I must say it was thoroughly refreshing to play against a Minny team that was both missing many of its best and no longer playing the style we suffered against for so very long against our coach who refused to change the way we played hockey against Minnesota (Nashville bugged me the same way too).
There were also at least 2 completely classic hockey plays tonight. I'll cover each before I even get to the player reports. Both involved Dustin Penner of course.
Classic Play #1
Starting out in the defensive zone where O'Sullivan gets whacked by Boogaard on a brutal play as they're leaving the zone. Instead of being intimidated or hurt, O'Sullivan jumps back up, skates into the play where he hits Boogaard to start the play, then grabs the puck, carries it patiently around the net and makes a absolutely beautiful pass through 3 Minny defenders and a goalie to a perfectly positioned Dustin Penner who concludes it with a goal. Were this the only half-decent play that occurred in the entire game, I'd still have been fairly entertained because it was truly exceptional. Boogaard's play had backfired; O'Sullivan not only brought it in a serious way on this play, but was motivated for the rest of the game.
Classic Play #2
Dustin Penner grabs the puck in the Oilers zone and immediately begins barreling down the wing; he makes a perfectly timed pass to Sam Gagner, keeping the play onside while avoiding having to go through the Minny D-line with the puck. He however continues charging right through the D, drawing a penalty in the process, while heading straight to prime scoring territory in front of the net. A money finish from Penner and it looks like we've got an elite power scoring winger on our hands. Amazing play. Just stunningly beautiful for a hockey fan.
Two plays like this in one game is not something you often see. We added to this with some great goals, some near misses, a solid goaltending performance and a big win back at home. Great way to spend a Friday evening despite the fact that the seats seemed to be more empty than usual this night.
He scored an excellent goal on a play that started and ended with him. He showed his athleticism, shifitiness and nose for the net in a matter of several seconds. He also hit a post and had a few near misses the rest of the game. He slid into the spot with Horcoff quite well and they seemed to be very effective in reading off each other. I wouldn't be surprised to see him with Horcoff and Hemsky when Ales is healthy again. This line could work. Comrie didn't make defensive mistakes and even hit some people. I enjoyed his game and he contributed once again.
He played a better game with Comrie on his wing. They support each other fairly well and both take a while to accelerate so they seem to match speeds. Horcoff took a couple of weak shots and I truly don't think he'll ever get his shot back at this stage, but was positionally effective most of the evening. One area he's getting trapped in right now is the offensive corners. He doesn't seem to be using his body effectively. He's either turned away from the play, or paying too much attention to it and leaving the puck loose. Ideally Horcoff is not doing much of the puck-handling along the boards, but sometimes it's just necessary I suppose.
I really felt that he was not at the same level as Comrie and Horcoff early on. He was hanging onto the puck for a long time; and not out of patience but out of fear and indecision. He got a little better towards the end of the game and surely made an excellent play on the Comrie goal, but when Robert is on his game he fires the puck. Tonight I didn't see that instinct from him. Its understandable being that he was just jumping out of the PB, but if he's playing at all going forward, he needs to do this. There are some smaller players on the team right now who are bringing Nilsson's passing and playmaking, but also adding in physicality and/or shooting prowess. This means that even with production, he's likely jobless again quite soon.
Wow. Just wow. That'd be enough to describe his effort but I'll go into more. My only concern at all with him right now is that I wonder if he's not all that happy. I hope he starts smiling on the ice; maybe he just doesn't but I hope he's feeling it on the inside and realizes the performance he's giving right now. He's driving with the puck, keeping D off with his lead hand, creating separation, taking advantage of his oft-underrated passing ability, and driving to the net like a crazy person, then finishing like a champ. If he can keep this up we are simply on another level as a hockey team. Tonight he even got in Boogaard's face after he was taking liberties. If he'd have dropped them and pounded on the guy, he would've had one of the best nights I've seen anyone have in an Oilers uniform. We may have not only turned the corner with this guy, but ripped around it in a sportscar and hammered on the gas. He's creating a second offensive unit for us (and there also happen to be guys creating a third too!)
If anyone had a bit of an off night up front, it might have been him. I just didn't think he was moving or firing the puck like he can. There's no doubt he made an excellent play on Penner's goal, but I thought his effort on the PP was less than inspiring. I'm willing to give him this one because he was statistically productive and we didn't need him tonight, but I know he can be better.
Were it not for Penner, I'd be ranting and raving about O'Sullivan's game tonight. The guy was excellent. He got under the skin of Boogaard and the Wild without losing any of his impressive cool; made some absolutely sick plays including a wonderful pass to Penner for a goal, and made an all-world backhand play in the first period that somehow stayed out. He had no room and no angle and somehow beat the goalie flat clean and made it look easy. This guy is just so damn good. Quinn is getting exactly what we need out of him; a complete game with offensive contribution consistently.
And if I hadn't been bragging about Penner and O'Sullivan, I'd be bragging about the contribution this guy is making. Confidence is absolutely everything in just about any sport. Gilbert Brule is riding high again and providing an amazing effort regardless of where he's lined up. Tonight he was done no particular favors and still managed to drive the net and score two wonderful goals. He kept up his pesky hitting game, looked excellent with the puck, and skated to all the right places. What a player to have in the bottom six. AGAIN, if he keeps this up, boy are we ever laughing. Play him more on the PP! He will keep scoring.
How exactly he did it aside from driving the net very effectively and positioning his body for ample distraction (especially on Brule's second goal) I really don't know, but he sure got it done. The guy's making simple plays and using his positioning. It's all he's got but he's getting the absolute most out of it. I imagine teams just hate him already. What a beautiful thing to have a guy teams hate to play without him being dirty in the least. The distraction he contributed on Brule's goal was just textbook; can't get over it. Poor guy got his first NHL goal ripped away; but I think he'll get it soon.
He did his job and made a couple really excellent power plays using his body. I thought he could've been more physical, but it's okay when he helps his line stay offensively effective. I have a harder time picking up his effective games, so if anyone would like to add I'd really appreciate it here.
He skated very well with the puck until he got to the tops of the circles in the offensive zone. From there he either needed to cut to the middle and shoot, or burn wide and make a great pass. He was going to the middle and giving the puck to Minny. Not a fan. That said, he didn't hurt us.
I like that Quinn clearly sent him after the good Minny players after the Boogaard hit. I also liked that he obliged and delivered. He didn't need to do anything crazy, but he helped make the point. No spurts of offence tonight, but that's okay.
Honestly, I barely noticed he was playing.
OUR FORWARDS - Just an excellent team effort tonight. Period. Top to bottom. They stepped up with Hemsky ill.
Again, only really beaten on kind of goofy plays. The guy was excellent when he had any kind of view of the puck. He wasn't overly tested as the shots were not great and in no way indicated that Minnesota was outplaying us (because they were not), but he did his job and again made it look EASY. Love watching this guy play goal.
I didn't think he was as good as on the road trip because he didn't make the offensive contribution, but you could certainly have fooled me with regards to him being NHL ready. He skates with absolutely no panic in his stride when being chased. If you're a d-man you know what I'm talking about.
Yuck...out of position leaving his partner attempting to defend two men AGAIN. I think he may have lost a bit in the offseason. Let's hope they keep Chorney when Staios returns. He's better right now. I'm sure Peckham's better too.
Offensively he was good if unspectacular tonight. What I enjoyed most was that he got really angry at Boogaard and was not afraid to get in his face at all. He's the number 1 right now and he easily asserts it. Very few pucks going the wrong way with him on the ice.
Covering defensively for Strudwick to the best of his ability. I still cannot believe he can't learn an offensive zone pass or shot to complement his excellent rushing ability. He had a couple great ones tonight and just doesn't know what to do after he gets in the offensive zone. Someone needs to teach him.
I honestly didn't notice either much aside from one Grebeshkov messup in the offensive zone. I'm therefore assuming they were pretty solid defensively and overshadowed by a superlative forward effort offensively.
What started out as a boring game became incredibly enjoyable. Not something you could say often vs. Minny.
My 3 stars were same as the game. Penner-Brule-O'Sullivan. Great night.