The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game!
No, there is no epic winning streak on the way, and no, we don't have a crazed large man dancing up a storm and delivering results in that magic way that only he can. (I guess the three completely obliterated girls in the Molson box annoying the season ticket holders will have to do?)
But we won tonight. Thankfully. Finally.
I must admit I'd rather spend what is surely a small amount of remaining wins on rivals and good teams that would require a true fight and a sublime effort, but after a franchise-record losing streak, this is enough.
I make mention of the losing streak because it's become apparent that the org is trying to cover it up or jump right past it. Great political messaging, or corporate messaging, can sell a good message effectively, or take the edge off news that isn't so great, providing hope for the path forward. It does not flat lie. Trying to claim that because the Oilers lost a game in overtime during this stretch means it is a winless skid instead of a losing streak is a lie. I have more respect for Dan Tencer and what he's accomplished at such a young age than most seem to, but that he was forced to trot out THAT load of bull and said it when he could have found a way to abstain made me sad. I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone reading this that we could have lost in overtime back during the last LOSING streak as well.
But enough with that, on to our victory over Carolina.
We essentially won because Cam Ward had a pretty weak game. We didn't have a lot of intense pressure and scored two very weak goals (Jacques and Pouliot). He's usually better than that I believe. Had to be disappointing for the guy because he's from these parts of course. Cam always seemed like a good guy; I golfed with him when I was younger. Too bad we didn't find a way to draft the guy.
Watching Joni play again was in fact enjoyable. Loved his hit at the end of the game. Every time he got the puck, it seemed like the rest of his squad was having issues getting open. I like that he doesn't try to force passes in this instance. He'd do something not many would think of and shoot the puck right on net, or make a flip pass. I frankly didn't mind what he did to Stortini; as I think it's legit when you have a guy running at you with hands high. The only reason Stortini got nailed was that his hands missed the elbow. Joni could play for my squad any day of the week.
Ray Whitney looks like he still has some game. Should we decide to be half-decent next year, he'd be a good pickup. The shot and the veteran presence are still there, which is all you'd need from him.
Speaking of guys to keep next year, Mike Comrie showed why I believe he should be kept. He's one of the only guys that looks like he might be playing for a job. He fought every corner battle and won most of them. He also made things happen with the puck. Comrie's strength is to create space where there isn't much and make something happen. He did that multiple times and always seems to get the puck to the net. The only reason he didn't generate more points are the players he was playing with 5-on-5. On the PP he certainly showed his skill, including setting up Gagner's goal. As the play entered the zone Comrie offered a passing option on the wide side; he didn't get the puck here but it was important. He also didn't trail off this path, and went to the scoring area. When you know how to operate in this space, the puck finds you. Penner got the puck to O'Sullivan, who knows how to find people in this area, and he feathered one to Comrie. Most of the forwards on our team would have muffed the chance but Comrie handled it and got a shot through traffic that nearly went in, was kicked straight to Gagner as Penner cruised through the slot, and it was in. Textbook. A great all-around play, and Comrie had a lot to do with it that could often be missed or dismissed. Tonight he controlled the puck, got it to the net, and didn't give it away. That was his game all night.
Contrast that with one Shawn Horcoff. Early in their careers, these two were often compared, with Horcoff winning in the areas of smarts, skating and responsible play according to some. Comrie wiped the floor with him tonight. I criticize the giveaway stat many times in my writings; with tonight's Horcoff performance being the perfect example. In his first 3 shifts he gave the puck away 6 times. These were not cheap giveaways either, they were fairly obvious. Not counted. He got the puck and was just useless with it. He rushed in on a break and wanted to pass so bad that his eventual shot was one of the saddest 2-on-1 efforts I'd seen in a while. In the third another example came with Horcoff behind the net. Comrie got into position in front, audibly yelling for the puck, Horcoff held it. Then, as Comrie was moving to get into a better position but currently covered, Horcoff threw the puck haphazardly and gave it away. He didn't get much done tonight.
Moreau completed the unlikely trio. I'm not particularly sure why Quinn did what he did with the lineup, but I guess I can only work with what I had. I didn't see much out of Moreau, despite the fact that he had chances to make something happen. I suppose he logged 20 minutes of "nothing" time in that nothing was given up, but oh well...
Looking at our "top line" of Penner-Gagner-Nilsson, I wasn't all that impressed. Nilsson was basically invisible for me tonight. The puck didn't come to him, he didn't shoot and didn't make any tremendous passing plays. I remain unconvinced that he's anything more than a bit player who would be replaced on a good team with a veteran who produced more consistent efforts and wasn't a liability. Gagner was the best player on the line. On his good nights he has a "wheeling and dealing" look to him and I saw glimpses of that tonight. When he got the puck he was really solid with it. I just don't like watching him as the #1 C. In a support role, his current play would be outstanding. Penner's effort tonight was weak. He could've landed some solid hits and skipped them. He could've plowed through to the net and seemed to pass up the opportunity until the end of the game with an empty net. I didn't like his play on the boards in our own end. Again, I get it, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. The thing about this line is that it struggles to make a positive moving start from its own end unless Penner's really going and he isn't anymore. That's a shame because it's a hell of a thing to watch, but again, oh well.
Our fourth line got some serious play early on. Once again I suppose the guy who impressed me most was Pouliot. Not so much for his goal which, while a solid fundamental move was still a fluke, but for the way he skates with the puck. Even though he's left out there alone with it, he always does a good job. I appreciate that effort. He's also doing a solid job of getting in the right position which is a must for a guy of his style. Jacques I must say got lucky. It sure didn't look like he "saw the hole" that he scored via on Ward, but I don't know. Other than that goal, he didn't do too much. This didn't stop the line from racking up more icetime than usual, as while they weren't lighting the world on fire, they also weren't depositing the puck in our net. Stortini I didn't particularly notice.
O'Sullivan, Brule and Cogliano were certainly alright. I think this is what a good O'Sullivan scoring support night from a second line on a good team would look like. He made the play to Comrie on the Gagner PP goal to show off his passing. He's not great playing the PP point, and bumbled the puck a little bit tonight, but he makes it worthwhile with his passing ability. He also made a nifty play on Brule's goal. Everyone (including Brule) assumed that Cogliano's initial pass was going to Brule, which led Ward to play the one-timer. O'Sullivan picked the pass and deftly moved it along to Brule, changing the timing and angle, giving the best shooter on the line a chance to deliver and he did. He might be the only guy along with Potulny currently on the active roster that finishes that solid play as he did. We need more guys who are capable of that. I didn't see much of Cogliano really. He seemed solid but nothing in particular stood out for me aside from missing an EN chance because he didn't change the shooting angle as I'm always blabbing about Comrie doing. Brule was okay, but I've seen a lot better. If I can only keep two of these 3, Cogliano's going if I'm running the show.
Tonight was Alex Plante's introduction to the show. 18 shifts and 12 minutes of action isn't too bad for your first adventure on an NHL blue line. I must admit I see some promise in the kid. He's certainly got the frame to be an effective NHL defenceman, but is not the awkward bumbler that many of his size and style become. I saw the beginnings of defensive positioning. You can tell that he's working at it and will be for some time, but he looks around like he knows where to go. The issue that Plante has in being the type of defenceman he can be, is his skating. Currently his skating is what keeps him from compensating for his lack of positioning experience. He'd likely be okay otherwise. I hope they work hard on this part of his game. Even though it was a simple play, how can you not love the guy getting his first assist in his first game? Good for him!
The goals that Deslauriers allowed were not very good. An NHL tender should not allow a weak Andrew Alberts slapper and a weak Jussi Jokinen backhander, both of which were easily within glove reach. Aside from that he actually looked quite solid, while not approaching the confidence level we saw earlier this season when he was in a bit of a groove. I do love his competitive fire, which came through when he aggressively secured the puck at the end of the game to secure the win. Good for Jeff. He's been seriously hosed after some solid efforts this year and any decent effort we can get him helps.
Taylor Chorney is the other young defenceman we're all watching. I'm still seeing a general level of confidence that is very assuring me. He doesn't bobble the puck and picks his skating lines quite quickly. Occasionally he forces passes resulting in ugly turnovers such as one that nearly resulted in a goal in the third. Nothing wrong with 20 minutes and 5 blocked shots though. We may have 3 guys challenging for the #7 spot next year. I'm fully on board with a vet #6 and a young #7 as opposed to the other way around.
Jason Strudwick received a second star tonight. I remain baffled trying to think of anything truly positive that he did. I also don't remember anything hideous...which is a good start...but not sure where the extra credit of a star in a win comes from...
Denis Grebeshkov made some really solid defensive plays tonight. I can think of a sequence in the third where he moved his man in front of the net to keep him from getting a pass, then made a really smart stick play to remove a puck from just above the circle. I can only recall one giveaway, which I believe was in the second. Now that Souray is gone, I won't see him played with Souray which I believe is a solid pairing choice, but I really think we'll see a better Denis after he comes back from his Red Army duty.
Lubomir had some entertaining moments including an ugly giveaway that nearly resulted in a goal right in front of our net. He almost totally recovered in time, but was helped by some CAR ineptitude. Very rarely does he make such a mistake. I didn't see a lot of offensive control from him today, but it seemed like he didn't need to. I suspect a lot of this was because he was looking after young Mr. Chorney.
Tom Gilbert had a really solid night in my books. He's racking them up while playing for a truly hideous team which has to mean something. I think his style will benefit from playing away from Souray, in that the two styles aren't really compatible. I'll be looking to see if Gilbert's passing game comes along a little more than it has.
3 Oilers Stars
Well, it sure was nice to actually write in some detail again. Sad that I needed such a low comparator, but at least this was a watchable game.