November 4, 2011
Jones: Are the Oilers for real?
By Terry Jones, QMI Agency
Are they for real?
It’s the question every fan is asking.
At every water cooler, every board meeting, every lunch break and over just about every beer in the late great City of champions, it’s become the No. 1 topic in town.
Deep down, with 70 games to go in an 82 game schedule, most probably suspect the answer is not the one they want to hear.
But with the Edmonton Oilers on a six-game winning streak, sitting first overall in the West (tied with the Chicago Blackhawks) and third overall in the 30 team league, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins with an 8-2-2 record going into games last night, it’s the question that’s getting asked a little louder with every day and with every win.
Is it possible they can be for real?
Thursday night on Twitter, your correspondent threw out a smartass tweet:
“Let’s just skip ahead to that Toronto Maple-Leafs-Edmonton Oilers Stanley Cup final, shall we?”
Not long later this came back:
“TrendsmapCanada Terry Jones, @terryjones is now trending in Canada.”
The fans in both cities, obviously, want to be giddy.
On the surface, come on. Let’s get real. There’s giddy. And then there’s goofy.
It was just a month ago The Hockey News picked the Oilers to be 30th overall for a third year in a row.
When the season started, Bodog.ca had both the Oilers and Leafs at 50-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup.
Just for the sake of the exercise, I requested Jimmy Shapiro at the online betting service to produce updated Stanley Cup odds and a proposition on that Oilers-Maple Leafs Stanley Cup final.
And what did Bodog.ca come up with?
“Current odds for Cup: Leafs 30-to-1. Oilers 35-to-1.
“Current odds for Conferences: “Leafs 16-to-1. Oilers 16-to-1.
“Odds they meet in Stanley Cup final: “275-to-1.”
You wanna get giddy, go for it. They’ll take your bet. Tell ‘em Large sent you.
With every win, though, the question becomes more valid: are they for real?
With the 3-0 win in Los Angeles Thursday night, the Oilers had 18 points.
That means if they go .500 for the rest of the season (including overtime and shootout loser points), they’d end up with 88 points for the season. Last year they had 62.
Going into Friday’s games the Oilers were first in the NHL in goals against, fourth in the league on the penalty kill, seventh in five-on-five and 10th in the league on the power play.
Those are real stats.
Nikolai Khabibulin’s get-out-of-jail goals-against average is a league-leading 0.98. His save percentage, at .963 is .001 off the league lead. Ryan Smyth’s get-out-of-L.A. numbers include six goals and 11 points to tie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’s 11-point pace, which tops the rookie scoring race.
The Oilers are tops in the league in blocked shots, with 140. Ladislav Smid leads the league with 45.
Tom Gilbert looks like he’s finally reaching the potential as a top-two defenceman he was once projected to be.
And rookie Corey Potter looks like the find of the season on defence.
There’s no denying the offensive potential here, although there are a disconcerning number of zeros beside some of the names right now.
Coach Tom Renney has had a complete buy-in on the team-defence concept he was selling going into the season.
But are they for real?
The kids — Taylor Hall, Jordan-Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins — have yet to score a goal on the road.
Khabibulin is 38 and has started strong and faded before. Smyth is 35 and looked like he was skating on empty in the last quarter of the season in L.A. last year. The defence doesn’t look for real on paper and there’s 70 games to go.
Besides, if you’ll remember, when the Oilers set the record of nine wins in a row in 2001-02, they ended up missing the playoffs.
So are the Oilers for real?
Friday we posed the question to Twitter followers.
The responses are varied and offer many valid points.
But the correct answer is if they’re not for real right now, it’s quite clear that they’re soon going to be.
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones