The Edmonton Oilers surge to the top of the standings was surprising to say the least, and very unexpected considering the young and inexperienced line-up, injuries on the blueline, and perceived holes throughout the line-up. The team was very careful not to get ahead of themselves, because even through the winning, deficiences were present. Their goals per game were ranked very low, and many of the victories came on the back of superb goaltending from Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk. And despite continued strong play, the team simply isn’t scoring enough. And that fact came full circle last night when they were shut-out by the Detroit Red Wings.
The team is in the midst of a lengthy road trip, one that pundits suggested would reveal exactly what this team is. So far, it’s revealing what many thought they would be before the season started. A youthful, exciting team, struggling to be a playoff contender. But all is not lost in Edmonton! They are currently 2 and 3 on their road trip, with a game against Chicago on Sunday before returning home. They have a chance to end the trip at .500, though they will be in tough vs. the West leading Blackhawks.
The current stumble has dropped the team to 8th overall in the NHL, which is still a remarkable spot! Their strong start has put them in a good position as they work out the kinks in their game. They hope to be getting Ryan Whitney back soon, as his absence has been affecting the defense and the powerplay. The kid line, before last night, is still scoring on a regular basis, but it’s been the play of Ryan Smyth lately that has garnered some attention. The wily veteran has 9 goals and 16 points on the season to lead the team in both categories. He is still the same gritty player, going to the dirty areas of the ice to get his points. But he wasn’t the headline story for at least one game in particular.
When the Oilers faced the Boston Bruins last week, the storyline going in was Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin, again. Seguin came out on top in that game, scoring a goal and adding an assist as the Bruins topped Edmonton 6-3. Many will point to Seguin as the current superior player due to the fact that he has more points. Tyler Seguin also leads the league in plus/minus, but that flawed statistic is due in large part to the fact that he is rarely on the ice against the oppositions best players, and is off to a sizzling start offensively. He also plays with more experienced line mates, and a battle tested team. Bottom line, Taylor and Tyler are two very different players, joined together simply by the fact that they were selected 1-2 overall in the 2009 entry draft. Taylor Hall plays a more power game, and it will take a few years before one of those players can be ranked higher than the other.
The Oilers are ranked 26th in goals for, an issue that needs to be addressed. And even though the goalies play has been stellar, it’s difficult to sustain such a high level of play throughout the ebb and flow of a long season. But every team, no matter how talented they are, face a difficult road to make the playoffs. And the Oilers deserve to be where they are. Now the question is can they keep it up.