Some things haven’t changed around here.
It’s a new beginning for the Edmonton Oilers.
With a new coach.
And new players.
But for the Kings, it was the same old ending.
Despite drastic changes on both clubs, the Kings and Oilers on Sunday night picked right up where they had left off last spring at Northlands Coliseum, skating to a 2-2 tie.
When last these rivals met, in the Smythe Division Finals, four of the six games went into overtime.
The last time the Kings skated off the Northlands ice, they were in shock after being eliminated from last season’s playoffs by Edmonton in a double-overtime game.
But that was all supposed to have changed. The Kings got Wayne Gretzky’s old linemate, Jari Kurri, from Edmonton in a three-team trade and veteran Oiler defenseman Charlie Huddy in another deal.
That was only the beginning of the transition in Edmonton. Two days ago, Mark Messier, heart and soul of this club, was traded to the New York Rangers for former King Bernie Nicholls and two other players.
With Ted Green replacing John Muckler as head coach, Edmonton opened the season Friday by getting blown out by the Calgary Flames, 9-2. The Kings blew past the Winnipeg Jets the same night, 6-3.
The balance of power, it seemed, had shifted.
Maybe so, but not Sunday.
“They are rebuilding their hockey club,” Gretzky said of the Oilers. “But if they play the way they did tonight, they are going to be tough to beat.”
A crowd of 16,962 was on hand Sunday, as much to see the old Oilers in silver and black as the new ones in orange and blue.
If they anticipated the worst, their fears seemed realized when Tomas Sandstrom scored his first goal of the season 12:57 into the game on a power play with the Kings enjoying a two-man advantage.
But then goalie Bill Ranford, the undisputed No. 1 in the net with the trading of Grant Fuhr, shut the door.
The Kings had eight other power plays and missed on all of them. Included in there was another two-man advantage, which lasted 1:18.
In the meantime, one of Edmonton’s new faces, Josef Beranek from Czechoslovakia, scored his first NHL goal in the second period. After Luc Robitaille’s second goal of the season put the Kings back in front, Joe Murphy again tied the score 2:15 into the third period.
And then the goalies took over.
--Stopped Jim Thomson’s rising shot with a glove save that made Ranford look like Ken Griffey Jr. robbing someone of a home run.
--Dived headfirst to smother a shot by Sandstrom, who was skating across the goal mouth.
--Nearly stood on his head to stop a breakaway by Randy Gilhen.
As for King goalie Kelly Hrudey, he:
--Made a sliding stop of a Petr Klima shot.
--Came up with back-to-back excellent saves on Murphy and Scott Thornton with a minute to play in regulation.
--Did the splits to deflect Murphy’s backhand shot with his right leg, Murphy firing from the right side with 47 seconds left in overtime. It was the best save of the night.
“I’ll be honest with you. I was mad at myself after the second goal,” Hrudey said of Murphy’s shot between his pads.
“I wanted to make sure I made some decent saves after that.”
The adrenaline was flowing on both sides, but particularly through the bodies of Kurri and Huddy in their homecoming.
“I knew it would be tough,” Kurri said, “a lot of mixed feelings. I was a little tight. I’m glad to be back, but I’m glad the first one is over.”
“I was nervous,” he acknowledged. “I’d been on the other side for (11) years. A couple of times I had to look up to make sure I was passing to the right guys.”
It’s way too early to make any judgments about the season. But on this particular night, the new-look Oilers looked a lot like the old.
And so did the Kings.
Wayne Gretzky had only three shots on goal and was largely ineffective after failing to get a shot against Winnipeg. Asked if his back, hyperextended last month in the Canada Cup Finals, was bothering him, Gretzky said, “It’s all right.” But he didn’t say it with much conviction.
Edmonton was shut out on six power-play tries. . . . The Kings outshot Edmonton, 36-27. . . . Why has Bernie Nicholls refused to report to the Oilers? On Friday, he said it was because of the pregnancy of his wife, Heather, who is expecting twins in December, but is already having contractions. “I don’t think,” Nicholls told the Edmonton Journal, “there’s anybody in the world who would say to their wife, ‘You have the babies. I’m going.’ ” But on Saturday, he had changed his focus, saying he wouldn’t report to the Oilers because of their rebuilding program. “I just don’t want to be part of it,” he said. “I know what they’re going through and I don’t want to get there and get traded for another young kid or two.”