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Stauffer Stuff: November 2

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Nikolai Khabibulin  (photo by Andy Devln / EOHC)

It was unquestionably an October to remember for the Edmonton Oilers but now the rubber hits the road, literally!

After a stellar 7-2-2 start to the NHL season in the month of October that has resulted in the Oilers catapulting from #23 to #5 on the TSN Power Rankings and from #25 to #2 on the ESPN Power Rankings in the last week alone, the Oil today embark upon the first of two major road trips in the month of November.

The team flies south to the “City of Angels” to launch a six-game, twelve-day trip facing teams: Los Angeles, Phoenix, Montreal, Boston, Detroit and Chicago, that all made the play-offs last season.

Suffice to say we will probably have a lot better read of exactly where the Oilers are at by the time the team returns home for a pair of home games in the middle of the month against Ottawa and Chicago.

Through the first 11 games (eight of which were at the cozy confines of Rexall Place) the Oilers exhibited better goaltending, improved puck support and structure and process in their own zone, far superior special teams and more opportunistic scoring than at any time over the last couple of seasons.

However, a degree of practicality needs to be applied to the Oilers start to the season before we start planning the parade in June.

Nikolai Khabibulin has bounced back and had a tremendous start to the season posting an NHL best 1.12 Goals Against Average and a .960 Save Percentage. Does anyone think that “Khabby” can maintain those kinds of numbers?

Let’s put this another way:

Phil Kessel leads the NHL with 10 goals and 18 points, and former Oiler Marc-Andre Bergeron and Erik Karlsson are tied with 13 points to lead NHL defencemen in scoring…will all three players be in a similar spot at the end of the regular season?

The Oilers are 26th in the NHL averaging 25.9 shots per game and they are 14th in shots allowed at 29.8 shots against per game.

In other words they are being outshot by nearly four shots per game; you have to figure that the laws of averages are going to catch up on the team, unless the Oilers can start to get some more pucks on the net.

After being a bottom-five team killing penalties in the NHL the last two seasons (29th in 2010-11 at 77.0% and 26th in 2009-10 at 78%) thanks in large part to coming in dead last in face-off percentage both seasons, the Oilers are currently 4th in the NHL at 89.1%. Sitting at 48.7% in the face-off circle this season (22nd) I am not sure that team will continue to have the same kind of success, though it should be noted that newcomer Eric Belanger and Shawn Horcoff have combined to win over 60% of their draws when shorthanded.

The announcement yesterday that Andy Sutton will serve a five-game suspension, combined with Ryan Whitney’s absence to the line-up will create some challenges on the back end.

Both Ladislav Smid and Tom Gilbert have had splendid starts to the season and Corey Potter has been a revelation; but the Oilers will miss Whitney and Sutton in the short term.

So the Oilers are going to have some challenges on this upcoming trip; but they may be able to create some new opportunities as well.

The team has played great defence to start the season, but the offensive numbers are pedestrian at best.

The return of Ales Hemsky, likely Tuesday in Montreal, should serve as a catalyst for Tom Renney and his staff to have some legitimate secondary scoring in the line-up.

No need to play around with the Oilers top offensive unit of Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle or the Oilers shutdown line of Ryan Smyth-Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Jones.

With Hemsky back in the fold you have to figure that the Oilers may play the struggling Magnus Paajarvi with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky on a second offensive line and then have Eric Belanger center Ben Eager and Lennert Petrell.

This should give the Oilers two legitimate offensive units up front with Horcoff’s line being capable of contributing as well.

If the Oilers can get some more offence from their forwards, a .500 road trip is more than possible and would continue a very good start to the season.

Bob Stauffer is the Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Host of “Oilers Now” on the Oilers Radio Rights Holder 630 CHED

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