Some things: they’re easy to hate. Cancer. James Mitchner novels. The Fanny Pack Family and their adorable moppets blocking the wrong side of the Metro escalators. Other things, it’s tougher. Like puppies. Or Canadians.
The Low Down: Seriously, it’s kinda hard to lay the h8 against our drunken, fur-trapping in-laws to the north, no? Geez, they’re just so gosh-darned cute, what with their doughnuts and whale-blubber lamps and huge land mass and commitment to human rights and all? Ah-DOR-able. Eh? But then there’s the Edmonton Oilers (4-2-2, 2nd in Northwest Division). For them we’ll make an exception.
The Legacy: If you’re under the age of 25, go stand in the corner and Google “Oilers 80’s.” Of course, that was then; the era of Sather and Gretzky and the rest winning the cup five times are long gone. These days the Oilers don’t so much strike fear in the hearts of opponents as they do sadness. So far this season, Edmonton is alone at the bottom of goals per game (1.7) of all NHL teams. And, until Tuesday at least, it looked like they couldn’t win a game in their own division. Of course, not all is bitter tears for the Oilers.
What Makes Them Hot
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “Rookie phenom” is a dumb phrase lazy sportswriters like to haul out of their trick bag, in part because it’s fun to write. But in Hopkins’ case, it’s probably apt. The 18-year-old 1st round draft pick is having a great NHL debut, already rocketing to 8th in the league in goals, with 8 points in as many games. According to the Edmonton Daily Dump or whatever, Hopkins has quickly become a fan fav; he’s also a third of the “Kiddie Line” of Taylor Hall, Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle, which has been generating a lot of pucks on net lately. Oh, and he’s kinda cute… but who isn’t at 18? When we hear “RNH,” we can’t help but think “NPH.” We now think we have a crush on both.
Nikolai Khabibulin. “Cute” is not a word that comes to mind when contemplating the Oilers’ 38-year-old goalie. “Talented” likely is. Khabibulin boasts a save percentage of .963, which may not be Vokoun good but it’s still pretty scary good. 35 saves against a team that was last year’s runner-up in the Cup finals? Yeah, they’ll take that.
“Reverse the Curse.” A lot of fans in a lot of cities go through a period when they think their team is cursed. A lot of fans are wrong. But maybe not so fans of the Copper and Blue. After dominating the league in the 80’s, the Oilers have wandered in the wilderness for two decades, which sounds downright biblical. Sure, they challenged a bit back in the mid-90’s on something like a comeback, but so did the B-52s – and where is Fred Schneider these days? Still, there’s nothing like a team and a fanbase that remembers the glory days and wants to take another shot at greatness.
What Makes Them Not
Facts. Facts are stupid, aren’t they? Some argue that the Oilers are actually a better team than their current 2nd place division standing behind the Avs. Fourth overall in penalty kill? First in goals against? Not too bad, eh? As mentioned before, they clearly need to do a much better job moving the puck, but “facts” would seem to say that the Oilers are for real. So why aren’t they? It’s sort of like climate change. The facts are pointing in one direction, but Edmonton is stubbornly holding out against reality and refusing to behave like they’re real. Let’s hope this denial keeps up– at least until Friday.
Youth. Young people, ugh. Amirite? Huh? The Oilers are very much a young team, which means they’re much more likely to be flukey. The stats suggest as much so far, but as the cliché-generator reminds us, only time will tell. So young may equal inconsistent play… but on the other hand, hawt! (Sorry. Had to.)
Corporations. No, we’re not getting all #OWS here, but stay with us on this. We’re really not ones to complain about corporate names on arenas, but Rexall Place? I’ll take associating my rink with phone service over dental floss and laxatives any day. But it isn’t just the name. According to no less an authority than Brooks Laich, a number of Canadian arenas are largely dead during games precisely because so many of the seats are controlled by corporate suits. As in: company robot takes prospective client to game, both spend all their time poking at their BlackBerry, nobody cares about the actual play on the ice, the end. Blech.
What To Watch For
We’ve all had a nice, long rest since the Red Wings blowout last weekend. Everyone comfy? That’s probably not the greatest thing ever. Time off is no doubt a wonderful thing for the players who get a chance to relax, recuperate, practice, carve pumpkins, or just do whatever. It just makes us a little nervous. One other factor worth considering – during Locker’s victory lap during the Red Wings post-game show, he commented on the Edmonton sheet, “They better sharpen their skates!” he boomed. Word has it that the Oilers have one of the better, slicker playing surfaces in the NHL. For those players prone to sudden losses of balance (:cough: Alexander Valerievich Semin :cough:), the sheet could prove to be another variable.