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GENE'S BLOG: Just what the Doctor ordered

The Oilers welcomed a crucial player back to their lineup on Sunday as Darnell Nurse returned to action

by Gene Principe /

Warmup is such a great time during an NHL game. It's the point where the game becomes the most important thing on all the players' minds but there is still time to mix in with the fans.

Over the years, those 16 minutes spent on the ice before the players head into the room and than come back and do it for real is truly a great lead-up. Fans, who could be lower bowl or upper bowl patrons, all gather near the glass. Signs are flashing for pucks, sticks and selfies.

The players, while focusing on their own preparation, find the time for a smile, a nod, a wave or some kind of moment for their faithful followers.

One of those special warmup scenes came Sunday night when Darnell Nurse skated out and spotted his fiance Mikayla and sixth-month-old son Aiden. An incredible moment happening at the glass behind the Oilers net as the defenceman exchanged a wave and smile with his little boy.

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: 🥺🥺🥺

It was a sight for sore eyes to see Nurse back in the Edmonton lineup vs. Los Angeles. I didn't expect him to be recovered so quickly from the broken finger he suffered Nov. 18 in overtime against Winnipeg. I'm thinking a broken finger for a soccer player, a football player (who's not a quarterback) or some athletes wouldn't be a big deal, but for a hockey player -- someone who holds a stick, uses it to shoot, often puts pressure on his hand to jostle for positioning -- it just didn't seem possible for his return to take place after missing only six games. However, there he was leading the way for Edmonton. 

The thing about Nurse is he does so much for this team. After watching him Sunday night I almost forgot how inspirational he is for the Oilers. The blueliner is an upbeat and charismatic character who is a huge part of the team's leadership group. He provides that on the ice in a myriad of ways.

One of those many ways was very visible with his shorthanded strike that put the home side back in the game. His speed to the outside, his skill with the finish and then his celebration full of boyish exuberance brought the fans out of their seats and onto their feet at Rogers Place. It was a welcome-back moment that once again was a reminder of what Edmonton has been missing since Nov. 16.

Video: Spectacular NWT Play Of The Week 12.06.21

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GENE'S BLOG: 20/20 Vision

Through 20 games, the Oilers have the second-best points percentage and second-most wins in the NHL

by Gene Principe /

While so many people, with their work wrapped up by 8pm local time, would love to spend a Saturday night in Las Vegas with the rest of the night open to hit the town, the Oilers were instead happy to hop on a plane and not onto the strip for another evening in the city that never sleeps.

By the time midnight rolled around, they were landed safely back home and ready to have a day of rest on Sunday. A well-earned breather with the 20 games of the schedule complete. Finishing it off in style with another good Knights' work.

It's hard to say whether the Oilers, in the opening two months of the season, have exceeded their own expectations. I'm not sure what goals they had set for themselves, but whether they have or they haven't, it certainly doesn't take away from an incredible start.

As the team woke up Monday morning and headed back to Rogers Place for practice, they found themselves first in the Pacific Division with a 15-5-0 record. Only one NHL team had more wins (Toronto, 16) and only one team (Carolina) had a slightly better winning percentage with a 15-4-1 record.

Video: EDM@VGK: Nugent-Hopkins cashes in on 2-on-1 rush

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GENE'S BLOG: Happy Homecoming

Stuart Skinner has seized his opportunity between the Oilers pipes with the added bonus of getting to celebrate victories in his home town

by Gene Principe /

It doesn't matter what you do in life, but sometimes it matters where you do it.

Whatever occupation you find to be your way of the future can often be carried out in different towns, cities, provinces or even countries. However, to have the opportunity to make a living and do it where you were born can take the success and satisfaction that goes with it to another level.

The opportunity to be amongst family and friends allows you to share those special moments in person and not simply by phone, FaceTime or Zoom. Case in point is Stuart Skinner.

This is the tale of a local boy who makes good as a goalie with the team he grew up watching. It's an incredible journey Skinner has been on ever since Edmonton plucked the puck-stopper right out of their backyard in the 2017 NHL Draft. With the 22nd-overall pick, the Oilers took Kailer Yamamoto and then 56 selections later it was Stuart Skinner at 78th.

Video: POST-RAW | Hyman, Skinner 11.18.21

To get their goalie, the Oilers first had to get that drafting spot. Edmonton took the 82nd-overall pick they received in the Nail Yakupov trade to St. Louis. They put that together with their 126th-overall pick and dealt it to Arizona for the 78th choice which they used on Skinner. Four years later, fans were chanting, "Skinner! Skinner! Skinner! Skinner!".

In between hearing his name called at the draft and hearing his named yelled at Rogers Place was the remainder of his WHL career that started in Lethbridge and finished in Swift Current. His pro career began in Bakersfield of the AHL but also saw Skinner suit up for Wichita of the ECHL.

The journey can be a winding road of buses, planes and hotels filled with potential but no promise you'll ever make it to the show. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut last season and even picked up his first win, but like everything else in the world it just didn't seem right. It happened during a pandemic against Ottawa in an empty building. Not exactly the way you draw it up in reality or in your dreams.

Video: WPG@EDM: Skinner makes save on Copp

Other than his teamates, there was no one there. The stands were bare, which was not the case last Thursday. Getting a start against Winnipeg and the 2020 Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck, Skinner put on an award-worthy performance of his own. It was a 46-save robbery (not to mention a couple more in the shootout) which led to his name being called out in the rink and by the fans outside who watched the post-game press conference in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room. He smiled and acknowledged the support of those he once was a part of as an Oilers fan to an Oiler. 

There to witness it were his mom and dad, as well as his sister and brother plus a brother in law and the goalie's wife. A sizeable group to cheer on his first start of the season, but not really when you consider the size of the Skinner family. He is the youngest of nine children. Stuart is one of four boys and then there are the five girls born to Sue and Sam.

All have names that start with 'S' which "kind of just happened" said dad Sam who joked if they had a 10th they would have named him or her 'Stop'. Ironically, it's what their youngest does for a living. He gets paid to stop pucks and is now getting a chance to do it with Edmonton in a happy homecoming.

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GENE'S BLOG: Mikko the most of it

With Mike Smith sidelined, Koskinen has stepped up to the challenge of being the go-to guy between the Oilers pipes

by Gene Principe /

Well, the storyline is exactly what was expected of the Edmonton Oilers.

The plan was to use a goaltender in his 30s to backstop the team to success. This goalie would be the one the team would count on and lean on to get them out of the starting gate in a successful way.

This goalie was likely going to get the bulk of the games, with the backup filling in as necessary or when the team needed to give the starter a reprieve. The plan has worked to perfection, except for one 6-foot-7 detail that I should likely throw in. The 30-something goalie hasn't been 39-year-old Mike Smith but instead 33-year-old Mikko Koskinen.

Video: EDM@STL: Koskinen stones Bortuzzo, Joshua in tight

Let's clear this up about Smith. He was off to a wonderful start. Healthy, fresh, recharged and ready to throw that 39-year-old body (which looks a lot more like 29) into the line of fire on a game-by-game basis. There were wins against Vancouver and Calgary and then came a Tuesday night matchup Oct. 19 vs. Anaheim.

The game was tight and there was a collision at the Oilers net. Something wasn't right. At first it seemed like Smith took a knock to the head, but instead it was a lower-body injury and out he went. In came Koskinen to replace him. Smith's recovery was originally listed as a couple weeks, and then it was whittled down to day to day.

However, injuries are so hard to predict. Tuesday will be four weeks. From being on this current five-game road trip with the team to going home early. The wait continues for Smith to get healthy.

In the meantime, Koskinen has been able to take care of the crease with some help from Stuart Skinner. He has jumped in and taken over for the time being. Koskinen has been great and so are his numbers. The most eye-popping stat is his record: 9-1 doesn't need much interpretation because it's the best record of any goalie in the NHL.

The numbers to go with his record look like this: a goals-against average of 2.74 and a save percentage of .915. The best comparable to Koskinen right now is Freddie Andersen in Carolina who is tied in wins with Koskinen but has one more loss. His GAA is 1.78 and save percentage is .938.

Video: EDM@BOS: Koskinen makes save on Pastrnak

Edmonton, of course, also has Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. They lead the way for the highest scoring offence in the NHL. It gives the goalies some leeway. They don't have to have the best GAA or save percentage, but they do have to come up with the big stops at the right time. Smith was doing it and now so is Koskinen.

He's making a case for a spot on Finland's Olympic team, but for now the only team he's interested in helping is the Oilers. The soft-spoken stopper of pucks was clear in camp that he wanted to have some fun this season. Winning is fun and his family rejoining him in Edmonton has added the element of having loved ones around to share success with.

You never know when you're going to get an opportunity to step up and take the reins, but Koskinen has been able to Mikko the most of his.

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GENE'S BLOG: The one where the Oilers went 9-1-0

McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins and their partners portrayed the cast of Friends for the team's Halloween party that followed their best start in franchise history

by Gene Principe /

We know Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid are friends, but they took their friendship to a new level with their Halloween attire this past weekend.

Amazing what the three Oilers and their three female friends (Ryan's wife Breanne, Connor's girlfriend Lauren and Leon's girlfriend Celeste) were able to re-create with their costumes as the team celebrated Halloween six days late due to the confines of their game schedule.

Tweet from @EdmontonOilers: O���I���L���E���R���S

With Friends still airing on TV or streaming services for those who didn't watch it the first time around, it was wonderful the way the group of six worked together to match the style, setting and look that was made so famous by the real Friends in their opening credits.

Ryan was Ross, Connor was Chandler and Leon was Joey (How you doin?) with the ladies stepping into their roles of Breanne as Monica, Lauren as Phoebe and Celeste as Rachel to re-create the scenes that were made famous by the TV show whose first episode was Sept. 22, 1994 and last original airing was May 6, 2004 with the series finale.

It was a real glimpse into the chemistry of these three (or six) and how they all get along. You just don't throw something like this together without a lot of thought, attention to detail and a plan to succeed in pulling it off. It applies to the Halloween costumes but also to the three Oilers who are front and centre in the photo and on this team.

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GENE'S BLOG: Super Dave

Coach Tippett's current and former teams square off for the first time tonight as the bench boss faces the Seattle Kraken expansion club he worked with as an advisor

by Gene Principe /

When I think Super Dave, it makes me rewind the clock to the 1970s, 80s and 90s and a character called Super Dave Osborne. He was played by Bob Einstein, but I'm not sure anyone would know his real name. Super Dave was considered, according to his Wikipedia page, a naive but optimistic stuntman who was frequently gravely injured when his stunts went spectacularly wrong.

While his stunts failed, his character or his act did not. He was on TV for decades and could be seen on shows such as David Letterman and Johnny Carson. He did commercials for name brand companies such as Nike that included basketball Hall of Famers like Reggie Miller. He may have been a stuntman, but he only played the role of a dummy on TV. 

It got me thinking about another Super Dave named Tippett. It comes to mind especially with Monday's opponent being the Seattle Kraken. He is also far from being a dummy. In fact, an expansion franchise would only bring in a highly-intelligent veteran hockey man when starting something literally and figuratively from the ground up.

Video: PRE-RAW | Dave Tippett 11.01.21

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GENE'S BLOG: Don't bet against Edmonton

Oilers among the top teams in the NHL through five games as Gene Principe discusses everything that has gone right thus far

by Gene Principe /

As you woke up Monday morning, had some breakfast, hopped in the shower and got dressed for the start of the brand new week, you may have checked the NHL standings to see exactly where the Edmonton Oilers are in the league.

My suggestion would be go right to the top because that's where you'll find Edmonton. They are sitting even with Florida as the only two teams with 5-0-0 starts to the season. A perfect unblemished beginning to 2021-22. It's what they wanted and what they have earned to kick off a new campaign. Vancouver, Calgary, Anaheim, Arizona and Vegas are the defeated opponents. 

It's less than two weeks into the season and Edmonton is looking like (pardon the pun) a well-oiled machine. If that's the case, we should start with the captain. Is it possible after putting up 105 point in 56 games last season he could be better this season? It sure seems like it. Already with 13 points in the first five games. It's not just the totals but how he's gone about putting up those numbers. He looks clearly motivated to carry this team as much as he wants to or has to for the greater good. Along with Leon doing his part with 11 of his own points, they are doing it separately or together.

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game at VGK 10.22.21

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GENE'S BLOG: FAN-tastic Start

In his latest blog, Gene Principe recaps a riveting opening week of the 2021-22 season for the Edmonton Oilers

by Gene Principe /

It's been quite the opening week to the 2021-22 NHL season.

A lot has happened around the League and it's been no different in Edmonton.

I shouldn't have needed a reminder but I got one last Wednesday night about the importance of hockey. With Vancouver set as the opponent on opening night, I arrived at the rink for a little television time on Sportsnet with Tim & Friends. It was 4pm. Game time was 8pm. I saw fans wearing their Oilers jerseys milling around outside Rogers Place. I saw more fans at that moment than I had seen in one playoff bubble and one shortened season. It was always so quiet, but not anymore.

It certainly helps that the local team has put together back-to-back wins over Canadian counterparts. In the opener, after a warm welcome back, they took an early lead to give the fans something to holler about. Long-awaited cheers that eventually saw a wide-open overtime and a shootout win. 

Video: OILERS TODAY | Post-Game vs CGY 10.16.21

Saturday was the continuation of the Battle of Alberta and it was epic. The first period felt like a playoff period. Intense, action-packed, filled with drama and urgency to get the upper hand. Edmonton got it and never gave it back to Calgary in a 5-2 victory that was a fresh reminder of why we love seeing one of the greatest rivalries in sport. 

One of the great areas in Rogers Place is the Oilers Hall of Fame Room. It is overflowing with the history of the franchise. Old skates, helmets, stalls, jerseys and so much more are neatly placed together on display for people to see. It really is a showcase of the franchise's past. I wouldn't forget the five Stanley Cup replicas and team pictures that sit individually for each victory right in front of the windows.

The room is near the main entrance to the building and sits right along 104 Avenue and between 102 and 103 Street. From inside or outside, you can peer inside the room. 

The scene on Saturday night was wonderful. First, there was what happened in the building as Captain Connor McDavid tallied a hat trick. Then, there was what happened outside the building. Fans could be heard blocks away chanting, screaming and supporting their team. It jumped up a level when the Oilers started their post-game interviews. 

Video: CGY@EDM: McDavid records 10th career NHL hat trick

First up was Leon Draisaitl and Jesse Puljujarvi. While the players were answering questions the fans were chanting, "Jesse, Jesse, Jesse!" The Finnish forward smiled (he's always smiling) and acknowledged the fans for their support. 

Next came McDavid and Warren Foegele. Along with " Stanley Cup" came a serenading "MVP, MVP, MVP" for McDavid. It was unreal and surreal all at the same time. Foegele, the new Oiler and former Carolina Hurricane, shook his head in disbelief and acknowledged the moment from where he sat. 

The players missed the fans and the fans felt the same way about their hockey-playing heroes. It really was a nice reminder of what has not been possible in a normal sporting event scenario. In so many ways and for so many reasons, the Edmonton Oilers have already had a FAN-tastic start to their season.

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GENE'S BLOG: Thankful for the return of Oilers hockey

Gene Principe enjoys some Thanksgiving leftovers and sets the table for the 2021-22 season, touching on the team's main courses and new side dishes

by Gene Principe /

I woke up this morning feeling full. In fact, stuffed, kind of like the turkey we had to celebrate Thanksgiving. You know me, I can be kind of corny which was also on the menu. Throw in mashed potatoes, gravy, bread (sorry, Italian thing), peas, stuffing, salad, cranberry (insert Tyson Barrie reference if you'd like), pumpkin pie topped with ice cream and whipped cream and that about covers it.

We actually forgot to cook the ham, otherwise that would have been another addition to the menu. It was a feast to be thankful for and this looks like a season that the Edmonton Oilers will be thankful for as the 2021-22 NHL season arrives.

Let's just say Connor McDavid set the table for the season a month ago when he said four little words that when you string them together have a big impact: "The time is now." It was during the captain's September skates at Rogers Place that he was asked about the season. He used a total of 12 letters to make his stance abundantly clear.

Connor is becoming more and more comfortable in explaining how he feels and what he thinks about his team and his league. He's not the only player in it, but he's within a handful of NHLers (Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane, Nathan McKinnon, to name a few) that have elevated themselves to a pedestal of power with their words and actions making a difference.

It's what he's done from childhood to adulthood. It's what he continues to do. A general (or captain in this case) is only as good as his soldiers.

Video: THE DRILL | E21: Unanimous

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GENE'S BLOG: Cup Run Memories

In his latest blog, Gene Principe shares his memories from the Oilers unbelievable Stanley Cup run in 2005-06

by Gene Principe /

Time passes but the memories don't. 

They are things you can't forget and wouldn't want to. There are moments in life and sports that are forever burned into your being, no matter how old you get or how much you see. 

Whether it's a goal, a game or a series, they just never go away. Often you not only remember what happened but exactly where you were when it happened, who you were with and how you celebrated or commiserated over the result. All of the above applies to the Edmonton Oilers and 2006.

"We're spending money like drunken sailors," was the comical quote issued by Oilers Head Coach Craig MacTavish.

Video: 2006 | Roloson, Stoll, Moreau

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