By Allan Muir
• Game of the night: Oilers at Canucks, 9 p.m. EST. Nail Yakupov, Justin Schultz and the impossibly young Edmonton Oilers make their season debut tonight in Vancouver, where a goalie controversy smolders after Cory Schneider’s ascension from beloved backup to team-leading starter went a little less smoothly than planned. Not that he was a sieve in Saturday’s 7-3 loss to Anaheim, exactly, but the three goals he allowed on four second period shots gave off a distinct, Hardy Astrom-like odor. To be fair, the blame should be pinned equally on the other 18 Canucks who morphed into traffic cones every time Teemu Selanne touched the puck, but that’s not the way it works, is it? No word on tonight’s starter yet after Roberto Luongo was equally sketchy in relief, but coaching logic suggests you throw Schneider back to the wolves. This is his team now, and he needs a chance to grab the reins.
The Oilers had more players active in the lockout than any other team, so they should be ready to come out of the gate fast. Of course, they started 8-2-2 last year and they still managed to find their way into the cellar. Yakupov and Schultz will be the center of attention in their NHL debuts. Schultz was the AHL’s best player with 48 points and a surprisingly composed defensive game, but he still has a lot to learn on the back end. His gaffes could cancel out his creativity in the early going. Yakupov, who alternated between dull and listless at the World Junior Championships last month, will skate on a stout second line with Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky, behind a stacked first unit of Taylor Hall, Ryan-Nugent Hopkins and Jordan Eberle. They’ll produce, but the question is how well they’ll defend. Edmonton needs Ryan Whitney to be a beast to keep the Canucks in check. We’ll see about that.
Prediction: 5-4 Vancouver