Tonight will mark the Oilers second game and Home Opener. The People of Edmonton have been patiently waiting for their suffering to pay off, and this year just might be the first in a long time where their endless support may be justified.
The fact is that despite opening the season the right way the last few years the Oilers have not been able to sustain any momentum in the Western Conference for an entire season. The question remains whether they can take the next step and be competitive night in and night out. In their first game they were tested hard against a team with a winning history whose window of opportunity may be closing. Tonight will be no different.
The Sharks have been expected to challenge for a Cup in every year of the Joe Thornton era. They have big talented veteran forwards who have won President Trophies and Division Titles in the past. They have a lot to prove this year because for the first time in a long time they arent considered a favourite to go all the way. The truth is that the Sharks’ window IS closing and fast. Joe Thornton, Marleau and Boyle are creeping into their Mid-Thirties and a natural decline in effectiveness is about due. The Sharks are fighting against time and tonight the young Oilers are stand in their way.
The Sharks took a little bit to get going against the Flames but once they found their rhythm it was lights out for Calgary. The Oilers also started relatively slow against the Canucks but from the 2nd Period on were pumping a steady stream of pucks towards Luongo. This matchup ought to be tougher for the Sharks than the Flames were and both teams should be more than ready to come out of the gate hot.
Oiler Keys to the Game
The Oilers started off the season showing a lot of balance in their forward lines. For the first time in a long while the Oilers have 2 scoring lines and a veteran All-Purpose line. Mix in a 4th line that bangs and kills penalties and all of a sudden this group starts to look like a thoughtfully constructed team. A balanced attack is the only way the Oilers will compete against good teams. For too long the Oilers were a team defined by one or two players. Shut them down, shut the Oilers down. Now they can roll 3 lines who can score and its a pick your poison with the top 2 lines. Focus on the OKC kids or focus on Hemsky, Gagner, Yak. Beautiful.
2) Shake the Rust/Jitters Off
In the first game Nuge didnt look like his usually sharp self. He missed the net and botched a few passes he could make in his sleep. The fact is that RNH hadnt played a Pro game in almost 2 months. He was off for a month before the WJC and then played against kids who occupy junior leagues and it showed. I anticipate that over the next few games RNH will get his legs back to NHL speed and the sparks will start to fly. For Yakupov, Game 1 is out of the way and he can start doing the things that make him a special player. I thought he had a few opportunities to hammer a shot from scoring areas against the Canucks and elected to shoot. Hopefully after going over the game on film he will be more willing to use that laser beam of a shot.
3) Hemsky’s Back Baby!
Ales Hemsky was a shadow of himself last season up until the time he signed the contract that so many Toronto based media men scoffed at. That contract could have burned the Oilers but almost immediately Hemsky looked like the Ales of Old. H finished the year looking pretty good but at this point all Oiler fans have become wary of that Czech shoulder and were waiting for him to re-injure it. He ripped up the Czech league in the Lockout and against the Canucks he was a scoring chance machine. If he continues to look this good and keeps playing against the opposition’s 2nd best defenders then this could be a banner year for Hemmer.
Oilers play tonight at 8:00 PM Mountain time on TSN at Rexall. Game On!