Oilers pass early tests
ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
|Oilers goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin makes a save on Blues forward David Backes at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alta., Oct. 30, 2011. (DAN RIEDLHUBER/Reuters)
EDMONTON - The journey from worst to first, or at least a share of it, took just 11 games.
The old Ryan scored two goals and the new Ryan had two assists Sunday as the Edmonton Oilers closed out their October homestand by doubling the St. Louis Blues 4-2, winning five in a row for the first time in more than two years and moving into a share of top spot in the Western Conference.
Consider the rest of the NHL officially stunned.
“We’re starting to get a little confidence in here,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, whose two assists give him 11 points in the first 11 games of his career. “When you win it’s a lot of fun, and we want to keep doing it.
“Most of the time we’re winning because we’re out-working the other team because we want it so bad. We’re just battling as hard as we can.”
Most everyone expected the Oilers would be a little better this year, but this? First place? Nugent-Hopkins at a point per game and Ryan Smyth hot on his heels with 10 points in 11 starts. The best goalies in the NHL?
“I don’t think you expect it, but you want it,” said Smyth, who has five points in the last two games. “We started off on a good foot and I’m happy to chip in offensively.
Of course, this thing is a long, long way from being over — there are still 71 games to go before the standings really matter and you can’t make too many judgements on a team that’s only played three road games — but these guys look pretty good.
“I don’t know how many people outside of the locker room at the beginning of the year expected this to happen,” said Ryan Jones, not waiting for the obvious answer — None.
“But we looked around the room and saw the character and the leadership and the skill we have in here and we knew that this was all possible.”
“Why not?” asked Jones. “Look at the players that we have. We have some of the elite players in the world sitting in this locker room. We have guys will to block shots and we have goalies who are No.1 in the league in stats. That’s a recipe for wins right there.”
So far, so good. The Oilers were playing without half of their defencemen — Andy Sutton (suspended), Cam Barker (shoulder) and Ryan Whitney (knee) — but it didn’t seem to matter much.
Replacements Theo Peckham, Jeff Petry and Alex Plante filled in nicely as the surging Oilers improved to 7-2-2 (6-1-1 at home) to win five in a row for the first time since Dec. 11, 2009.
“It was a big game for us and I thought we played really well, really controlled,” said Shawn Horcoff, who scored the opening goal of the game and went 75% in the faceoff circle (15-5). “We’ve had 10 games in 18 days and a couple of tough travel days at the end.”
It’s been a string of tests for the Oilers — Vancouver, Washington, back-to-back with travel in Denver, then back home after another long travel night against an opponent that’s hard to get up for. They passed them all
“It was one of those games where we could have been trapped,” said Eric Belanger. “We had a tough schedule, it’s one of those games where you could stay asleep, but we played our style and it was probably our best game in the last five or six. It’s a good sign going on to a long road trip.”
Jordan Eberle’s third goal in four games helped the Oilers to their highest goal total of the young season.
“I think we underestimate our ability to create chances. We defended well, broke out well and found people on the ice,” said head coach Tom Renney. “Our attack game showed what its capable of.”