After what seemed like forever, we finally got to see the home town crew again tonight. For those not in attendance, rather than absence making the heart grow fonder, the Oilers were welcomed back with quite a bit of listlessness by the crowd up until the latter end of the 2nd period. I'm quite sure that tonight's game was a sellout only because the Oilers would have bought up the remaining tickets, as there were a ton of empty seats and standing room spots to be seen. With the club seriously slumping, the fans didn't seem very excited about the prospect of tonight's game.
But then again, for a period and a half, neither did the Oilers.
We started out as we so often have since the brisk start to the season...taking weak or dumb shots with no chance of even generating a scoring opportunity, skating weakly with the puck in the neutral and offensive zones, making weak dumps and weak passes our chosen method of play. It appeared that this would be another episode of simply muddling through a game rather than playing it.
I almost wonder if it was a blessing in disguise that the Avs managed 4 goals. Deslauriers wasn't very good at this point, but the Oilers D was atrocious. Gilbert missed an easy check on the first goal. Gilbert and Strudwick played "who's the worst down-low defender" on the second, and shooters were left wide open to pick their spot from a clean lane on the third and fourth. Pretty unacceptable.
All the while, the first line short of chugged along, effective and consistent as ever, albeit with the added twist of moving Horcoff to the wing for much of the night (Penner took 15 faceoffs and was playing in the C's lane for much of the second half). The other lines played weak, ineffective hockey for a long time.
Perhaps it took their Captain getting an elbow in the teeth to wake them up. They were certainly more into the game after that and suddenly you almost felt like we could claw our way back in if that goalie just held on for us. Colorado was weak and slow all night; they took advantage of bounces but were tired and/or lazy for a bunch of the time.
So then we started getting players that can shoot (Gagner, Potulny, O'Sullivan) into the slot and working to get them the puck with some open space. What a shocker...they scored goals. Rather than weakly throwing a bunch of useless pucks on net, we used positioning and hard work to create chances and made no mistake. The EN goal was fitting and the topper for a number of reasons, but more on that in PLAYER REPORTS.
- Easily the best Oiler on the ice tonight. I'm not sure what game 630 CHED called, but Ales was sublime in all ends of the rink. He set up Horcoff's goal with a smart drag-and-shoot move, set up numerous chances with some beautiful passing, continued his defensive clinic from Columbus in terms of things like positioning and skating the puck out of harm's way (beautiful example of this in the third), ran the cycle like a mad man, then, fittingly, skated through about his 100th check of the night and put the game away with the EN goal. It doesn't get much better than his effort tonight even without 4 or 5 points. The guy was excellent. He even logged almost 23 minutes of icetime.
- He played really solidly everywhere except in front of the net. He probably had 3 chances that were bobbled somewhere in between his feet and stick that he converts on a night when he's hot. Penner was solid on D, controlled the puck beautifully, skated by the opposition D on numerous occasions and just like Hemsky, was awesome on the cycle. The reward could've been much bigger for those two tonight.
- I'll give him credit for improving as the game went on and a solid effort on the LW for the first time in a long time. He was okay. He hustled for his goal and was certainly in the right place. With that said, there's a reason non-stupid people were yelling "don't give it to Horcoff" when the first line was on the ice...he fought the puck hard tonight. We never did get to see a replay of the shot he missed on after Hemsky's setup on the PP in the first, but that must have been close. Horcoff has watched as Penner has stepped up and Hemsky has figured out how to work really well with both Penner and Visnovsky. Horcoff needs to figure out how to be more effective in this new style. I suggest entering the zone with speed on the wide sides without the puck and making sure he's open in the slot (not the faceoff circle) more often.
- His shot is a lethal weapon and a difference maker on this team. He only needs about 5 feet and a fraction of a second to take it as well. Beauty goal. He worked quite hard and improved his game in the defensive and neutral zones in the third. Before this point he was a little shaky. I've also noticed he tends to pick his spots better with hits than he did before. Great work on the forecheck leading to O'Sullivan's goal. We're going to win that Raffi trade even if off-ice stuff isn't factored in.
- Great to see him go to the spot he needs to be in and pot a goal. He was solid and unspectacular for the rest of the game, but did what he needed to do then. Nothing wrong with a nice controlled game from him. He doesn't need to sizzle all the time. Keep in mind that he's also fourth in scoring despite limited time with the premier guys on this team. He's a huge part of our wins this year in terms of being a calming on-ice presence.
- Gave what he had and worked really hard. He keeps his game simple even if the junior scorer tries to break out from time to time. He's not quite good enough to manage that at this level, but then again he doesn't really have to. I still hope he turns into Pisani 2.0...but I dunno...
- I'm a little perplexed as to what's wrong with this guy to the point where he keeps winding up in the minors. He can skate, shoot, seems to know where to go in the offensive zone, is just fine with the puck...he really looks like a useful offensive depth guy in the 11-14 forward range...maybe it's just our team makeup I don't know. Really liked his game and thought he generated several offensive chances. Good solid finish on his goal.
- Not near visible enough for me. He looked weak on the puck and is just bringing nothing towards the net that I'm able to see. I know he's probably lost some confidence and is struggling, but the guy has the tools to be an offensive threat and is doing nothing. Brule is seriously outclassing him in terms of being able to be a speedy difference-maker.
- Great to see him back on the scoresheet, but honestly I expect better from Sam. He was weak on the puck for much of the game tonight and didn't take control at any point. A good example was his net drive in the third that ended in a weak poke check. Sam had them beat, either with a quick shot or a move around the pile, and couldn't do either. Needs to get back on the horse.
- Did his job after the elbow, not much time for anything else unfortunately.
- Another injury, I'm so shocked. He was actually playing a decent game before getting whacked.
- Great story on this guy and he made a lot of solid puck plays tonight after he was asked to step up in light of Tom Gilbert being benched. The sad thing for him is that I think he might be a better hockey player than Strudwick (positioning, skating, passes esp) but he'll still get shipped out when people are healthy. Glad to see him play though.
- If you need an example of how NOT to defend a 5-on-3, watch Strudwick. He spent half his time there on his stomach. Brutal. Just not good enough. Outclassed by Arsene. Made bad passes and basically got Gilbert benched with his horrid work on the Avs second goal.
- We've fallen a long way when Tom is getting benched. Thankfully for both him and us he was able to make a small offensive contribution to outweigh the fact that he is for some strange reason getting manhandled behind and in front of his net this season. It seems like he's not using his body positioning effectively and is panicking because of it. Needless to say, not good. I think the benching will help him out, as Quinn will follow up and tell him what he needs to do. Tom's still an excellent defenceman; he's just lost his way.
- I address these 2 as 1 because watching them work together is simply amazing. With this pair and the 1-line on the ice, we're essentially home free. Smid does what he's learned to always do; intimidate the opposition, skate all the pucks he can out of trouble, and just generally stabilize the heck out the back end. Lubomir distributed like a mad man as usual and creates all kinds of offence. The sheer joy of watching a unique premier defenceman like him, even when he starts of a little jumpy and loses some pucks, is worth admission. Simple things make great plays, like the way he jumped up into Hemsky's rush that resulted in a goal. He does them all the time like it's nothing at all. Sliding all the way across and putting a perfect low shot on Budaj's far pad so that if it didn't go in it went straight to Gagner...poetry with a puck.
- Probably the best I've seen him this year. He took solid shots at the net, played physically, moved the puck well and didn't look slow. He stepped up on an night when we needed it.
- You can tell he's working himself back in more than anything. It was good to see some nasty play and a couple big hits, but his shot needs A LOT of work right now. It's misfiring and getting blocked (without opposition players going down hurt) all over the place. Simply not good enough. He defensive game was fine, and the drive to the net on Brule's goal was a typical example of how good things happen SO many times when he drives the net, but our ace defender can be much better than this.
- Despite a weak defensive effort early on that led to the conditions for goals...he really looked off as well. He made a save or two before the 5-on-3's got heated and those saves I believe put him back in a really nice groove. After that he was doing what he does best; making himself as big as possible in correct positioning. After that, while the Avs didn't get a lot of shots, they had many great chances and he turned aside all of them. He held our boys in just long enough and then shut the door to finish. Good enough!
My Three (Oilers) Stars
Chicago is sure to be a stern test, but remember, we have a nice long homestand and players that will be filtering back. Sounds like a recipe for a nice little roll for me. If the forwards that scored tonight have truly snapped slumps...we are again quite dangerous.