What the H-E-double hockey sticks is going on in Edmonton right now? As of today the Oilers are tied for first place in the western conference with the upstart Dallas Stars and the Chicago Blackhawks. That’s right; the same oilers who have finished last in the league for the past 2 years! Can someone please explain to me what is going on with this team? Here is a list of the three players most responsible for the rise to the top of the Edmonton Oilers.
RNH is playing an excellent brand of hockey right now averaging 1 point per game (5 goals, 6 assists) through his first 11 NHL games. With fellow first overall pick Taylor Hall and 2008 first rounder Jordan Eberle at his side, this seems like a legitimate first line, one of which the Edmonton Oilers have not had in past seasons. But it’s not only RNH’s offensive flair that is impressive but also his plus-4 rating. Hopefully Nugent-Hopkins’ hot play will continue for the month of November after being named NHL rookie of the month this October. The real test for this young line will be the upcoming six game road trip and if they can keep up the chemistry shown since the beginning of the season, they might come back to Edmonton as one of the best lines in the NHL.
Captain Canada is back in Edmonton this year and he’s back with a vengeance. The 35 year-old is off to a hot start after putting up 10 points in 11 games (5 goals, 5 assists) during the month of October after scoring a measly 47 points (23 goals, 24 assists) for the Los Angeles Kings in 2010-2011. Not only is Smyth back to his scoring ways but he is also helping Shawn Horcoff (who is also playing considerably well) mentor the “kids”, if you can even call them that and believe it or not but it seems to have brought out a younger and more energetic Smyth. The last few years the Oilers have seemed uninterested and seemed to lack motivation and energy during extended periods of the season and that is where I think Ryan will have the most impact; he is a player who works hard every shift and a true team player and people will be held accountable for their play while he is on this team.
This summer Oilers fans would have paid teams to take Khabibulin off their hands, but not anymore. The Russian goaltender, who last year was arrested for DUI while in the United States was written off by most fans as a drunk and a bum but has bounced back this year to put up unbelievable numbers. As of this writing, Khabibulin leads the league with a 1.12 goals against average and a .960 save percentage. If Khabibulin, who has a history of injuries, can stay healthy for the entire season I believe he gives the Oilers a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
Key to being successful
As surprising as it might seem, the Oilers’ success is not entirely based on their scoring ability but on their defensive play. Consider this; the oilers are averaging 1.46 goals against per-game (1st in NHL) after allowing a 3.17 goals against per-game last year (28th in the league) even though their number 1 defenseman, Ryan Whitney, has only played in 4 of their 11 games this year. Could defense win a championship in Oil Country this year? Maybe this road-trip will give us a better indication of who these Oilers really are.
Predictions for road trip: 4-2