OILERS 3 - AVALANCHE 1 Second period goals by Cam Barker and Andy Sutton put the Oilers ahead 2-0, while sophomore 'tender Devan Dubnyk stopped 40 shots as the Oilers edged the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 Friday night at Pepsi Center.
Colorado's Ryan O'Reilly scored the home side's lone goal, but Oilers captain Ryan Smyth responded 27 seconds later to secure the win.
AT THE MORNING SKATE Immediately following the Oilers’ one-goal triumph over the Capitals one night ago, the team darted to the airport, hopped on the club’s charter and traveled three hours south, landing in snowy (and chilly) Colorado in the early-morning hours.
The lights went down at about 3:45am, so the Oilers opted out of a morning skate and instead chose to assemble for a team meeting, nourishing lunch and a 20-minute noon-hour seminar with the media.
Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 34 shots last night as he propelled the Oilers to a 2-1 win over the league’s best team. The veteran 'tender has improved to a 4-0-2 record and on his league-leading 0.97 goals-against average and .964 save percentage.
Tonight on a tough back-to-back set in Denver, Devan Dubnyk will get the call as he returns to the crease with a 1-2-0 record, 2.31 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
His last outing came on Oct. 18 when the Oilers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome; that night he stopped 26 shots, but gave up two late goals to seal the loss.
"It'll be good," Dubnyk said. "It's been a little while, so I'm going to get in there, get a feel right away and really concentrate on what I need to do.
"It will take a couple minutes to get back into it when you've had an extended break. It won't take long. It never hurts to watch a clinic like that (Khabibulin’s 42-save outing vs. Washington). I’m going to go out there and give these guys as good a chance to win as he's been doing."
NUGENT-HOPKINS HERE TO STAY
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the Oilers’ leading scorer with a 5-4-9 stat-line through nine games, wasn’t told whether or not he’d be staying up with the Oilers passed the Mile High trip, but quelled all speculation at the team’s hotel today.
"It was pretty awesome," Nugent-Hopkins said with an ear-to-ear grin. "Steve (Tambellini) and Tom (Renney) both told me, so it was pretty exciting for me.
"I really didn't know what to expect coming in [to the season]," he added. "I'm really happy with the way things have gone. Our line has really been clicking lately and that's very exciting. It's worked out really well."
That line, which includes 2010 No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall and 2008 No. 22 overall pick Jordan Eberle, has combined to score 10 goals and 28 points through the season’s opening nine. Nugent-Hopkins couldn’t say enough about his teammates’ mentorship, even though they’re only second-year NHLers themselves.
"They've been great for me," he explained. "They're only a couple years older than me, but they went through this whole thing last year. It’s great getting to play with those guys; getting to talk with them, get some feedback and everything."
Head Coach Tom Renney said, while the decision to keep The Nuge seemed obvious, he and the team’s management group placed a lot of importance on the Oilers’ recent games.
"It’s good for the scouts, good for the organization, good for his teammates, really good for the coaches and great for him.
"These last few games were really important. We needed to see Ryan through that experience [of playing against tougher opponents]. We needed to see his body of work, and we have suggested that throughout this whole process to see if what we were seeing was real.
"We were noncommittal until we got these couple in because these were big teams. These last couple games were very important. There wasn't a whole lot this young fella was doing wrong."
Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini, who argued when the selection was made that Nugent-Hopkins didn’t have to play in the NHL this season, said the Oilers followed a staunch process and that RNH had exceeded all expectations.
"We wanted to see what he looked liked in rookie camp, exhibition games and then the NHL games. We said, 'let's let him play the nine games.'
"I told him he should be extremely proud," he added. "Not only was I impressed with the way in which he handled the play on the ice, but I love how good he is with Canadian media and the pressure. He knows the pressure is on him and always will be on him, and still went out there and was able to show what he's always done; intelligence and skill and he was able to handle that."
Perhaps most important in the coach’s eyes, is the way in which Nugent-Hopkins has played and made others around him better. The way in which he controls the puck, especially on the power-play and in tight, is a skill mastered by the NHL’s elite. With RNH’s 10th game to come this evening, he’s well on his way to earning such a title.
"Everybody he played with, played well," Renney said. "He was able to elevate the play of his linemates and that's pretty impressive for an 18-year-old. That was something I'd hoped for, but to the degree that it's happened, it's been really impressive."
The No. 1 overall pick, 18, will line up against a familiar face tonight vs. the Avalanche. Second overall pick in 2011, Gabriel Landeskog, will also be continuing his NHL season; he’s scored four goals and six points in 2011-12 and it showing no signs of slowing as the red-hot Oilers roll into town.
"We became pretty good friends over the summer because we spent so much time together," RNH said. "We've been keeping in touch quite a bit and I'm happy to see that he's been doing so well. I've never played against him before, so it will be good to get out there against him.
"Landeskog is the kind of player that's NHL-ready; he's a big guy, he thinks the game very well and it's not surprising to see him doing so well."
"I'm looking forward to seeing him," Renney added about Landeskog. "I think he's a great young player; very strong, obviously, plays hard and has a great, well-deserved reputation. But I like our guys."
With the Oilers getting in late and going head-to-head against an Avalanche squad that was sitting at home Thursday night, while the orange and blue were clashing with the Capitals at Rexall Place, Renney expects an inspired outing.
"[Colorado is] coming out guns ablazing; they're going to come hard," Renney said. "They've got a great transition game, they've got an excellent attack game, they're fearless in terms of how they want to play the game; I like that, I really like the way they play.
"As much as we can, we have to turn the table and not turn the puck over; manage that better, and get our own attack game going to a point where we can generate regular scoring chances."
Head Coach Tom Renney revealed last night that D man Ryan Whitney would miss up to three weeks with a sprained knee. As such, the Oilers have recalled Jeff Petry from the AHL's Oklahoma City Barons and could very well draw in tonight vs. the Avalanche.
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-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com - Follow me on Twitter | @ryandittrick