[Editor's note: We here at The Copper & Blue have been a grumpy bunch lately. Most of the gloss of a shiny new season has worn off and, if you haven't noticed, we've become a bit pessimistic around here. We asked Sum - easily the most optimistic Oiler fan that we know - to put together a list of reasons detailing why Oiler fans can be optimistic as well. He gladly obliged and gave us the list below. If any of you can muster reasons for optimism, feel free to use the FanPost feature, and we're more than happy to feature it on the front page. Thanks Sum, your efforts are much appreciated.]
A record of 9-10-3 at the quarter mark is not what I had in mind when I predicted the Oilers to win the division. After these 22 games, I now realize why I took so much flak for that particular one. These last majority of games were quite depressing to watch. Sometimes the team just wasn't playing with any purpose. Sometimes we just found new ways to lose. There were injuries, flu bug, slumping players etc. The season is still young and with the last game against Colorado, this team is showing signs of life and I believe resurgence is just around the corner.
Lets look at the positives:
Dustin Penner: He has been an absolute treat to watch. He is doing everything for the Oil. He is scoring goals, creating goals, setting up goals, taking face-offs, killing penalties. He is the heart of the team and the team is rallying around his all-round play. Even during those loses, DP was a positive factor in all the games save for the Boston one( Thanks to Chara). During these 22 games, he has team leading 23 points and I am sure David Staples will soon put up his 'real points'. No forward has played more minutes than Penner and no has been even half as dominant.
Ales Hemsky: After a slow start to the season (I am sure Derek attributes this to not playing with Penner), Hemsky has been on fire (which Derek attributes to him playing with Penner ;) ). He has 15 points in his last 13 games. He is an extremely creative playmaker, who is using all the space provided by Penner to his and the team's advantage. This finally seems to be the season he breaks out big time and has a point per game season.
Gilbert Brule: I am still learning the micro-stats facet of the game, but by just watching the game, I think Brule has been impressive. He is tied for 2nd on the team for Goals scored and is 5th in forwards for points. He is playing a steady, simple and gritty game and is being rewarded with points. He is specially good when on a line with Reddox. He was certainly rushed by the CBJs and might have been a much better player if he had gone through a more patient channel of development. Of course he is young and prone to making mistakes, but I see no reason why he shouldn't get better as the season progresses.
The return of Sheldon Souray: Is it a coincidence that Oilers played their worst games when Souray was out? Gilbert and Grebeshkov were being asked to play the top minutes and failed miserably. Souray is the anchor of our defense, leader of his troops from the defensive line. Since his return, he has taken over his duties (from Patrick O Sullivan) of blasting pucks from the point on the powerplay and presto-gingo our PP is on fire. He also adds the gritty play on the defense and is the artist of breaking cycles.
Lubomir Visnovsky: Not unlike Hemsky, Visnovsky too had a slow start to this season. He had an off-season surgery and did not look like he was ready. However he got exponentially better as the games went on. Right now it is amazing how he is controlling the play from the back end. Alan Mitchel has this to write about Lubomir and I dont think I can use better words to describe his play:
He's more than a puck mover, outlet passer, offensive defender. Lubomir Visnovsky is almost a puppeteer with the puck and his linemates, with each sweeping move or pass obvious only upon completion. Being a Lubo fan is like a wonderful ride at the carnival, scary and breathless but also secure and confident.
Lubo leads the team in points and goals from a defenseman. I think he is one of the premier puck moving defensemen in the league.
Ladislav Smid: Before the start of the season, I was sad for Smid. I thought here was a young promising defenseman whose development was ruined due to us rushing him too early. I thought Ladi was a lost cause. However, I dont see how anyone can not be impressed by his game this season. He has made me a believer for sure. He is big, smart, smooth skating defenseman who plays a gritty, physical and an in your face game. If Penner is the most improved forward, Smid takes that mantle for the most improved D-man. If he continues this way, he will be a force on our blue line for years to come.
The powerplay: The PP has been improving game after game. No I don't mean the number of goals, but the system and execution. It looks like there is a plan and players are sticking to it. Rather than being static at their designated spots, players are skating and trying to make room and get open rather than hoping to get open. Ofcourse our play down low can be better, but this powerplay is operating upwards of 20% and every PP opportunity brings a smile on my face.
Injury to Ethan Moreau: I dont think there was an injury which has been more celebrated as the one to our captain. This is what Scott had said to say about John Liles of the Avs (in his scouting report):
John-Michael Liles has been so bad that I think the Oilers are the team that's getting screwed with Liles out of the Avs lineup with injury.
I think same can be said about our captain. It is sad but true. With coming back of Stone, I am extremely optimistic that our 4th line will be better too.
Of course there are still holes on our roster. We still need a center like Reasoner. There are still many players who are injured. But I am sure that better days are ahead. Oilers have been a force at home and I see no reason why we shouldn't improve our road record. GO OILERS.