Sunday, January 20, 2013

Oilers Hockey is Back

We are a few hours away from the return of Oilers hockey. I admit that I am excited and as the NHL expected, the fans have returned. Have we returned completely? Probably more so than not. I did vow that I would buy less merchandise and beer; so far I have held up that promise. Although I am already regretting my 'less beer' stance.

This shortened season will be interesting. 48 games with many players not playing for months. The Oilers do not have this problem as many have been playing either in the AHL or in Europe. They should have a head start to the season over quite a few other teams.  Will the success in the AHL and Europe translate to the NHL? I imagine some of it will and there will be struggles as well.  Aside from an appearance in the Spengler Cup, Dubnyk did not play during the lockout. This is his moment to seize as he starts as the Oilers' number one goalie. He played well during the second part of last season and if he can continue, the Oilers will have a chance for some playoff hockey.

The forwards are the most game ready with Hall, Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, Yakupov, Hemsky and Gagner all playing during the lockout and playing extremely well.  This is your Oilers top two lines and they are expected to light teams up this year. Last year, the team scored fewer goals than the previous season so the team must take a step forward and not back. They won more games last year but still finished near the bottom (29th if you do not remember). They had the fortunate luck of winning the draft lottery and picking the exciting Nail Yakupov who had a very good stretch in the KHL but underperformed at the World Junior's.  The OKC boys lit it up down in the AHL and Nugent-Hopkins continued his dominance at the World Juniors but that was not enough to medal.  Hemsky and Gagner played in Europe and while both did very well, Hemsky in particular showed he was back to his dangling self.  With two healthy shoulders, this should be Hemsky's year and if practice has showed anything, he has developed chemistry with Gagner and Yakupov and he may finally have a finisher on his line in Yakupov at the same time as being healthy.

The defense....what to say about it? With a hopefully healthy Whitney and the signing of Justin Schultz, they should be able to put up the points particularly on the powerplay. The BIG question is can they stop the bleeding in their own end?  The Oilers defense is their weakness and it has been for some time.  The other Schultz and Smid should help but this team does lack a bit of depth even with the addition of Fistric. With the offensive-minded forwards, the defense will need to step up if the Oilers wish to see hockey in May.

To predict where the Oilers will finish this year is difficult.  They finished 29th last year and added a Schultz, a Yakupov and a Fistric. Is that enough to jump from 14th in their conference into at least 8th place? That seems like a daunting task since the Oilers need to improve in almost every single area. The only great stat from last year is the powerplay where they finished 3rd and they will need to maintain that to have a chance. Their PK was an improvement last year but they'll need to take less penalties and improve the killing to top ten at least.  Oilers were a very penalized team last year so they must cut down on the number of penalties while improving the pk.

The other change has been behind the bench. Can Ralph Krueger take over from Tom Renney and lead this team into the playoffs?  One hopes so.

I think the Oilers are the hardest team to predict. From finishing 29th last year to having so many players kicking butt during the lockout, to having an iffy defense and unproven goalie, this is a hard one to see.  Many see the Oilers finishing 13th in the conference (so said the TSN dudes). I think they will finish more than one spot higher than last year but that defense will probably be their downfall.  I'll predict 9th place but they really do have an outside chance at making the playoffs.  The forwards look great!!!!  Let's hope they score like we are expecting they will (as we thought they would last year).  I am hoping for some playoff hockey. It has been TOO long in Oil Country!

I'm off to the pub tonight to watch with some friends but cannot wait for our home opener on Tuesday.  I will buy only one beer. I will buy only one beer. Maybe.


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