The Oilers forwards have shown tremendous chemistry to this point. The lines have been essentially kept in tact since on-ice sessions began in training camp. No line is more solid than the unit led by mentor and newly-named captain Shawn Horcoff. His calming influence has been wonderful for both Eberle and Hall, and the trio has been counted on to carry the early offensive load. While we're still early in the season, these three have proven something special in terms of on-ice familiarity; something that the organization hopes continues and spreads across the team. This aspect of the game will only improve as more games are played.
Two games, two wins. An average of 3.5 goals scored per game and a rare 23% shooting percentage in their last game against the Panthers. Who can complain? While the Oilers have shown some incredible talent so far, a more cognisant effort in simplicity and a stronger commitment to getting pucks on net should help them in the long run. Given the team's collective age, it shouldn't be surprising that the team has faced some early-season inconsistency. Further experience, both with game action and practice time, will help alleviate any potential issues and continue to assist the young players' development.
With the commitment of getting bigger, stronger, and tougher in all areas, the Oilers have improved their physical game early in the 10-11 season. With a healthy Ryan Jones, and acquired players such as Steve MacIntyre and Colin Fraser, the insertion of new enthusiasm has done wonders for the team's physical play. Combine that with the resurgence and higher degree of commitment to the existing game from guys like Gilbert Brule and Dustin Penner, and suddenly the Oilers have become a difficult team to play against. Early in the season, no doubt, but the team has an average of seven hits a game more than last season (26 up from 19).
While the Oilers have a great balance of offensive and defensive ability on the blueline, we have to remember that the unit is still collectively young. The Oilers kept many defencemen in camp until the final pre-season game, meaning many of the defenders had the unique opportunity of playing with multiple partners. The group responded well and the mix of young, enthusiastic talent has done well for the group so far. The Oilers are fortunate that the chemistry has been easily established, as head coach Tom Renney now has more options available to him when it comes to spreading talent, defensive ability, and offensive awareness.
The Oilers coaching staff has shown a tremendous commitment to defensive positioning and system play all throughout training camp and in the early-season practice sessions. The acquired skills are showing immediate results. Specifically, the defencemen are blocking an incredible amount of shots; and while the Oilers are giving up plenty of shots themselves, the defence is doing a fantastic job in keep the majority to the outside and allowing goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin to do his job uncontended. Improvements can still be made, particularly to the breakout, but the Oilers defence is looking extremely confident in their system so far.
Something the Oilers had been lacking the past few years is the collective defensive group that could punish their opponents physically. The additions of Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer, and now full-time rookie Theo Peckham has added a bit of a snarl to an already beefed-up defensive group. Not only are the Oilers being more proactive on the physical side, but their hits have been thunderous and have often incited a reaction from the opponent. Of course, this group won't back down either. The addition of a more committed physical game has provided the Oilers with a much more intimidating dynamic early in the 10-11 season.
It can't be said any other way. Nikolai Khabibulin has been brilliant through the first two games of the season. While there was some concern heading into the season on how Khabibulin would handle his renewed number one role, the veteran has responded in a dominating fashion. With 63 saves on 65 combined shots through two games, it looks as though he's rejuvenated and as healthy as anyone could have imagined. The only area of concern now is when to play either Deslauriers or Dubnyk, and how to decide which goaltender gets the first opportunity. A tough decision, no doubt, but for now this is clearly Khabibulin's crease to lose.