Goaltending was one of the biggest issues for the Edmonton Oilers last season, and the inconsistency in net contributed to their second consecutive last place finish. This season, the Oilers starting goaltender leads the league in goals against average and save percentage, something very few could have predicted. Nikolai Khabibulin’s legal troubles and on ice struggles over the past several months appeared to put his future in the NHL in jeopardy. But the veteran has been outstanding so far this season, rejuvenating his career and helping the Oilers to a 5-2-2 record, good for 8th place over all in the entire NHL.
Another big factor to Edmonton’s success has been the play of the “kid” line. Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have combined for 26 points and sit 1-2-3 in team scoring. They have been an absolute delight to watch, and a very positive sign of things to come in Edmonton. Can the team keep this going, and find themselves in a playoff spot comes season’s end? That remains to be seen, but there is a lot to like about this team. And handing the undefeated Washington Capitals their first loss of the season was quite a confidence boost.
Coming into last night’s game, the Caps were the leagues only team to have yet to lose, posting a 7-0-0 record and looking unbeatable. But the young Oilers were undaunted, played their game, and used two powerplay goals to take down the Caps. Khabibulin made 34 saves en route to his 4th victory of the season. The Capitals opened the scoring early in the first on a goal from Karl Alzner. Late in the period however, Taylor Hall notched his 3rd of season to tie the game at 1. Midway through the 2nd period, on another powerplay, Jordan Eberle scored his 2nd of the season from Nugent-Hopkins and Corey Potter to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead. The Caps came on in the third, but Edmonton held on to secure the victory, despite only getting 19 shots on goal. And while the team is riding high after the victory, they’re very aware that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
When discussing the game against the Capitals, Oilers head coach Tom Renney had this to say:
“They’re a contender for the Stanley Cup,” Oilers head coach Tom Renney said of the Capitals. “No question about that. What did they out shoot us, 19-6 in the third period? Gulp. They’re just a big strong team. Strength is not our forte just yet.” – Edmonton Journal
The Oilers may still be a couple of pieces away from being a legitimate playoff team, but they certainly look like a post-season contender right now. Rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins made the trip to Denver following the Caps game, and it appears as though he will remain with the team for the season, despite questions about him returning to junior. On a more negative note, defenseman Ryan Whitney is expected to miss three weeks with a knee sprain, but the injury doesn’t appear to be too serious.
UPDATE: The Oilers organization has confirmed, via their twitter feed, that Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will be staying with the team for the whole season.