
7. Ales Hemsky
There’s something to be said about keeping a legitimate NHL player rather than trading for the future & Hemsky falls into that category, this year for the Oilers. He looks rejuvenated & worth the 2yr x $5mill extension he signed last year. With 4G, Hemsky is only 1 behind line mate Yakupov in this category & yes, its only been 10GP but he had 10G in 69GP all of last year. Playing w/legit scorers doesn’t help either so look for him to keep this pace for the remainder of the season. The biggest factor for Hemsky, his health.
8. Ralph Krueger
He seems to have a good feel as to which buttons to push & where. Choosing Belanger to take & win a key offensive draw, lavte in a game that the Oilers trailed by 1. It led to Yakupov’s game tying goal thus allowing Gagner to win it in OT. Also worth mentioning is he seems fearless. Putting Yakupov & Hall together in OT shows that he isn’t scared to lose & if he does, he’ll do it with his best scoring talent on the ice. Also, his handling of Dubnyk has been superb. Devan’s performances thus far. His selection of the 5-6 D-pairing has brought critism, but lets think about it, if the only decision we are concentrating on is who should be the #6 guy, I’d say he’s doing a good job.
9. Ryan Whitney.
The latest of fan favorite whipping boy, he’s struggled to regain his form that looked so promising prior to injuring his ankle over 2 seasons ago. That Ryan Whitney was near flawless offensively, defensively & most importantly, when it comes to him, mobility. You don’t have to be a fan of his to see he’s mobility is completely limited & I’m not a doctor but if I didn’t know any better I’d say he’s playing with the fear of injuring it because he knows in his own mind his physical limitations he has in regards to his ankle. This is the main reason why he was scratched, for the 1st time in his career in a game vs the Canucks. As I mentioned earlier, Krueger coaches with a fearless attitude & expects the same from his players when it comes to leaving your best on the ice.
Robin Brownlee was recently on The Jason Gregor show hammering the fans for booing him when he’s on the ice & how we, as Oilers fans shouldn’t get on a players case about his play because & to paraphrase Brownlee; Do you think that Whitney wants to go out there & play this poorly on purpose?
No Robin, he doesn’t but, do you really think, that the paying seat fan should put up with his poor play on the ice because everyone knows, including Whitney that he’s not at 100% & there’s a very high likelyhood that he will never, ever be that same player he was 2yrs ago. So, when fans boo him it’s really because the fans have no faith in him that he’ll get better & they don’t want to watch him struggle out there, so why should they when there’s other 5-6 guys waiting to play that are just as good as he is & 100% healthy. Brownlee also brought up Cory Cross in that conversation & how Cross was devastated when the Oilers traded him for Dick Tarnstrom during the season that turned into a magical Cup run in 2006. That’s a part of the business & if the Oilers can get a warm body back for Whitney, which I doubt, great. If not, the Stars just traded Marc Fistric here for a 3rd round pick it makes you wonder if the Oilers can get that pick back for Whitney. My guess, he gets dealt to the Red Wings
10. They’re Baaaaack!
I told myself at the beginning of the lock-out that I would not watch a game, by a shirt or purchase anything NHL related. Well, to quote Meatloaf, 2 outta 3 ain’t bad, right? Exactly 1 week before the season began I gave in. Now, I haven’t purchased any NHL gear since then, but I’ve only missed the San Jose game due to travelling for work & I couldn’t be happier. From public knowledge, the big markets are back showing some big numbers in TV ratings the last couple of weeks & I dont expect those numbers to fall. The weaker markets are still struggling & will continue to struggle for no other reason than 1, no interest but we all know that, right Gary?
It will be an interesting next 38 games for the Oilers & I’ll do another one of these…24 in 24.
Hopefully there’s more positives to talk about.