October 28, 2011
Avs' Landeskog already knew
By Derek Van Diest, QMI Agency
VANCOUVER - Gabriel Landeskog didn’t have to go through the same uncertainty that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins did.
The second overall pick in last summer’s NHL Entry draft knew that barring a complete meltdown, he would be staying with the Colorado Avalanche for the entire season.
“They kind of told me before the home opener that if I played well and gave it my all, I would be here for the whole season,” Landeskog said before facing Nugent-Hopkins for the first time on Friday. “At the same time, I didn’t want to take anything for granted, I wanted to prove myself and prove to everyone that I belong here.”
Prior to the draft, Landeskog, 18, was considered the most NHL-ready prospect due in large part to his six-foot-one, 204-pound frame.
There were questions whether Nugent-Hopkins was physically ready to make the jump, despite being the first overall pick.
Both played their 10th game of the year Friday, triggering the first year of their entry-level contracts.
“We went through the whole process and the draft and going to the Stanley Cup finals, it was pretty fun,” Landeskog said. “We became good friends. I respect him, I think he’s a really good player. It’s good to see that Ryan is doing so well.”
Nugent-Hopkins went into the game leading the Oilers in scoring with five goals and four assists this season. Landeskog went in with four goals and two assists on the year.
“He looked good in training camp, that was the first step and then in preseason his play elevated a little bit more and that was the second step,” said Avalanche head coach Joe Sacco. “His play just warranted him getting the ice time he’s receiving. He deserves to be here based on merit. He made a strong statement early and was consistent with his play up to right now.”
Tough act to follow
Devan Dubnyk was back in goal for the Edmonton Oilers after taking a back seat to Nikolai Khabibulin for the previous four games. Dubnyk was always going to get the call in the second of back-to-back games with the Oilers regardless of how well Khabibulin is playing.
“It can be tough when you take an extended break, but it’s my job to get back in there and play well,” Dubnyk said. “It never hurts anybody to watch a clinic like that, I can certainly take a few things from that. I’m just going to use that, go out there and give our guys the best chance to win that I can.”
Khabibulin has been outstanding so far this season and currently leads the league with a 0.97 goals-against average.
The veteran goaltender was the main reason the Oilers were able to hold off Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals Thursday night.
“It’s certainly motivation for me to get out there and give these guys a great effort like he’s done,” Dubnyk said. “It’s just as important for me to not try to go out there and match it. Every game is different and I have to really work on the things that I need to do and concentrate on the things that I do well to be successful.”
The Oilers had long been waiting for some of their new players to get off the mark, needing someone other than the first line to score.
On Friday, both Cam Barker and Andy Sutton collected their first goals in an Oilers uniform. Barker looked like a power forward, collecting a pass at the side of the net, cutting across the crease and lifting a backhand over Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov. Sutton also forwent his defensive responsibilities for a moment, heading to the net and getting a stick on a point shot by Lennart Petrell, who incidentally picked up his first point as member of the Oilers.
Traditionally the Oilers have struggled playing in the Mile High City in the second game of back-to-back contests. The team got on a plane shortly after beating the Washington Capitals Thursday and arrived in Denver at approximately 2:30 a.m. It took them nearly an hour to get in from the airport, which is even further from the downtown core (40 km) than the Edmonton International is. It didn’t help matters that the one highway leading into city was being worked on and the team bus had to detour around it, adding to their travel time.