Sunday, September 25, 2011

Exhibition: Oilers 2 Flames 1

After getting off to another slow start on home ice, the Edmonton Oilers managed to pull out a 2-1 victory over their arch rivals the Calgary Flames. The top line of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Teemu Hatikainen lead the way for the Oilers, who also received a strong performance from goaltender Nikoali Khabibulin. Hall's first goal of the pre-season, with just over a minute remaining, sent the Rexall place faithful home satisfied.

The Good
  1. Taylor Hall seems ready to take his game to that next level. A force every time he hit the ice and was a threat all night long. The kid will not be intimated physically and, once again, went out of his way to respond to any runs that Flames players decided to take at him. Calgary tried separating him from the puck all night long but had little to no success in accomplishing it. Attending the game tonight, I saw in person, what I thought I was watching on the online feeds...Hall is even faster this season!!! His first step to the outside is more explosive and the shoot first  mentality, that was missing at times last season, appears to now be a regular part of his repertoire. Hall was named third star on the night but he was the best player on a wide margin.
  2. Teemu Hartikainen continues to impress and I really don't know how they are going to keep this kid off the opening night roster. All he does is work his ass off every shift and the young Finn is an absolute bull down low. Again, he displayed the ability to make the right decisions, in all three zones, while still playing his style. Did not look out of place playing with Hall and Nugent-Hopkins, as he kept things simple and moved the puck to his linemates, whenever possible. Earned first star of the night honours and next to Taylor Hall, was the best player on the ice.
  3. Another strong effort from Ryan Nugnent -Hopkins. He made a slik play coming out of the corner, which enabled him to direct a shot on goal, that led to Hall's winner. It was apparent he and Hall were not feeling it off the bat but as the game progressed, the duo started to find the range. RNH was solid in both ends of the ice and his ability to see the ice and find lanes will score him a tone of power play time. Nothing the kid has done, to this point, says he can not play at this level and the notion of him playing between Hall and Jordan Eberle, in the not to distant future, is very exciting.
  4. Ryan Jones short handed goal, late in the second, was the turning point last night and he does seem to have the knack for scoring timely goals. I do not expect Jones to come anywhere near the totals he put up last year but if the guy plays like he did last night, not much more could be asked of the man that is known as Jonesy!!!
  5. Nikoali Khabibulin made five outstanding saves last night, with a couple being highway robbery, that kept his team in the game and gave Edmonton the opportunity to win. While the goal Rene Bourque got past him was soft, Khabibulin was nearly flawless the rest of the night. He was positionally sound most of the night and was routinely in place for second and third shot chances. If the netminder can play at that level on most nights, this team will compete on a nightly basis. 
The Bad
  1. Sam Gagner injuring his ankle after going hard into the end boards, early in the second period. An injury is never a good thing but this could not have come at a worse time for Gagner. It was apparent to everyone, that Gagner seemed to have gained a bit in his stride during the off season. He has shown that jump in his step throughout camp...could all that work be for not? Losing their top line centre for any length of time could be devastating.
  2. While it was Andy Sutton's first game in several months, and first as an Edmonton Oiler, it is clear that his lack of foot speed is going to be a factor. He was taken wide by a few Calgary players on the evening and none of them would be considered "fast" players. While his size will add a nice dimension to the back end, this teams D is challenged when it comes to transitioning the puck up the ice and having Sutton lumber around will certainly not make that task any easier.
  3. Can this roster please be trimmed down dramatically come Monday? I know they have some injury concerns but I would like these guys to be given the chance to develop a little chemistry with what will be new linemates for the majority of players.

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