Edmonton Oilers v Toronto Maple Leafs

Horcoff looks to lead young Oilers… to the playoffs?

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Are the Oilers going to be one of the elite teams this season? Looking at the roster as currently constructed, probably not. But wins, losses, and playoff berths aren’t necessarily what the 2011-12 season is all about in Edmonton. Ask most hockey people and this season is all about growth. It’s about the young players growing into their NHL roles as they realize their unlimited potential; it’s about the collection of young players growing together as they try to form an identity as a team. Neither of those come over night—and no team in the NHL can be considered a contender without both: players playing together and maximizing their potential. That’s what this season is all about.

Take a quick look at the Edmonton Oilers forwards. Names like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have fanatics in Oil Country daring to dream about the future for the first time in decades. Some people have been as presumptuous as to mentions names like Messier, Kurri, Anderson, and even Gretzky. They have a lot of potential—but let’s take this rebuild one step at a time.

With all of that youth and inexperience comes growing pains.

For this season, there’s a forward on the roster who may be more important than all the blue-chip prospects Central Scouting can drool over: captain Shawn Horcoff. Just like the team as a whole, the numbers Horcoff puts on the scoreboard will be secondary to the work that he does in practice and in the locker room.  The Oilers captains knows it would be nice stay healthy and play in some meaningful games at the end of this coming season:

“In my case, I’ve endured two of the hardest years of my career. I’d like to think that’s behind me now. A realistic goal for us is making the playoffs. At the very least, we have to be playing meaningful games in the second half of the season, especially down the stretch.

“Look at Pittsburgh. They had three high, high drafts (Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeny Malkin and Sidney Crosby; the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 1 selections in 2003, 2004 and 2005, respectively) and it wasn’t until the fourth year where they made the playoffs and lost in the first round. We’re just two drafts in and it’s still early.

“The first step is making the playoffs and taking it to the next level.”

A subtle correction: the first step is becoming competitive on a nightly basis. They’ll need to learn to push back when things go south; they’ll need to learn how to limit a potential losing streak to two or three games and not seven or eight. Horcoff is a guy who has been around for a while and knows what it takes to be an NHLer on and off the ice. He’ll be instrumental if the Oilers are to start fulfilling their promise this season.

People forget that it was only five years ago when the Oilers were within a single game of their sixth Stanley Cup. For the first time, the franchise has committed itself to a complete rebuild—a rebuild that is starting to bear fruit. The next step is for all of the assembled prospects to learn to take the next step together as a team. If Horcoff has it his way, he’ll take care of that part this upcoming season.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.