SUN Hockey Pool

Sutton, Potter bolster Oilers blue-line

Edmonton Oilers Ladislav Smid, right, congratulates Corey Potter after winning their game against...

Edmonton Oilers Ladislav Smid, right, congratulates Corey Potter after winning their game against the New York Rangers in Edmonton on October 22, 2011. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)

Robert Tychkowski, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:41 PM ET

EDMONTON - Who could have guessed, after all of Edmonton’s high-profile moves last summer — drafting first overall, bringing Ryan Smyth home and hitting July 1 like it was Boxing Day — that Corey Potter and Andy Sutton would be two of the Oilers most significant additions?

Certainly not Nikolai Khabibulin. He didn’t know what to expect from Sutton and had no idea who the heck Corey Potter even was.

But seven games into the season, with the Oilers having moved up 26 spots in the goals-against category and 24 spots on the PK, he’s not the only one who’s noticing the dramatic impact these big, reliable blue-liners are having.

“The addition of Sutts, for me is big, and I’m sure (Devan Dubnyk) would say the same thing,” said Khabibulin, who’s allowed three goals in four starts. “It’s nice to have a guy back there who is big in front of the net. He blocks everything, boxes people out. It’s hard to get in front of the net when he’s out there.

“And Corey Potter ... I never heard of him before this year. But he stepped in and he’s been very effective. I know it’s early in the season and everything, but so far our team defence seems to be a lot better.”

A year ago the Oilers didn’t have a clue what to do in their own end, which is odd, given how much time they spent there.

Now...

Khabibulin has the best numbers in the NHL (0.72 GAA and .969 save percentage).

The Oilers as a team have the second best goals against in the league (1.43).

Edmonton’s penalty killing is up from 29th last year to fifth today.

They’re scoring an average of 1.71 goals per game, lowest in the NHL, and they have eight points in seven games.

“That’s what happens when everyone buys into a system and works hard for each other,” said Sutton. “It’s infectious. You can see that guys are really pulling for one another, doing the little things and guys are noticing. The next guy who goes out wants to do the same thing. That’s when you’ve really got something going.”

Sutton’s is a simple game, blocking shots, clearing traffic, thankless blue-collar work that is the foundation of any good defensive team.

“It’s something I tried to pride myself on over my career,” said the six-foot-six, 245 pounder. “I had an off-year last year, some off-ice issues, just a tough year in general. I’m glad to be back playing the way I know I can play.”

Potter, after playing just nine NHL games in five years, is becoming Mr. Everything for the Oilers. Power play, penalty kill, late in the game, when they need a goal, when they need to prevent one, his number is being called in every situation.

“To come in here and not have huge expectations and to be given this opportunity, all the minutes and the power play and PK, I’m pretty proud right now,” said the 27-year-old, who scored his first of the season against the Rangers on Saturday.

“To do it against a team I used to play for is definitely icing on the cake.”

Calling them the team he used to play for isn’t exactly accurate. The Rangers are more like the team that wouldn’t let him play, burying him in the AHL for those four long seasons.

“Sometimes you just get stuck in an organization and you just get looked over and passed up and kind of get in a rut,” said Potter. “To get out of New York and get a fresh start was huge for me. I’m ready to play full time.”

It would seem so.

“Its not only the things he does on the power play, but the things he does defensively,” said Sutton. “Little chips, little passes, just smart. It makes you wonder how a guy like that gets buried. I m glad we found him.”

robert.tychkowski@sunmedia.ca

Twitter.com/SUN_TYCHKOWSKI


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