Oilers: Torres debuts in game-winning fashion

By Guy Flaming

A player chosen in the first round has plenty of expectations placed at his feet immediately after hearing his name called and his new jersey is pulled over his suit at the NHL Entry Draft. Right away there are questions to face. Can you start in the NHL right away? How much of an offensive impact can you make? How long until you become the player you are expected to eventually be as an opening round selection?

For Raffi Torres the answers are finally starting to come.

After spending three seasons in the New York Islanders organization, the hefty winger was packaged with Brad Isbister and traded to the Oilers at the deadline last March for Janne Niinimaa. Both Isbister and Torres were deemed expendable by the Isles because neither had achieved the potential that most thought they had. While Isbister continued on in the NHL, Torres landed in Hamilton of the AHL and went as far as the seventh game in the championship series. But it did little to satisfy his thoughts regarding the big picture.

Torres spent the summer preparing for the upcoming season with his new team after what he described as a blown chance with the New York Islanders. Torres puts the blame for his lack of production in Long Island squarely on his own back and feels he let that team down.

“I don’t really think I gave anything to the Islanders and I’m really upset about that,” said Torres this past offseason. “They took a chance on me and, I won’t say I didn’t get the opportunity because if I was playing well and I was scoring than they would have kept me.”

This year Torres plans on making a name for himself and he certainly did that in the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 victorious season opener against San Jose on Thursday night.

A bland first twenty minutes resulted in a scoreless tie as both teams shook off the preseason rust and settled in for a more competitive middle period. Shawn Horcoff opened the scoring by banging in a loose puck past Evgeny Nabokov. Both George Laraque and Torres were credited with assists on the play as the trio began showing its dominance.

With the game tied in the third frame, it was time for the newly named “Torque” line (Torres-Horcoff-Laraque) to step into the spotlight again. A strong performance by the threesome lead to an opportunity on the power play, which they took full advantage of by scoring the game winning goal.

The winning tally came from the stick of Torres who alertly fired home a rebounding Steve Staios point shot.

Obviously getting the victory is a great way for the Oilers to start off the new season and for one Oiler in particular it could not have been scripted any better. Despite previously playing in 31 games with the Islanders, it was in this game that Torres notched his first goal in the NHL — and it was the eventual game winner.

“Oh man, what else can you say except that it was a fun start?” exclaimed Torres in the dressing room after the game. “I’m so pumped right now I just want to get on the bike and tire myself out but it’s a great feeling.”

The bruising winger was named the second star of the game and was book ended by his linemates, clearly a testament to just how dominant the trio was. It’s a line that owned the end boards and created chances with their fore checking.

“With the two players I’m playing with that that’s the type of game that we’re going to bring,” said Torres. “A lot of banging and creating down low, there’s not going to be a lot of goals that are tic-tac-toe.”

The line was the most effective one the Oilers had in the game and despite its designation as the fourth unit, they impressed enough to earn power play time.

“We don’t really worry about line positioning,” Laraque said. “The lines that deliver are the lines that (Craig MacTavish) is going to play.”

That’s something that cannot be said in every city around the league.

“There’s a lot of teams out there who, no matter what, they have to play their big guns,” Torres observed. “It’s a good feeling to know that if you work hard out there and make things happen that you’re going to get a shot, then you’ve got to take advantage of it when you can.”

Laraque and Torres had plenty of time to get accustomed to one another during the exhibition schedule but because of his hip injury, Shawn Horcoff slid in between the rugged wingers for the first time against San Jose.

“This was our first game together,” confirmed Torres. “The main thing I think was that we were talking a lot, letting each other know where everyone is, and the outcome was great.”

Horcoff, it would seem, is going to be quite comfortable being caught between a Laraque and a hard case.

“Flaming” Hot:

Shawn Horcoff – Named first star, he had two points and won a majority of the faceoffs he took.

Raffi Torres – Quickly won new fans with his aggressive fore check and high speed. The game-winning goal was a nice touch too.

Marc-Andre Bergeron – Didn’t show any rookie jitters with an exception of one play but more than made up for it with his heads up pass to Dvorak on the game’s final tally.

“Flaming” Not:

Brad Isbister – A good game over all but with one glaringly embarrassing play. Isbister stalked Jonathan Cheechoo after the Shark nailed him with big hit. There was a charging call laid out to Cheechoo but Isbister’s subsequent hunt and capture of his attacker was rather childish looking and cost Edmonton a power play opportunity.

Team Notes:

  • Raffi Torres’ five shots on goal were the most for either team.
  • Jarret Stoll and Alexei Semenov were the healthy scratches for Edmonton on opening night but that’s OK with Stoll. “You learn a lot from being up there and seeing how things happen, how much time you really have with the puck. The coaches made a point of telling me that I’d be playing at some point and I’ve just got to be ready to go in when they give me that call.
  • Oiler prospect Jesse Niinimaki will be sidelined for 4-6 weeks with what Kevin Prendergast called “a broken shoulder.” The injury was sustained on a routine-looking check during a Finnish league game.
  • Edmonton’s next game is on Saturday against Vancouver. The next home game for the Oil is next Thursday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres.