Let's start with the bad news. 1) This is still September, and these games don't count in the standings. b) The other guys sure seem to know this, because they have played like ass three games out of three. The NHL isn't like this. Really. But it sure is fun to pretend.
For the second time this week the other guys were wearing Vancouver Canucks sweaters. Bad as they were in VanCity on Wednesday, they were even worse last night. No Sedins, mind, and no Luongo either, but the rest of the crew seemed absolutely lost out there without them. The forwards got worked, the defence got walked, the goalie got whacked.
Of course part of it was the Edmonton Oilers making them look bad. For the second home game in a row Oiler fans got a delicious taste of the speed, skill and derring-do that has been introduced to the squad in 2010-11, along with solid performances from a few returnees in a spirited performance.
Tom Renney spent much of the night rolling the lines and giving all of his players a chance in various situations. All 18 skaters received at least 58 seconds of powerplay duty, and all but Teemu Hartikainen got time on the penalty kill as well. All 12 forwards saw at least 10:00 of action, and the defence crew also got a fairly even workload which was complicated by Ryan Whitney leaving the game partway through the third for what I profoundly hope was for precautionary reasons, a few shifts after taking a puck in the eye.
#4 Taylor Hall - #10 Shawn Horcoff - #14 Jordan Eberle: This trio has played quite a bit together in camp, and it showed. Tonight it was Eberle's turn to shine with three first-period points, converting his only two shots of the night with crisp finishes and contributing a dazzling assist on Horcoff's 3-1 goal which put this one to bed early, just 16 seconds after Vancouver had closed the early deficit to 2-1. Horcoff also finished the night 2-1-3 and had an outstanding game in his own right on both sides of the puck, including some fine penalty-killing. Hall contributed 2 assists (and an uncredited own goal) as the threesome wound up with 4 goals and 8 points. It's a promising line Tom Renney has put together, as the two highly-touted young wingers have previous history together while Horcoff provides veteran savvy, defensive awareness, playmaking, and his own fast-moving wheels to the mix. I anticipate they will start the season together.
#27 Dustin Penner - #67 Gilbert Brule - #23 Linus Omark: Oilers' second scoring line did exactly that, contributing 3 goals and 7 points in their own right as every forward in the top six had a multiple-point night. The trio was strong on the puck all night, recording a combined 7 takeaways. Penner contributed a pair of goals from the doorstep and also rang the post with a wicked wrist shot. Brule had a solid all-around game with a pair of assists, 3 hits, and a team leading 67% (6/9) on the faceoff dot. But the revelation was Omark, who gave several demonstrations of his stickhandling wizardry, especially on a dazzling solo effort resulting in his first goal as an Oiler early in the third. Omark also impressed with his passing and was a dervish on the forecheck, recording 3 steals to complement his 5 shots. Not surprisingly he looked a lot better in a Top 6 role than he did buried on Steve MacIntyre's line, and adds a pleasant complication to Tom Renney's team-building process.
#12 Alexandre Giroux - #47 Jared Aulin - #25 Ben Ondrus: The trio had a quiet night, being the only Oiler line to be held off the scoreboard but allowing nothing at their end. Looks like a solid AHL line, which was good enough to keep up with the Canucks on this night. The best chance came in the third when Giroux let rip a one-timer which - like so many pucks on this night - found its way through a struggling Cory Schneider in the Canucks net, but found iron behind him. Aulin had a solid game including a 9/15 = 60% performance on the dot and certainly didn't hurt his case for earning a contract at the minor pro level. Ondrus again looked like a decent depth player who will be a good call-up option when the injury bug inevitably hits.
#54 Teemu Hartikainen - #56 Chris Vande Velde - #46 Zack Stortini: I had fun watching this trio, as two of my favourite dark horse prospects lined up alongside a guy who has already beaten the mid-round odds and made the show. Vande Velde found the scoresheet, finding one of many holes in Schneider after being sent away by Hartikainen on a 2-on-1 rush that was enabled by an absolutely dreadful Canucks line change. Stortini had one outstanding rush in the first period in which he walked Vancouver defence prospects Kevin Connauton and Lee Sweatt, but found himself in a more familiar role when he dropped the gloves with his long-time rival Darcy Hordichuk in a spirited scrap that featured zero hugging.
#6 Ryan Whitney - #58 Jeff Petry: A real solid game from both players, marred by Whitney having to leave early after taking a deflected puck in the eye. Wear a visor, man. Petry played a team-leading 22:48 and looked excellent, very composed, strong with the puck. Wound up with nothing but positive stats: a shot, a hit, a takeaway, a block, an assist, +1.
#49 Theo Peckham - #2 James Vandermeer : The likely third pairing to start the season didn't hurt their cause tonight with a solid 21 minutes of work apiece. Vandermeer again surprised me with his strong puckhandling, and was rewarded with 2 assists on shots that Schneider couldn't handle while notching a team-leading +3. Peckham led the squad with 5 hits including the best one of the night when he knocked Raffi Torres on his ass in a resounding open ice collision. It's early of course, but Peckham finally appears NHL-ready after a couple of years knocking on the door.
#43 Jason Strudwick - #39 Johan Motin: Strudwick got in the spirit with one burst of speed resulting in a decent shot on net, had a scrap with Vancouver slug Aaron Volpatti, and generally played an OK game. Motin struggled with 3 giveaways and is almost a certain candidate for the next round of cuts, expected sometime today.
#35 Nikolai Khabibulin: Returned to the net after a 10-month absence and had as soft a landing as could be hoped against an opponent missing its top scoring stars. Was unlucky on one goal, bad on the other, but made a few solid saves. His robbery of Mikael Samuelsson at point blank range was the best stop of the night at either end of the ice, and he also looked sharp in stuffing Cody Hodgson. 26 stops, .929 Sv% on the night.
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Next up: vs. Phoenix, Wed. Sep 29, 19:00 MDT