Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Optimistic Notes from a Pessimist

Nov 21, 2013; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Harry Potter actors Oliver Phelps (left) and James Phelps attend the Edmonton Oilers game against the Florida Panthers at Rexall Place. Mandatory Credit: Chris Austin-USA TODAY Sports

Before I start I’d like to voice my displeasure that so many Oilers fans didn’t recognize Fred and George from the Harry Potter flicks. Those movies were borderline, but the books were nothing short of spectacular. In a generation where video games and movies became the gold standard of entertainment, those books provided me with more inspiration, guidance and sheer enjoyment than any movie or video game I’ve ever played. As far as an experience goes, the books were sublime.

Back to the orange and blue. After a successful three game winning streak, I’m thoroughly convinced that this Edmonton Oilers club has arrived. Yes, the wins were against Columbus, Calgary and Florida, but this team has put together seven periods of hockey where they outscored their opponents 16-1. That’s an impressive number, and one that Edmonton media has been shoving down our throats since the final buzzer sounded friday night.

What I mean when I say this team has arrived is that we’re beginning to see the club we’ve been trying to build for the last three years. This is the team we want to see, the one we think we can win championships with. In my opinion, this is the beginning of the championship team of tomorrow. Our foot is in the door.

That isn’t to say the blundering fools we’ve begun booing off the ice aren’t finished in Rexall place; we’re bound to see a few sour spots here and there likely as late as two seasons from now. I’m saying the Oilers have found their path. They can begin believing in the system, which means everything will begin to come together. It’s an optimistic thought for someone who, a month ago, thought the sky was falling on this franchise.

Now, there are some things that I’ve really noticed since the beginning of the game against Calgary last saturday. Even at our best, our defence isn’t nearly mobile or strong enough; and when I say strong, I don’t mean high quality. I mean strong. The chemistry we’ve begun to show still won’t help Petry keep Rich Peverley from walking all over him. The Justin Schultz tactic works pretty well when you’re a smaller defenceman against a bigger opponent, just roll off the hit so the forechecker overcommits and injures himself, like Brandon Dubinsky did in the Columbus game. The loss of Dubinsky to go along with their sidelined Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik really seemed to take the heart from their team.

This next point is a little bit round-a-bout. It’s all a fairly long story about how the radio stations in Edmonton are fairly political about their views on certain aspects on the way the Oilers run their team.

I listened to a lot of sports radio over the off-season where one day, I believe it was close to the start of training camp, discussions circled around to functional toughness over heavyweights and how we let MacIntyre go to free agency after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign, where after knocking out Calgary’s Raitis Ivanans in an opening night brawl he did very little damage. The host of the show discussed things with his cohost and made the point that after that fight, not many people wanted to fight MacIntyre. Some unfortunate fan called in making the point that maybe MacIntyre shouldn’t have asked permission, he should have just lined up next to someone and informed them that they were about to be victimized.

The host of the show laid into the caller, listing certain things like codes of conduct amongst players, things getting out of hand, saying that this just wasn’t something that you did in the NHL.

Well, now it’s November and apparently all that has changed. I haven’t heard that radio host discuss this subject again, but this subject has been something of a hot-button issue so far this NHL season. It began in the pre-season with John Scott jumping Phil Kessel off the draw in a game between Buffalo and Toronto. Of course, Toronto was involved so I’m assuming it was shouted into your ear at some point during that week. Next we have the case of Ray Emery vs. Braden Holtby, where Emery didn’t ask if Holtby wanted to fight, he simply said “protect yourself.” If that hasn’t quietly snuck into conversation between you and your friends, you should try it out. It’s pretty fun.

The last case, or couple of cases I should say, are both instances where the league hasn’t made any mention of it, hasn’t interfered at all, nor has anyone really paid any attention at all to it. I’m talking about Andrew Ference. In the game against Calgary, he did something that nearly brought a tear to my eye. After getting dumped in a corner by Flames forward Lee Stempniak, Ference glanced at his stick that had slipped from his hands and had one of those, “Nah, I’m just going to drop it in two seconds anyway,” moments, before grabbing the larger Stempniak by the collar and punching him in the teeth until the pair fell to the ice. At one point in the fight, Stempniak moved his arm near Ference’s face, so both got major penalties for fighting, but the image of Stempniak crawling on the ice picking up chicklets while Ference skated calmly to the penalty box was more than I could handle.

Ladies and gentlemen, our resident maniac has arrived.

I wrote a blog after a particularly disheartening loss to the Maple Leafs about how we lacked some of that edge other teams had over us. That edge where we never really left a team scuffed up or battered. I mentioned how Smid rode Kadri into a corner and Kadri got up without so much as a bruise.

I think had the Ference who has arrived in the last few games been the one to ride Kadri into the boards, Kadri would have come out of it with two black eyes and urine staining his pants. I think if you look up the fight between Ference and Stempniak you’ll know what I mean.

And when I tell you that since that fight the Oilers have outscored their opponents 16-2, you’ll agree that we’re better for it. The team has more room to move the puck, they have more confidence, they pass with surety and are less selfish in every zone. The amount of skill and pedigree on this roster will surely mean more butting heads, but as long as we continue to drive them along the way Ference has, and as long as the newly minted tandem of Dubnyk and Bryzgalov can manage to get the job done in goal, we could be looking at a team in a very different place in the standings come February and March. I’m not talking playoffs, but I definitely think we’ll be long gone from 29th.

I’ll quickly touch on the Arcobello situation here. This is a college kid who is a fantastic AHL player. He’s proven he can be an effective NHLer, which is great, but this is the NHL. Every person in that locker room has had to prove themselves a thousand times over to earn the respect they have, and Arcobello is no different. He proved himself  at Yale, but didn’t prove himself enough to be drafted, he proved himself in the AHL, but not enough that he was going to make this NHL club until Sam Gagner was hit in the face with a  hockey stick. Yes, the Oilers have asked him to buy a house, yes, there was an incident that forced them to send him to the minors soon afterward and yes, he hasn’t played since. But this Oilers club wasn’t built with his skill set in mind, he was never in the plans when MacTavish and Eakins put the team together this offseason. He is still a great surprise and an excellent depth piece, nothing more and nothing less. He will travel with the club and he will crack the lineup as soon as Acton shows he doesn’t deserve to be in the lineup or Gordon and Perron’s line show they need to be mixed up. Right now neither is the case which means you shouldn’t expect to see him on Monday. Unless the stir the media and fans have caused sways Eakins’ hand, but that seems more like a MacTavish move than an Eakins one.

One last note before I wrap up, there are going to be rumours swirling about what has caused Nail Yakupov to rediscover his game, but I sincerely believe you can chalk it up as a win for Dallas Eakins. In a surprise swing, Eakins has turned his image as a chimp holding the reins of a rocket ship into making himself look like a chimpanzee who somehow reined in a rocket ship. Eakins bet hard on this team, giving them some opportunities to lighten up and get loose, relax and not worry about this season that has quickly turned into a dumpster fire. Yakupov seems a lot lighter on his feet these past few games, he has a ton more confidence and his teammates are passing the puck back to him with more regularity than I have seen so far in his career.

I honestly believe that Yakupov gets looked off far too often when the puck is being circulated around the zone, and as a former first overall pick who has been amongst the top two or three players on any team he’s played for in his career, it has to be difficult to handle. You can talk about how hockey players are babies later, there’s a lot of mental stability on the line when your entire self image revolves around being a really, really good hockey player. As much as we know that Yakupov would likely succeed in another facet of his life if he didn’t have hockey to rely on for his livelihood, he doesn’t. He can’t know that. He’s spent his entire life sacrificing every opportunity to be good at something else for the opportunity to be the best at hockey. That’s a reality for all hockey players, and when you find yourself in a situation like this where he moved to Sarnia instead of staying in Russia for his pre-draft years just to make the NHL quicker, then the team that drafts him has three or four guys just like him, it’s easy to see how things have not gone as smooth as they could have for Yak this far in his career. Watch for him to become an All-Star team mainstay in a year or two. He hasn’t done anything yet.

All in all, this has been a strange season. We’re not too far in, but the odds are incredibly stacked agains the Oilers making a post-season appearance. That being said, the Oilers aren’t your normal hockey team. All of their best players are just finding their game and everyone we play seems to be throwing in their backup goalie and expecting a night off, so I’ll just say that I haven’t given up hope just yet. It is still November after all.

P.S. If you enjoy watching the twitter verse while you watch the Oilers games, give me a follow @SNPmarty009. It’s an unofficial twitter account, so follow at your own risk. I’d love to say I keep it 100% PG rated, but I only do my best.

Tags: Bryzgalov Eberle Edmonton Oilers NHL Taylor Hall Twitter Yakupov

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