It’s here. The 2011-12 Edmonton Oilers hockey season has arrived.
The team’s game day morning began with a brisk, up-tempo, 30-minute morning skate at Rexall Place. Head Coach Tom Renney’s line combinations remained the same (although Darcy Hordichuk
will replace Lennart Petrell
), but the morning’s headline story was who would be getting the start between the pipes.
VIEW LINE COMBINATIONS
As 10:30am approached, the summer-long question was answered. Devan Dubnyk
will get the call vs. Pittsburgh.
"It's crazy," the young netminder said. "I was able to be on the bench for [the home-opener] last year. That was a pretty exciting game vs. Calgary. It's real important to go approach it like any other game; certainly a game that matters, and make sure I'm ready to go."
Dubnyk posted a 2-0-0 record, along with a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save-percentage in four pre-season contests; besting 38-year-old Nikolai Khabibulin
who sported an identical record.
"A little bit," Dubnyk said when asked about whether or not he was surprised to be getting the start. "I was certainly preparing for this situation. When you haven’t [started on opening-night] in the past, it’s a little surprising when it does happen."
Head Coach Tom Renney admitted that his decision didn’t come easy. Both ‘tenders did well in the pre-season, but one stood out as the team continues to develop a younger core in all positions.
"I've liked both goalies' camps," he said. "There's a point where you've got to give a young guy a chance to assume that responsibility and see how he deals with it. We're still growing people here. We need to do this to see where [Dubnyk] is and where he handles everything. It's the next opportunity to learn what we've got.
"Khabby is still a good mentor and excellent goaltender. He's going to play games for us this year and be really important to our success."
Khabibulin took the news very well and is motivated to earn his next opportunity.
Last year on Oct. 7, 2010, media congregated around three prized rookies inside the Oilers’ locker room: Taylor Hall
, Jordan Eberle
and Magnus Paajarvi
. This time around, 367 days later in the same location, another No. 1 overall pick drew the most attention as media scooped the pre-game story from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
"I'm really excited to get started," the skilled 18-year-old said. "The last couple years, especially, have been building up to this day. I'm extremely excited."
Hall and Eberle combined to score 40 goals and 85 points last year. So while Nugent-Hopkins’ nerves are likely out in full-force, the Oilers’ 20 and 21-year-old sophomores have helped guide him through.
"I’m a little nervous, even though it's my second time around," Hall explained. "It's always fun to start a season and you want to start it well. Everyone's nervous for that part. Everyone knows we've prepared as best we can, and now it's time to show it."
"I'm excited to play hockey again," Eberle added. "We’ve been watching teams play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and we don't play until today. It's been an anxious, but exciting wait."
The Penguins roll into Rexall Place with a 2-0-0 record, having beaten Vancouver in Calgary in high-scoring, early-season battles. The Oilers know they’ll be in tough to match Pittsburgh’s game-legs, but will, perhaps, be able to gain an edge in intensity.
"They've played two games that have been pretty high-level games," Eberle said. "We're fresh, we're ready to go and we're raring because it's our home-opener and we don't want to disappoint."
Hall agreed, adding that he expects to see a physical, hard-working Penguins team tonight.
"It's tough," he said. "You want to get at it. It may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. We've prepared ourselves well and as best we can with this long break.
"[Pittsburgh is] a very hard-working group. They've got great depth in all positions and their coach has them playing a pretty straight-laced game; and they do it as well as they can without Crosby. It's going to be a little easier not having to play against him."
"They've got their game-legs under them and they're ready," Renney added. "We have to push the pace."
READY TO GO
The Oilers have a 35-25-5 all-time record vs. Pittsburgh, including a 22-9-1 mark at home at Rexall Place. Edmonton is also 16-11-4 all-time in season openers, which includes a 14-7-3 line at home.
Tom Renney is also an NHL-best 7-0-0 in season-openers as an NHL head coach. The pre-game stat-line is a positive one, but Renney is cautious in approach to this especially lethal Penguins squad.
"They concern me," he said. "They're a good team. I think the big thing is that their attack game is very quick. They get pucks up and out and in as quick as anybody I've seen. They're playing a very complete game right now early in the season. That's the biggest thing we'll have to contend with.
"We've got to play a mature game, play to our strengths and try to force them to defend, because we know how well they attack."
-- Ryan Dittrick, edmontonoilers.com
NHL.COM GAME PREVIEW
: These teams are meeting for the only time this season. Their only meeting in 2010-11 came in Pittsburgh on March 13, when Jordan Staal had a goal and an assist in a 5-1 Penguins victory at the Consol Energy Center.
: The Pens are off to flying start as they improved to 2-0-0 with Saturday night's 5-3 win at Calgary. Matt Niskanen and Jordan Staal each had a goal and an assist for Pittsburgh, while Marc-Andre Fleury made 17 saves.
The victory came just 48 hours after the Pens escaped Vancouver with a 4-3 shootout win.
"I thought they came out pretty hard and we wanted to match their intensity in the second period, and I thought we did it well," forward Tyler Kennedy said as Pittsburgh scored four times in the middle period. "It's behind us now. We've got to focus on tomorrow and make sure we play well tomorrow."
: Who will start in goal for Edmonton on Sunday night? Will it be veteran Nikolai Khabibulin
or 25-year-old Devan Dubnyk
? Oilers coach Tom Renney knows, but he's not telling anybody.
"Yeah," Renney responded when asked about whether or not the starter has been named.
Each goaltender won two games in the preseason. Dubnyk had a 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save-percentage with a 2-0-0 record, while Khabibulin, 38, notched a 2.38 GAA and .872 save-percentage while going 2-1-0.
: Staal is tied for the team lead with 3 points, along with defenceman Kris Letang (3 assists). Five players have 2 points -- Niskanen, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke.
: Crosby remains on IR with post-concussion complications, though he is with the team and practicing. Brooks Orpik (lower body) did not play Saturday night and is questionable for Sunday. Forward Dustin Jeffrey is recovering from a torn ACL. … Oilers forward Sam Gagner
(ankle) is questionable, along with defencemen Ryan Whitney
(ankle) and Ladislav Smid
: Pittsburgh has managed to win its first two games despite struggling in the faceoff circle. After winning only 32 of 78 draws Thursday night at Vancouver, the Pens slightly improved Saturday with 36 wins in 75 tries.
: "You can only practice so much – eventually you're doing the same things. I think everybody's pretty anxious to get a game going and get the season going. We're really excited in here." -- Oilers defenceman Cam Barker
-- Brian Compton NHL.com