The Oilers got a late start to the season and sent their fans home happy with a win over the Penguins. It's hard to know what to take away from a game like this as the Oilers showed flashes of brilliance and dominated the Penguins at even strength, but did it against a team missing their 2 top players and with a pair of defencemen who might not be good enough to play for the Oilers..
In what seems like a common occurrence, the Oilers once again got off to a painfully slow start to the game. The Penguins buzzed early and generated a few quality chances before a (speaking of common occurrences), too many men penalty put the Penguins on the Power play. Kris Letang was about to be shut off high in the zone when he made a fantastic waist high pass across the blueline to Steve Sullivan that opened up the PK box. As the Oilers recovered Sullivan put it back to Letang for a one timer that barely beat Dubnyk. It was easy to groan and start cursing about the penalty kill but in reality, they played it pretty well. That play by Letang was simply fantastic and the opening the puck found wasn't much bigger than the puck.
That goal seemed to wake the Oilers up as they drew 4 consecutive power plays and controlled the play for the next 10 minutes. The Oilers PP was a lot less static than it has looked in the past. On one particular power play shift, Omark and Paajarvi were alternating as the pointman. It will be interesting to see if those 2 continue that sort of switch as the season progresses. Despite being the 2nd PP unit early on, the trio of Ales Hemsky, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins created several good chances. After being down 7-1 in shots early on, the Oilers ended the period up 13-9 but were out chanced 5-4.
The second period started off much quieter. There was almost no action for the first 12 or so minutes. Eberle, Jones and Hall each had a pretty good chance, but Brent Johnson was very strong all game. The shots were 9-8 in favour of Pittsburgh but the Oilers won the scoring chance battle 4-2.
The Oilers almost gave the game away in the third period as they spent almost half the period short handed. The penalty kill did an excellent job the whole period and when there was a break down, Dubnyk was there. At ES the Oilers continued to be the dominant team, and the Penguins had to rely on the power play to generate much of anything. The line of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Hemsky were dominant all game and it finally paid off late in the 3rd period as Hall got the puck to Hopkins who just took it to the net. His first shot was blocked but the puck went right back to his stick and he put a backhand past Brent Johnson. It wasn't the highlight reel goal Eberle scored, but it was a very strong move to the net. The whole shift saw some fantastic board play by Hall and Hopkins was all over the place in the offensive zone, causing the Penguin player checking him all sorts of problems. A 5 minute major to Ryan Smyth gave the Oilers a scare to close out the 3rd period, but Dubnyk, Smid and Peckham were all standouts on the PK.
Over time saw each team hit a post as Michalek rang one off the post just before the Smyth penalty expired and Jeff Petry made 90% of the building (including Kevin Quinn), think he ended the game as he wired it off the crossbar with about a minute left in OT.
In the shootout, Eberle scored just a fantastic goal. A lot of times guys go in with one particular move in their head and stick to it no matter what happens. It always looks like Eberle gives himself a couple of options. He sold deke with the fake shot, then put it upstairs as soon as Johnson dropped his glove. Hemsky would also score on a perfect shot that went just inside the post. Omark failed on his flip shot move, and unlike Eberle, seemed 100% sold on doing that move. He had Johnson completely beat and could have shot the puck anywhere. It's a good move, but I think he needs to be a bit more flexible. Dubnyk stopped 2 of 3 shots, just getting enough of Steve Sullivan's shot to put it just past the post.
- The Oilers defencemen were caught trying to force the Penguins while they were rushing the puck. Peckham went for a hit along the boards past the blue line and the Penguins got a 2 on 1 out of it. Cam Barker went to try and anticipate a pass that never materialized for another 3 on 2 break. Ladislav Smid made a pretty terrible pass that resulted in a Penguins scoring chance. These are the plays that are going to hurt the Oilers this year, but one positive was that they got it out of their system and played a solid game after the fact.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a very strong game. If he has any space he's got a chance to make something happen. He was all over the ice in the offensive zone pressuring the puck. As soon as you think he's over committed too far, he's magically back in the play. Now it's a question of if he can keep that pace up for a season. A lot of players are able to demonstrate that kind of energy in their first couple of games, but it eventually tapers off. Just one thing to look for.
- Both goaltenders were very good. There were very few rebounds into the middle of the ice and both guys do a very good job of absorbing pucks. Both goaltenders are also very good at reading the play and not having to make last second reaction plays, which also helps with their rebound control.