EDMONTON - It was No. 94, Ryan Smyth, the last guy introduced, who received by far the greatest opening night ovation during player introductions.
But when it was over, and the Oilers had scored a 2-1 shootout win, it was Smyth who was providing the largest ovation himself, directed at the two guys who the fans had given the second and third largest cheers — No. 1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and No. 1 netminder Devan Dubnyk.
Smyth took a five minute major with 4:25 to go after Nugent-Hopkins scored his first NHL goal late in his first NHL game to bring the Oilers back from trailing 1-0 for most of the game.
It was a bad goal given up by Dubnyk, the young goaltender Tom Renney had given the start.
Dubnyk ended up stopping 33 other shots to keep his team in the game and then stopped two more in the shootout to give Renney an 8-0 record coaching in NHL season openers.
“It sent chills down my spine,” said Smyth of the overwhelming scene created by the fans which clearly left him emotional to start the game.
But a five minute major for elbowing wasn’t the way to pay them off.
“Devan held us in there,” said Smyth. “And the kid scored. He deserved it. If you go to the net like that, you’re going to get those goals.”
Nugent-Hopkins had a first game of extremes.
On one hand the kid, who has eight more games with the Oilers before the organization has to decide whether or not to send him back to the Red Deer Rebels, provided evidence he’s out of his league in one area.
He only managed to win two of 15 faceoffs for 13% for the night.
On the other hand, he was involved in about 87% of the Oilers scoring chances, it seemed.
And at the end of the night, he had his first goal, was a plus one, played 17:04, took three shots, had a giveaway and a takeaway and blocked two shots.
“Other than the faceoffs it was a nice start by the kid,” said Renney. “He’s so smart. He has a nose for the net and a nose for circumstances. He got his goal and put that out of the way. He had a good night.”
Nugent-Hopkins didn’t keep the puck from his pre-season goal. But he’s got this one.
“And he’ll never forget the reception of the fans for the introduction and again when he skated out as the third star of the game.
“It was pretty cool. It made it a very special first game,” he said.
“The whole crowd ... what an atmosphere.
“The introductions ... that was awesome.
“I’ve definitely never heard anything like that before.
“Going into the game I was really nervous. But it ended up that the whole night was really exciting,” said RNH, who had his mom and dad, brother and a friend of his brother in from Burnaby to watch him in his debut.
Nugent-Hopkins said there was a significant jump in the degree of difficulty involved in a regular-season game in comparison to a pre-season game.
“It definitely picked up. I got a bit of a taste of it in that last game in Vancouver.”
Taylor Hall sent him a backhand pass through his legs from behind the net and RNH somehow managed to play himself off the traffic in front and get turned around to score on a backhand.
“It was a really nice pass. I think he was trying to find Ales Hemsky but it bounced off somebody.
As for those faceoffs, Nugent-Hopkins said there wasn’t much he could say.
“I have to keep on working on that. I have to improve that.”
Dubnyk said he didn’t hear the introduction ovation because of his focus.
But he could hear the quiet when he gave up the bad goal on Pittsburgh’s seventh shot on goal.
“You just have to keep the puck out and keep the team in the game. But there was 15 minutes left and then 10 minutes left and then five minutes left ...”
That’s when Hoppy hopped to it.
“To see Nuge get that goal was pretty exciting. He was fantastic (Sunday) night. He brought it up another level,” said the game’s first star.
And Dubnyk was delighted that in the end he was able to pay off his coach with a win.
“It’s huge,” he said.
“It’s great for my confidence to have been chosen to play this game and it shows he made a good decision.”