After surviving a strong Calgary push in the second period, the Edmonton Oilers sealed the deal with three third period goals to dump the Calgary Flames in the season opener for the two clubs. Nikolai Khabibulin returned with a vengeance, as he pitched a 37 save shutout, while Jordan Eberle, Gilbert Brule, Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky scored for the Oilers.
After being dominated in the first period, Calgary responded in a big way in the second. They fired 18 shots at Nikolai Khabibulin, but were unable to capitalize. Early in the third period, an opportunity came to extend their strong play with the man advantage. After not generating much in the way of chances, Jordan Eberle took a pass from Jim Vandermeer and electrified the building with a beauty of a goal to put the Flames down by two. The Flames were unable to respond and ultimately succombed to a 4-0 score.
The Oilers recorded their 14th all-time win at home to open a season.
In total, 49 hits were dished out between the two teams. Theo Peckham, number 49 for the Oilers, was second on the team with three in 17:34 of ice-time.
Edmonton has been slowly improving its faceoff percentage throughout the pre-season. Tonight, as the regular season opened, the Oilers won 52% of the draws.
On an night that featured numerous fights and plenty of special teams play, the penalty minutes were high. In total, 60 were handed out to each team (Edmonton with 28, Calgary with 32).
Tonight's play of the game was fittingly the turning point as well. Jordan Eberle's early third period tally may just recieve goal of the year honours in Oil Country. Of course that's a lofty saying with only one night of games in the books, but his efforts definitely earned the title tonight. On a two-on-one, he elected to keep the puck and dangle around a sprawling defencemen and stunned Miikka Kiprusoff to tuck the puck away under the bar, bringing the sold-out Rexall Place crowd into a frenzy.
Who else could it be? While Nikolai Khabibulin had a tremendously impressive night in goal for the Oilers, Jordan Eberle ushered in a new era with two third period points that sealed the victory for Edmonton. The first was a highlight reel goal that will be shown repeatedly over the next few nights. The second, while not quite as impressive as the first, showed great patience and an even better shot that was tipped home by mentor and recently named captain, Shawn Horcoff
After quite literally making the cut earlier in the week, many wondered what to make of Ryan Jones making the team over work-and dark-horse Liam Reddox. Jones responded tonight by doing the things that makes him a valuable contributor to the team. Tremendous energy, thunderous hits and a pest attitude that drives the opponent mad. Several first period hits and a fight that ignited the Rexall Place crowd was a leading reason for the Oilers' strong start and early advantage.
On a night where there were several jolts that could earn the honours, defenceman Theo Peckham gets the nod. Peckham was throwing his weight around all night and provided solid minutes for the team's third pairing. In the second period, Peckham caught Alex Tanguay cutting the middle of the ice after dishing the puck; Peckham tracked him well, laid his hip into Tanguay's side, and sent him flying towards the side-boards.
Edmonton's record when starting the season at home improved to 14-7-3 with tonight's victory over the Flames. Edmonton hopes their good home vibes continue as they prepare to host the Panthers on Sunday night back at Rexall Place.
"That's got to be one of the best first goals I've ever seen. They just have so much speed. All of them (the young players) are so quick and what's what separates them from other players. The speed these guys have, driving the 'D' wide is pretty special."