EDMONTON 5 VS. NEW YORK Rangers 3 --------------------- My comments tonight should be read with the knowledge that I didn't see most of the second period. A friend happened to be in a suite this evening so we stopped by for snacks and refreshments. Got to get me one of those things...though I think paying the $29 for warm potato chips (which ARE delicious, but COME ON) would be a little crazy after a while. Seeing the roster that was posted before the game I thought that despite the fact that we had a decent enough preseason squad put together, the team would get kicked around pretty good tonight. The Rangers didn't ice that squad though so it was a much different contest. It was a tad easier to follow tonight's game than the last because some of the familiar combinations were back. I think at this point because of injuries and such we are locked in to seeing the top two lines from tonight's group in the season opener. I've been disappointed that Eakins hasn't wanted to try Yakupov in Smyth's spot but at least he has a plan and when those guys are on the ice they don't get beat. They don't produce like the would if they had another dynamic force instead of an aging one, but they do just fine against good opponents. The second line has morphed out of necessity, but despite the fact that Arcobello is certainly not the second best Oilers center I suspect he stays in place as well. This is far from ideal, but Kassian had other plans so I guess we're stuck with this. I'm really hoping that some interesting players come across the waiver wire and we're not too loaded up with lunkheads at the bottom of the roster to pick up a useful player. I'm not happy with the way the bottom six is shaping up. While there is improved depth and competition, it is mostly a group of 12-14 slot forwards rather than say, 8-11 slot forwards. I'm hoping that due to the new coach mainly there will be no loyalty to past sacred cows and changes will come quickly and decisively. You can easily replace most of a bottom six with interchangeable parts if your squad isn't one of the top five in the league. The first test of if there is indeed a new sheriff in town is whether Ryan Jones is cut loose. I am cautiously optimistic when it comes to our D. While we lack a dominating force at the Pronger, or even Pitkanen/Visnovsky level, we have a solid group that could very well all rank as top 4 type defencemen if they perform well. Belov is a very pleasant surprise and as I've noted previously the only thing I really bemoan is that we couldn't get Ranger for free as well. Think about it - we just sent the first round draft pick who fired a no-look pass for a beautiful assist back to his junior team - that is progress compared to where this team has been. I look forward to seeing how this group shakes out. In net I am not convinced these will be the two goalies at the end of the season. More on that ahead. ------------- LaBarbera - Pretty hit and miss effort. There were some good saves and some times when he looked really shaky. I'm getting the impression that he's just not that comfortable yet. Maybe he settles in and maybe he doesn't. I'm really hoping that this is finally our lucky day and that they've found a legit goaltending prospect in Ty Rimmer. I only saw him for the one game, but it wouldn't shock me if he first lights up OKC and then makes his way to Edmonton for a time (assuming contract details are worked out). Just looked like he had 'it' whereas I haven't seen any of that from the designated backup yet. Belov - Another really strong game. So far in the progression of the 3 games I've seen, he has expanded his repertoire and comfort level during each and you'd have to think he's just going to get stronger and more in tune with his teammates. Strong passes, good positioning, blockng plays and hitting. I like that a lot. He's also got a reputation for going a little crazy from time to time and he nearly jumped in to bail out a teammate in the third period. I suspect there's some mean there to be exploited once he knows where the line is. Petry - Had what I'd classify as a typical Petry game. Some great and some not so much. Hope he's tuned up and ready to get the intensity level high this season. I'd say you have to make a very important call with him this year and either he is an anchor for years or you deal him while his value is on the upswing. Either situation can be a winner for the team. Fedun - Pretty blah game which unfortunately for him will likely leave him out of the conversation. There's a lot of flash at the bottom of the Oilers blue line and that's just not his game. He's also not so far ahead defensively of the other players in the discussion that it vaults him ahead in any special way. I suspect he's headed down to be a surprising rock on the OKC D and will be called up by the Oilers during the year. J. Schultz - A quiet game interlaced with some really nice plays. Very well done on his assist in terms of waiting in position for the play to develop and then executing. Defensively he was okay. Will be very interesting to see how he is deployed as you didn't really get any sense of that during the preseason and there is depth on the blue line that we didn't have last year. Perhaps we mostly roll 3 pairs? Nurse - Tonight's game ends a great run at camp for a guy who I had very little expectation of going in. Really liked the read and the play he made for his assist. That showed a lot of confidence and skill for a guy in his position. Certainly not shy about joining the rush despite not exactly being known as an offensive juggernaught. I truly hope he dominates the OHL but cannot find a place on the Oilers until 2 camps from now because our D is that good. I doubt that will happen but a guy can hope. The muscle mass gain begins NOW! Larsen - I get why people like this guy. He can certainly motor around the ice and once again made some beautiful passes but didn't manage an assist somehow. It is very interesting that not very long ago we would have really needed this kind of defenceman and now he's useful but we have redundancies in place. I suspect he'll make the team and perform fairly well, but be moved on during the season because someone from OKC will have emerged and stolen his spot due to a more complete skill set (Marincin isn't as far away as a lot of people thought, for instance). We shall see and I hope he's strong enough defensively to make a positive difference. Hall - Again good but had some struggles with the puck for whatever reason. Lovely tip. Everything suggests that as the pace rises and the intensity of real games comes, he'll be more than ready. He looks more comfortable (in a good way) than I've seen him despite the position change and he should start the season really strong. Hemsky - Looking very ready and fitting in well with Hall and Smyth. The patience he showed on and after the PP that led to Hall's goal was just perfect and he made an excellent read to get Schultz that puck. I wonder if he'll try going low more often now. Hall at C seems to suit Hemsky well in terms of the flow of the play up the ice which is something I wasn't sure would happen. These guys could be pretty excellent together all year if both hang in there. Smyth - I'm beginning to wonder if he did indeed take on the fitness challenge during the offseason. I'm not saying this is his proper place because it certainly is not, but he is not holding these guys up and the team MAY be able to survive until some of the injured return even with Smyth in his current role. He'll probably be worn out and done by the time that happens but at least he's using all the tools in the box for now. Eberle - Looks better than I've ever seen him. Suspect this is because he's completely healthy. Another really strong night with Perron capped by the goal in the third where he was in the exact right spot despite a defenseman being in on the rush. He's going to tear it up this year. Perron - Fits right in with this hockey team while providing something a little different than what they have. Again tonight I saw him going back at the opposition when they took liberties as well as instigating on his own. We need a guy like that who plays just a bit on edge but wanders around tipping pucks into the net and lazering shots. They picked the right guy (much as I think they actually needed David Backes but we all know that isn't happening). Really wonder who centers this pair...maybe it doesn't even matter. Arcobello - I will give him that he had a pretty good offensive game. He shows some nice sparks and with the state of the Oilers C depth right now I suspect it was enough to make the team. The thing is that he is also making mistakes, including bad passes and getting caught out of position, against non-NHL rosters. He will be exposed once the real games come along and I hope the wingers are able to carry him. Needs to add a lot of things to his game, the most important one being cosistency, in order to have any shot at a permanent NHL job. Eager - He wasn't that bad tonight, which seems to be a step up for him. I wonder if I have too high of expectations for him. I see a guy who has a bunch of skill and a large frame. That should get you pretty far in the NHL. While his goal was a bounce of the post and Biron's legs, it was still good to see him put a strong effort on net and get the job done. I'm sure his confidence is absolutely in the junker at this point. He had a much better camp that I thought he would and may very well make the team based on what we've heard from Eakins. I'm not sure how long that lasts, but good for him. There's a lot to work with there despite the 10-cent head. Pitlick - Faded from his performance last night into one of the guys blending into the background again. Too bad for him as I suspect if he'd strung together even two of those games he would've made it because he's got higher potential and is more likely to convert a chance than a Hamilton, Acton or others. That may be by the wayside now. This year he will either get back on a true prospect track or begin the path that ends for most with a career in Europe, making lots of tax-free coin and living an interesting life, but coming short of your dream. Acton - Pretty invisible tonight for me. Again I see he won a bunch of faceoffs and maybe that's enough for him to stay but I hope the same hope I did with Arcobello in terms of our ability to replace him. Nothing about him suggests to me that he has long term NHL potential. Hamilton - Really tailed off the past two after a strong effort. Just not noticable tonight. Even if you're not running around crazy or lighting up the offensive zone you have to do something to be noticed and he just didn't. If he was being judged as Omark was he'd be gone but he isn't so who knows. Jones - Another really weak performance. In addition to the bad decisions he's been making with the puck for a couple games this preseason and generally iffy positioning, he was getting himself caught cheating again including on the PK. He won't have that ace to play this year if Eakins remains committed to playing his top guys on the PK. The competition is better now and Ryan Jones may well have played himself off this team due to his totally lacklustre performances including in tonight's game. Lander - I think I expect a lot more from Anton than he will be able to provide. I still see the guy who was fairly skilled for Sweden's junior team and a good leader etc. That he cannot separate himself at this level of play means that he's wandered off the path. He was another guy who just blended into the background tonight. If he's not winning faceoffs, not killing penalties and not an ace in the defensive zone...what is he? ---------------------- One more game until the final decision are made. Should be fun! Really hoping to see a couple additions in the coming days that aren't lunkheads. We need centers who can play. There are a number out there and likely some teams waiving useful players due to cap issues. Perhaps the solution will make itself obvious.