by Lisa Brown on 10/10/11 at 06:30 AM ET
Oilers beat Penguins 2-1 in shootout
This game was more than just a home opener in Oil Country. This was the season opener, the first game as Oilers for the newly acquired Oilers, the first NHL game for Anton Lander and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and of course the return of Ryan Smyth.
The Oilers had a video presentation before introducing all of the players and that was where the night started. The Oilers began introducing their team, starting with the lowest number, not unlike other teams around the NHL. What made this special for the Oilers and their fans is the fact that Ryan Smyth has the highest number on the team and so was the last to step onto the ice. To say the crowd went wild would be an understatement. Fans leapt to their feet and cheered with a deafening roar; the mullet, the heart, the soul, the fan favourite is back.
The starting lineup didn’t hold too many surprises for the Oilers, except for the fact that it was Devan Dubnyk in net. Fans were delighted to see Dubnyk get the start after his pre-season and the most common phrase uttered was that he “deserves it.”
For the Penguins, Oiler fans were disappointed with the fact that there was not going to be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or even Marc-Andre Fleury. Steve MacIntyre would make his first return to Rexall however, and who would have thought that he would play longer than Darcy Hordichuk.
The Edmonton Oilers in some ways were lucky in this game. Unable to stay out of the penalty box got to the team early in the game. With a too many men on the ice call against the Oilers the Penguins got their first of many power plays on the night. With the first opportunity Kris Letang was able to beat Devan Dubnyk and give the Penguins an early lead, but a lead that would last for nearly 47 minutes.
The next player on the ice to score was Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This first NHL goal will not be up for the TSN play of the year next year, but it was the goal that got the Oilers on the board and the goal that once again got fans out of their seats and on their feet. Not bad for a first game, even if that game also included a tripping penalty. Some in the crowd took to saying, “That kid doesn’t look out of place,” and “it looks like he should be there.” Strong words when so many seemed to have made up their mind about Nugent-Hopkins the day he was drafted. The Oilers still have 8 more NHL games to make a decision, but with 6 points in 4 pre-season games and his first NHL goal in his first game, Nugent-Hopkins is making a case for himself.
The Oilers penalty kill looks much improved, even if through just one game. The best penalty killer on the team was easily Devan Dubnyk. After the netminder, it would be fair to say it was nearly anyone who took a faceoff. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins didn’t have much luck in the dot on his first outing as an Oiler, but that is something that can be worked on especially with Eric Belanger to practice against.
The Oilers’ biggest penalty kill came when Ryan Smyth was assessed a 2 minute elbowing call and a game misconduct late in the third for an altercation with Craig Kunitz. The Oilers were definitely short through this call as it was Taylor Hall to serve the time. With the game on the line, and the Oilers a man short, faceoffs mattered. By gaining puck control from the drop of the puck, and successfully clearing the puck from their zone, the Oilers were able to chip away at the time on the clock. The Oilers were approximately 65% for shorthanded faceoff wins. This is a huge improvement from last season, and hopefully this is the start of a new trend.
Overtime would solve nothing for either team, but provided excitement as the Smyth penalty extended into the extra frame. Dubnyk continued to stand tall, block all shots and swallow up all rebounds. Brent Johnson in net for the Penguins weathered the storm and ignored the goalie chant that echoed through the building.
Through the shootout, Ales Hemsky and Jordan Eberle scored on Johnson while only James Neal was able to put one past Dubnyk, the first since the first period. Linus Omark looked to have had Johnson beat on the shootout, and with a simple shot could possibly have gotten the win for his team. However, Omark is known for his fancy shootout moves and this one went up a little too high and wide and missed the net entirely. All was not lost, when Steve Sullivan was beat by Devan Dubnyk and the Oilers recorded their first win of the season.
After the game, Smyth said he thought that Craig Kunitz was charging him and might have been a little surprised that Kunitz was not assessed a penalty on the call, maybe even more surprised that Kunitz was out on the Penguins extended power play. What didn’t seem to surprise Smyth was Nugent-Hopkins scoring his first NHL goal; “I’ve said it all along. He’s very humble and he deserves to be here.”
Smyth is of course happy to be home, and happy to receive the cheers, and see the signs from the fans in the stands; “That was pretty cool. I had chills down my spine and it brought back a lot of great memories.”
The Oilers came out looking slow and uncoordinated in many ways through the first two periods, and that could be attributed in part to the late start the team has on the season. While the Penguins are wrapping up their first western road trip, the Oilers are just stepping out onto the ice for their first game. If the Oilers simply need more time on the ice in a game situation, the time off this week may not do them any favours.
The new Oilers looked impressive overall. No one had a perfect game, but that should be expected, especially at this point in the game. Cam Barker could very well turn things around for himself in Edmonton, Anton Lander looked right at home in the NHL and was not only called upon in key situations, but also delivered.
Wins are exciting, and the fan in me wants to say that if the team can keep up this pace, they will go 82-0, or that they will win every shootout game this year. Of course we all know that this isn’t going to happen, but a few more wins than last year should.
The Oilers are off until Thursday when the team plays division rival Minnesota Wild in St. Paul.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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