I had to take a little time after getting home to bask in actually seeing the positivity that surrounds this team and this city after tonight. For the first time since early in the 2007 season (we looked really good at one point remember), there was true excitement in that building tonight, and we didn't *sorta* come away satisfied, or leave disappointed, we got to watch our team administer an honest-to-goodness beat-down for points that matter and own a team we really despise. Talk about a fun way to spend a night.
First of all, as we do at the first home game of every season, let's discuss the opening festivities. Thankfully they toned it down in some ways this year in that it wasn't anywhere near as long and didn't feature strange acrobatics or the frigging bagpipes (I'm sorry, this isn't Scotland! and even in Scotland they don't have spiralling musicians 40 feet in the air that looked like a Emo'ed out Britney Spears...). The musical tone that was set was very intense and I think got everyone fired up pretty good. I'm not sure of the name of the song they were singing (though it's fairly famous), but it was definitely a change of pace and more focused on the "get pumped for hockey" side of things. I liked that choice. Introducing the players was done simply, which I also agreed with. All-in-all it was more subdued in some ways but more intense in others. Less spectacle, less distracting, less artsy or cheesy.
From the outset tonight the Oilers were playing the new system that Renney's clearly been trying to establish with this group of players. It is very transition-focused and takes advantage of the disturbingly high amount of players with excellent speed that we have. To put it simply, when executed the thing works, even against a clutch-grab-hold team like Calgary. They were also allowed to get away with a bunch more tonight because of our early power plays, and I thought our entire lineup played through that all quite well. It would have been easy to drift back into old habits but they didn't. Overall, Renney's scheme which relied on essentially playing 3 lines and complementing that with strategically timed shifts by the 4th line, worked out very well. At the end when we were up, he got the toughs out to make sure nothing silly went down. Again, solid choice.
Calgary is playing a rather baffling system on the other hand. It seems to rely on cherry-picking for offence and generates a lot of bad shots if the other team commits to back-checking. This system is going to get their forward killed once teams start keying on it. This might be their only hope for offence, and if it is then Calgary is in for a LONG season. Their D don't look too stellar either. I'm left to wonder why Bouwmeester is struggling the way he is. He certainly is not dominant on the ice right now.
Overall I just can't say enough about how much fun that experience was. The fans gave Jordan Eberle an ovation I don't think he'll ever forget when he was announced as first star at the end of the game. He deserved it. He wasn't the only truly excellent rookie out there tonight...let's get to the PLAYER REPORTS
- Well, you can't really ask for any more than that. When guys have really great games, I like to get any criticisms out first so we can focus on the positive. He misplayed 2 pucks in the second that could have cost us...that was literally it. The guy was in his calm zone all night and while he made a few great stops, mainly just did what he needed to do and didn't get distracted even though Calgary tried very hard to get in his kitchen at several points during the game. I've always liked that about him. Though it is very unlikely this will happen, if we get a healthy #35 all season long who is focused like this, we stand a very good chance of performing quite well in the point department.
- At some point tonight I lost count of the zone-entry passes Whitney made. His favorite thing seemed to be to skate into the middle of the neutral zone, cut left and pass right. He made it work all night and utilized our speedy forwards perfectly. It was something else to watch. I was very skeptical of the change in D-pairs but this didn't seem to hurt Whitney. I also love his aggressiveness; he plays physically sure, but also in the offensive zone. He crept in on numerous occasions tonight including with under 2 to go. This is excellent and the kind of instincts that winners have. Never ever let up. It is very possible he could have a large point total for us this year, just by virtue of becoming master of the outlet pass.
- This guy looked nothing like the pre-season. Gone were the easy puck-losses at the opposition blue line, awkward passes and lazy skating. In came a guy whose slap-pass is a constant threat, isn't afraid to use his size and was really smart out there. I'm not sure how long this will last and whether it was just opening night intensity or what, but I really liked his game tonight. Even if he's not a "physical big man", just making contact helps this team. He did exactly what we need him to do.
- Fairly quiet game from Ladislav aside from a couple instances where he was involved in scrums and some nice passing. These are always features of his game so they don't generally stand out for me. The challenge for him as well all know is to establish himself this year as a legit top-4 defenceman...he looked the part tonight. His physical play (both hitting and dropping the gloves) is often overlooked by Oilers fans but I think it has an impact and definitely in games like this.
- Tom also had an UGLY preseason; but rebounded with a pretty solid opening game. I almost couldn't believe it when he busted in on a break and pulled a nice side-to-side move only to be stopped. He had a couple other offensive chances and just generally did things fundamentally well. It wasn't flashy but he was a little more physical than usual.
- The only concern with Vandermeer is getting beat wide I'm guessing. This probably happened twice tonight but thankfully both times were recovered from. He made some really nice passes (especially to Eberle and Hall from the slot after joining a rush that should have resulted in #4's first goal ever) and looked very intense on the ice.
- The unsung hero for the Oilers tonight. Unless you were watching closely you probably didn't notice. This was easily the best game I've seen him play. He was physically imposing from the word go and Calgary had to respect that. He didn't get beat. He blocked a boatload of shots including a couple rather impressive ones (NHL.com has him with SIX). Hands up how many people had Theo Peckham playing 17+ excellent minutes and providing some stupendous PK work tonight...yeah, me neither. GREAT game from him.
- Was a big pain in the butt and got in a little scrap. I honestly didn't see the value in this guy but maybe that game illuminates some things for me. Renney did a great job of using him strategically, and this is a guy who seems to know his role. While PK was largely by committee tonight, Foster looked pretty solid when he was out there. As long as he keeps hitting and moves the puck towards the opposition net, we'll be doing fine. I think with Stortini on his line there may even be some goals to be had.
- Speaking of knowing his role, Ryan came out full of piss and vinegar, hitting everything and generally making the Flames angry. It worked. Jones also had a rather excellent fight that sent Mr Meyer (who probably has the worst fighter name ever) to the dressing room. Jones' ability to get in on the forecheck as well as get to some loose pucks could come in very handy as we go forward.
- Did his job tonight for sure. Kept the puck moving in the right direction save for maybe 2 or 3 times and when Ivanans came calling, administered a masterful KO. It looked like Mac Knew what he was doing the whole fight as he was switching hands at JUST the right time, then finally got him with the BIG shot. I don't really feel bad for Ivanans because he knows what he's getting into when it comes to fighting, AND with that little time left in the game it is rather odd. Good for Steve to establish himself as ready to roll early in the season as well. I still would have preferred Stortini here, but tonight this worked.
- I liked a lot of Cogliano's fundamentals tonight to be honest. He was going to the right places, making solid plays and winning races. If only he could hit...He made a great little feed to Paajarvi on a play in the third that could have been #91's first goal just as easily as not. Cogliano's own struggles in front of the net continue however, as he probably had two or three golden shots at openings tonight off plays by Brule and Magnus. It's really too bad but it's got to all be in his head...the technique looks fine he's just not hitting his shooting spots ever. He's good enough if he's keeps doing what he did tonight, even if it is frustrating.
- Great shot for his goal. He sold pass from to boards and just ripped a wrister inside the post while maintaining his body angle. Combination of release, deception and location that wasn't going to be stopped. He was a little quiet aside from this but I felt very responsible and played well positionally. He didn't have to make a lot of hits because some of the other players had that slack picked up, but didn't shy away from the play either. I really like Brule in the role Renney used him in tonight, being a third line support guy who gets PP time. This is how he can be best used on a successful team.
- Even though he didn't hit the scoreboard or have a very flashy night, I thought Magnus did well for himself. He was the most shy and nervous of the rookies, not finding his comfort zone and trying to burn too many guys with his speed, but he played his position with discipline, backchecked very hard and got a couple very good chances. He would do well to learn the play that got Hemsky his goal and several chances tonight because he might be able to do it even better than #83. If Magnus were the only one of the three playing tonight, I think we'd still be very happy with the game he played.
- Taylor's first period was utterly sublime. The chances he generated and near misses that occured were seemingly non-stop after the first couple shifts. My expectations for him were quite low coming in and he blew them away right off the bat because he made his plays against legit NHLers. Hall seems to play best when he's involved in the physical side of the game, so I think one key for him will be to remember to keep hitting. Every shift where he attacked physically, he was successful. In the first alone he could have had two or three and you almost felt screwed he didn't. That he'd do that in game one indicates to me we will be watching something special by the end of the year. I loved how you knew he realized he belonged when he made that lap around the offensive zone in the second and made the play in between his feet. Confidence at this level from your first game is a beautiful thing.
- Even though our knew captain "went Horcoff" on a couple of great scoring chances, I was very heartened by the difference his speed is making on our gameplan. He's playing phenomenal transition hockey and it pays off when you have dynamic players like Hall and Eberle around to pick up the puck and finish the work. He was simple and effective, and I really liked the play where he was eventually credited with the goal (originally Eberle's second) in that he was right in the face of the goalie. If he keeps playing like this, the boos will go away.
- What can you really say that fully expresses how awesome a night that was for a debut? Before he'd scored #2 said he was the best player on the ice. Then he busts that move outside-in on an NHL defenceman AND has the presence and patience to deke Mikka and finish on the backhand? That's just silly!! The place went absolutely bonkers. I love the confidence that move showed. Also, unlike so so so many guys who could do that, he finished. HE ALWAYS FINISHES those plays. The kid is utterly special. Then he's on the PP and unleashes just a brilliantly quick wrister that generated Horcoff's goal. I'm totally convinced the only reason he didn't get a trick is because Renney basically stopped playing the kids after 4-0 (probably smart, but still...). To add to all that, he could've set up 4 in the first and PK'ed well (as did Hall for that matter). Think about how he must feel tonight...a kid who's dreamed of playing for this team forever and shows up in front of all of his family and does THAT. WOW WOW WOW WOW. He might wind up the best of the lot of them. For whatever reason, he just has IT at a level Taylor Hall might never reach. Such a pleasure to watch.
- Ho hum...a goal, a disallowed goal that should've counted, and a great night from these guys. Hemsky was dominating. Any other night he's just as easily the story. His goal after playing so well early and not getting rewarded was awesome. If he can hit the target with that more often it is lethal. Also really enjoyed him owning Iginla for the puck in the third. Watch Ales' backchecks...he clearly has the centre role in the defensive zone on this line and was in fine form tonight. I've already seen some criticism of Penner and I don't get it at all. When he had the puck he could do whatever the heck he wanted with it. He just bullied the Flames around. Sure it wasn't a flashy night, but correct the goal screwup and combine it with the line's worry-free play and that's an awesome night on any other. Gagner was really good in what is a support role. The thing I noticed from him most was puck retrieval down low, and the fact that he stayed out of Hemsky's way. If you remember these guys played really well for a time last year where other teams essentially didn't have the puck when they were out there. I see that again this year, but with supporting offence. LOOK OUT. I mention these guys as a unit because they're unique on the team right now. They're vets, they play a reliable game, and they're in control. You might not even notice them on a 3 goal night because of the flash elsewhere, but they're going to get it done and could lug us a ways.
Well, that was stupendous! I'm guessing there'll be fewer reads and comments tonight due to lateness, but maybe everyone's on adrenaline like me. Talk about awesome!