This was almost overlooked thanks to that crazy game in Philadelphia between the Flyers and Jets, not to mention the Toronto Maple Leafs’ goaltender drama followed by their big win on Broadway, but the upstart Edmonton Oilers made sure there are no undefeated teams left in the NHL.
No one gave the Oilers much of a chance of knocking off the visiting Washington Capitals on Thursday. Most people, including your agent, figured the team that might hand the Caps their first loss of the season was the Vancouver Canucks, who play host to them on Saturday.
But Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and the rest of the Oilers youngsters paid no attention to that, first knocking off the Canucks on Tuesday and then stunning the Caps with a 2-1 win at Rexall Place on Thursday night.
Their third win in a row left the Oilers with a 5-2-2 record, best in the Northwest Division and third in the Western Conference. Maybe they were spurred on by this week’s decision by Edmonton City Council to proceed with a plan for a new arena.
Either way, it seems like old times in Edmonton, with a speedy collection of kids making noise in the NHL.
Actually, the Oilers can thank an old guy, 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin for their recent run. He snatched back the No. 1 goaltender’s job from Devan Dubnyk and is once again playing like the Bulin Wall, the nickname he earned in leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He held off the Capitals, who outshot the Oilers 19-6 in the third period, to save Thursday’s win.
From the Capitals’ point of view, outlined in the Washington Post, they took too many penalties. Then Khabibulin denied them when they found their legs.
The big question in Edmonton is what becomes of Nugent-Hopkins, 18. The Caps game was the rookie’s ninth of the season (he has nine points) and if he plays one more he will be considered a first-year pro and one year closer to free agency. It seems clear the Oilers will not send him back to junior hockey because he left with the team for a road trip but there was still no official word after the game.
This all seems quite silly to Edmonton Sun columnist Terry Jones, who sums up the situation here.