The Edmonton Oilers came into the lockout shortened 2013 season with more hope and anticipation than many other NHL teams.
With Jordan Eberle on the verge of NHL star status after his all-star season, Taylor Hall emerging as a dangerous sniper and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins arriving on the scene averaging almost a point per game as a rookie, much was expected for 2013.
They then sign the coveted college free agent defenceman Justin Schultz and draft the dynamic Russian sniper Nail Yakupov first overall.
If nothing else the season promised to be exciting and worth every penny for tickets.
Fast forward to the present, and the nightly excitement is certainly there, but not everything has gone according to plan in the early going.
The top line of Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle did not get out of the gate as expected, especially the latter two with Eberle scoring just three goals and seven points in his first 10 games, and Nugent-Hopkins didn’t have a goal until this past weekend. While still dangerous, the line had just not been putting up the numbers.
On the up side, there has been some pleasant surprises. Schultz has come in and been the Oilers ice time leader from day one and has quarterbacked the power play from the start. He has shown a poise and maturity not normally seen in many rookies.
The other is Devan Dubnyk, who came in amongst many question marks and on most nights has been the team’s best player. Not to mention that 40 year old Nikolai Khabibulin has also been solid in his two appearances this season.
The team itself has been inconsistent if anything, showing the flash and dash and offensive excitement fans were hoping for, yet have struggled mightily with their 5 on 5 play as a whole and giving up far too many quality chances against.
Currently sitting 10th in the Western Conference, they have hovered around the bubble in the early going. Considering the young age and maturity of the team, perhaps they are right where they should be, and if they stay where they are will be fighting for that final playoff spot.
There are signs recently, however, that they may be ready to shed some of the inconsistency and move their way up. Their game against the Colorado Avalanche last week could be one of those moments that are a turning point in a season.
Down 4-3 going into the third period, the Oilers stormed back and scored three unanswered in the final frame to win 6-4. They also put a record 56 shots on goal in the process.
That game also saw the top line break out with six points between them. Hall had three assists, Eberle had two goals and Nugent-Hopkins got his first goal of the season.
It has been a case of that line being totally dominant in terms of puck possession many nights but having little to show for it on the score board early on. Hopefully after the last game, the young stars feel some of the pressure lifted off their shoulders and the floodgates can now open.
If Eberle, Hall and Nugent-Hopkins are ready to break out and shoulder much of the offensive load, it makes other issues seem much more minimal and can take pressure off the defence. Especially if Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky continue to produce, and forwards Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones return from injury in the next couple of weeks, the Oilers could be poised to hit their stride.
One win does not solve all problems and certainly does not make a season, but it can be a turning point and potential watershed moment. To come from behind and put up such an impressive offensive display is almost the definition of a character builder and it’s now up to the Oilers to keep that momentum rolling.
They have three home games this week, starting with Los Angeles tonight and then Minnesota and Phoenix to prove they can carry that momentum and build something going forward.