Oilers Top Blackhawks 4-2, Team Dubnyk Victorious

I missed the first period due to the Oilers production team deciding to black out the game for everyone not in Edmonton or Saskatoon, so I won't have a game report. Instead I'm going to go with the observations I was noting on the fly.  The Oilers got goals from Ryan Smyth, Josh Green, Jordan Eberle and Josh Green again on the empty net to seal it.  The power play created chances, the penalty kill held up and Devan Dubnyk and Olivier Roy looked like they knew what they were doing.  Even Ryan Martindale and Josh Green looked like they had game.  Ah, the pre-season.

I think I'm lucky I couldn't get the Wild feed to load tonight. Watching Devan Dubnyk and Olivier Roy look like competent NHL goaltenders was a pleasant experience. Watching Nikolai Khabibulin give up 3 goals on 7 shots would have caused a much angrier game wrap.

Jeff Petry moves so well. Not just his skating speed, but the way he pivots moving either forward or backwards is fast and smooth. He never looks rushed or hurried and everything seems to slow down when he grabs the puck. I don't know what kind of contest the Oilers could have to determine best overall skater, but he would be very high on the list.

Things weren't all rainbows and lollipops for Petry tonight, though. He and Taylor Chorney were stuck on the ice for a shift that lasted 2:34. It was painful in that it immediately reminded Bruce McCurdy and I of "The Shift", the Jason Strudwick and Taylor Chorney production that lasted 3:45. While Petry and Chorney didn't get any help from two forwards with broken sticks, it's only pre-season. These weren't even the real Blackhawks.

Hey, speaking of defensive pairings that don't work, Theo Peckham and Ladislav Smid were tough to watch tonight, especially once the puck got into the defensive zone. They are both left defensemen and neither one is especially adept and moving the puck. They reminded me of Steve Staios and Ladislav Smid from 2008-09 and 2009-10 -- they looked like they were always expecting one to bail the other out. I've read a few corners of the 'sphere that predict the Oilers opening night top six to look like this:

Whitney - Barker
Sutton - Gilbert
Smid - Peckham

While there are obvious issues with Barker on the top pairing and Sutton relied on heavily in a shut-down role, Smid and Peckham together could be disastrous. They need someone who can pass or skate their way out of danger. Peckham performed best with Gilbert and Smid with Lubomir Visnovsky - it's a trend that should continue.

The forwards were less concerning. Ryan Smyth is Ryan Smyth - he skates like Willie McGee walked, he's a total pain in the rear in front of the net, and he's still excellent at puck retreival. The tip-in of the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins shot on the power play was vintage Smyth. Putting him out there with Hopkins and Eberle matches Tom Renney's strategy of a veteran with two younger players on each of the top three lines.

The Blackhawks got a nice break when Gilbert Brule set up Rostislav Olesz on a breakaway, and Olesz potted one behind a helpless Devan Dubnyk. Brule grabbed the puck along the far wall, turned back to his goal and fired the puck right on Olesz' tape. For a guy who is in way too deep for even meager playing time, HUAs like that aren't going to help

Teemu Hartikainen played a typical game tonight, he was strong behind the net, strong on the walls and strong in front. Nick Leddy bounced off of him at one point but Leddy will learn his lesson soon enough: don't go behind the net with a Finn. He did take an uncharacteristic hooking penalty in the second, we'll blame in on adrenaline.  Twitter also told me that Hartikainen drew a penalty behind the net in the first period and created two scoring chances by mucking around in front on the power play that followed.  It's going to be very difficult for the Oilers to keep him in Oklahoma City for the entire season.

Ryan Martindale made a number of nice plays down low and worked extremely well with Teemu at times, but I just can't get over that goofy stride. He moves his legs quickly, but doesn't go anywhere. Players have made the NHL with worse, so I shouldn't be surprised when he makes it, but that's the worst skating stride I've seen on an Oilers' prospect since Rob Schremp.

The power play moved the puck extremely well, especially when Petry, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Smyth were on the ice.  They didn't create an overwhelming amount of chances, but it was the best player and puck movement I've seen from the Oilers in quite some time. 

Nugent-Hopkins was quite entertaining to watch. He's not a dominating forechecker like Mike Grier, Radek Dvorak or Todd Marchant, rather, he's like a cat burglar sneaking around the zone like it's the black of night. He quickly tiptoes into the zone and swipes the puck before the defense hears the alarms go off. I don't know if he's going to be able to do that to NHL defenders, but he did it in Penticton and again tonight. I'd love to see him learn to kill penalties so he and Paajarvi could form a feared short-handed duo.

Finally, the goaltending. I missed the first period and from the Twitter comments, that was the period in which the Blackhawks had their best non-Brule-assisted chances, but were denied by Dubnyk. He was sharp in the second and gave way to an equally sharp Olivier Roy. One thing I noticed about Roy was how close he stayed to the net and crease. Roy's been caught wandering in previous training camps and I think he may have finally learned his lesson. Either way, it was a relief to have confidence in an Edmonton goaltender, to have confidence in two is like finding $20 in an old jacket - it's so unexpected for an Oilers' fan.

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