Me Minus You Is Such a Lonely (and Scoreless) Ride

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(gif credit to cali-canuck)

You could see it on their faces during the game, and you could hear it in their voices during the postgame interviews and in Taylor Hall’s appearance on the NHL Live Arena Cam. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were back where they belonged. Last night on the ice in St. Louis, the Edmonton Oilers reunited their Kid Line, and everyone rejoiced.

Everyone, that is, except the St. Louis Blues.

To be fair, I can’t really blame the Blues. The Kid Line’s offensive effort, combined with Nikolai Khabibulin essentially standing on his head, ended in a 3-0 win for the Oilers – the exact opposite of the final score the last time these two teams met, on March 23rd in Edmonton. Apparently being shut out in their own barn really does something to the Oilers, because they weren’t giving any quarter last night, and at the core of it was this particular line of talented young forwards.

The Hall/Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle line started the shortened season together and with large expectations placed on them, after their performance last season and in the AHL during the lockout. The Oilers’ early slump, however, resulted in Ralph Krueger deciding to split the line, shuffling his players in the hopes of sparking the offense, and they’ve only been together sporadically since then – usually in cases of desperation.

I haven’t exactly been quiet about voicing my displeasure with this decision. I know that you’re all shocked.

Yesterday, Krueger said after morning skate that the forward lines were going to be “a surprise”. Line rushes in warmups looked fairly similar to recent games, so the mystery seemed unnecessary, and it made me, at least, wonder if this was going to go the same way as the last game against the Blues. But just a few minutes into the game, Krueger pulled out his line blender, shuffled everything around, and sent out the Kid Line. It was a completely different story from there on out.

Three goals. Eight combined points. A chased goalie. An almost-fight with the Blues captain in a period where the Blues became bullies and the Oilers refused to back down. These are a few of my favorite things…because the performance given by the Kid Line last night, in a game that was absolutely vital to the Oilers’ playoff chances, means that Krueger is definitely going to think twice before splitting them again. And that’s the way I like it.

That seems to be the way the kids like it too.

“They put me, Nuge and Ebs together tonight, and I thought that was great,” said Taylor Hall on the NHL Arena Cam.

“We found some chemistry early, and it worked throughout the game,” Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said in his postgame media availability. “It’s definitely nice to be back together and playing well.”

“We were playing well, it’s nice to play with those two,” was Jordan Eberle’s contribution. “All three of us like playing with each other, and when it’s going, it’s fun.”

It’s fun. It’s great. It’s definitely nice. And most importantly, it’s a winning combination. And that, most of all, is what the Oilers need right now.

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Welcome To The Jungle

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Above is a chart detailing the new conferences recently approved by the NHL Board of Governors for realignment. Looks good, right? Makes more geographical sense, makes traveling easier on (most) teams. Well, except those poor bastards down in Florida, but let’s be real, traveling was gonna suck for them either way. At least they’re not flying to Winnipeg for division games anymore.

Those clever NHL BoG dudes forgot one thing, though:

They’re (allegedly) betting on adding two expansion teams. And I highly doubt they’ll both be in the West.

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Nail Yakupov Is A Tease, & Other Stories From Warmups

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Last night, I attended the Oilers-Predators game in Nashville, TN. Our seats were literally at the very top of the nosebleeds (not that those are bad at all in terms of seeing what’s going on) but for warmups, we were right on the glass by the Oilers bench, and I managed to get some photos of the team.

The stories that go along with some of these photos are really all that I want to say about that game.

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Sam Gagner: Tragically Underrated

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If I had asked the internet, prior to the beginning of this season, to predict who would be leading the Oilers in points at the halfway mark, I feel reasonably certain that the vast majority would’ve given me one of three names: Hall, Eberle, or Nugent-Hopkins. Some may have been generous and thrown the highly-touted rookie into the mix, given Yakupov’s past statistics, and some diehards may have gone with Hemsky. But I doubt greatly that many people would’ve predicted correctly and said Sam Gagner.

And yet, it is Gagner who sits atop the Oilers’ scoring race, rather than a member of the “Kid Line”, or the team’s latest first overall pick. On a team that is struggling to keep their heads in the game night after night, Gagner has been a much-needed source of consistency and stability, posting a point per game on average and outworking nearly everyone else on the ice.

I’m not trying to suggest that Gagner is the only Oiler putting out that kind of effort, and I don’t want to lessen the importance of what many other members of the team are doing this season. But I feel that, very often, Gagner’s accomplishments get lost in the shadow of his younger teammates, and it’s time for that to change.

Picture this: you grow up with a father who plays in the NHL for half of your childhood, a best friend who is John Tavares, and an eventual close friend named Patrick Kane. All of this combined with your small stature makes it easy for you to be shuffled aside so that the spotlight can be placed on others, no matter how quick you are.

And you keep working.

Then you get drafted in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers, and the city pins all of its hopes for a renaissance on you. You can’t return the team to its glory days by yourself, so the city turns on you. When the organization initiates a burn-it-to-the-ground rebuild and gets shiny new first-overall-draft-pick toys, the fans fall in love with them and clamor for you to be traded.

And you keep working.

Through every bit of this, you continue to work your ass off for your team. And then, when you finally give them what they want – when you show everyone what you’re capable of – people call it a fluke. They congratulate you, sure, but they do it in that disbelieving-laughter way that suggests it shouldn’t have happened; and they say that nothing like that will ever happen to you again; and, moreover, that it isn’t the kind of play that should be expected of you.

Now tell me Sam Gagner doesn’t get the shaft. I dare you.

Thankfully, it seems that this season, both fans and media alike are beginning to catch on to everything Gagner contributes to the Oilers. The organization has known for a while, and it would behoove them not to forget it – Gagner will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and if the Oilers don’t recognize what he’s worth, I can assure you that another team will.

Sam Gagner is a veteran player who is vital to the future of the Oilers’ franchise and the new dynasty that they are trying to build. He’s a proven leader both on the ice and in the room, and he is finally growing into the elite player he has the potential to be. It’s far past time he got his due.