Watching the Edmonton Oilers play hockey is like watching kids leave the classroom for recess. There’s just so much energy and enthusiasm there.
The Oilers have won eight of their first 12 games, something that took them 24 games to accomplish last season. They’re playing hard and fast and using their quickness to full advantage. They’re getting what they expected from rookie centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and sophomore winger Taylor Hall. It’s been a wondrous start.
But don’t let all that excitement fool you. This is still a team that needs work and has plenty of lessons to learn along the way.
It hasn’t been that great. In 12 games, Edmonton has scored a modest 28 goals. The top line of Ryan Smyth (11 points), Nugent-Hopkins (11) and Hall (nine) has been clicking nicely, thanks to Smyth’s leadership and finishing touch around the net. Shawn Horcoff (seven points) and Jordan Eberle (10) have supplied a useful second line. But after that, the drop-off is steep. Sam Gagner has yet to score. Neither has Magnus Paajarvi nor Ales Hemsky, who is still looking for his groove coming off a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Linus Omark, who had 27 points in 51 games last season, has already been sent down to the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. The good thing about the Oilers’ offence is that it’s producing timely goals. Heaven help them when they hit a cold snap.
Injuries have sliced into the corps. Ryan Whitney is out with a bum knee. Cam Barker is sidelined with a wonky shoulder. That leaves Ladislav Smid paired with Tom Gilbert and Theo Peckham playing with Corey Potter, who has provided the most offence from the back end with eight points. This was never the greatest group with all hands on deck. Now with injuries and call-ups, – the third duo is Colten Teubert and Jeff Petry – it’s become even more questionable.
Nikolai Khabibulin can do no wrong right now. He starts in net and the Oilers think they’ve got Gretzky, Messier and Kurri with them. Not only has Khabibulin posted a mighty 0.98 goals-against average (best in the league); he’s pumped up the Oilers’ confidence and covered a myriad of miscues. Not bad for a 38-year-old guy coming off back surgery and a DUI stay in Arizona’s Tent City jail.
CAN IT LAST?
Not a chance. The Oilers are racking up points at a .750 percentage clip. It’s a colossal start, and may help their finish, but there’s no way they can sustain for another 70 games.