Well, I guess the Generals were finally due...
In all seriousness, this is going to be a positive report. I enjoyed an Oilers game for the hockey played on the ice for the first time in what seems like forever. There were a ton of really solid efforts I'm going to highlight and I hope everyone that's been subjected to the "hockey" that's been played by the Oilers, and especially at home, got to see that game tonight. I once again fought the urge to stay home. I've got a lot I could be spending my time on, but I decided (as always) that tonight had potential, and went. I'm very glad I did.
Dallas was certainly understaffed tonight, but the Oilers have made a habit out of not showing up for these type of games in the recent past, allowing a couple guys to get their first NHL goals and losing in a sluggish and depressing fashion. Not so tonight. Aside from some errors that required actual NHL saves from our goalie early in a game (something we haven't had with this goalie in ages), the Oilers had their foot on the gas from the start. Dallas was lucky not to be down more than they were early, and lucky again that they weren't run out of the building to the tune of 7 or 8 to 1 instead of the humble 4 we still managed to put up.
There wasn't a big difference in the system play or the approach of the Oilers tonight; it was a bunch of little things coming together combined with the biggest thing, a solid effort from nearly everyone. Tonight was a success because the players made sure they had control of the puck before they passed or shot, were sure of themselves when making a deke, skated very hard to get back and pick up trailers and did it pretty much all game save for maybe a couple minutes early in the second. When you get that kind of buy-in from that much of the group, you're going to win in this league a fair amount of the time. While we are lacking in the lineup department this year, our main problem has been a lack of effort and/or focus with the worst games seeing neither of both. You saw both in the positive tonight for the first time in a long time.
The only thing I want to point out in the negative about the way the team played is that three times they allowed Dallas to set up slowly behind the net while backing off to the blue line. Two of these times Dallas rushed untouched to a clear chance and the other time they allowed a partial break. This setup has been a feature of Oilers teams for some time now and needs to be thrown in the bin. It only ends in pain.
The game could have gone just as the last one did. Just as in the last one, the 91-89-23 line had a great forechecking shift in the middle of the first period. Last game, the rest of the team did nothing with this shift and got beat down. Tonight they built upon it, managed to get a first period goal, and never really looked back. The team also could've folded up their tent when DAL made it 2-1; but unlike this year's typical performance, they bore down and took advantage of a late second period PP, then pounded the final nail with a goal early in the third. That's how winners do it.
Looking at our goals, the first of the night was certainly pretty. Sam Gagner has had some confidence issues lately, and that Sam (as well as 90% of the crowd as usual) would have taken a weak shot from where he stood and created absolutely nothing. Instead he stayed calm, realized he had room and a man in a weak spot, and used his superior talent to make a great move and pass to Eberle, who as usual was in the perfect position with his stick ready to fire. He does this better than anyone on the squad right now. Since returning, Eberle has 7 points in 7 games and hasn't even been at his top gear. It's almost scary to think this guy might be establishing himself as capable of PPG for next season...I still maintain he might wind up the better player over his career when compared to Hall. He's always been the guy with IT and hasn't lost it at any level.
The second goal was the result of solid movement on the PP for a change. As usual the rabble were busy screaming for an early shot from a man standing still with a Star planted firmly in front of him, but the Oilers changed things up by moving both the puck and their feet to set up Taylor Chorney, who certainly looked more comfy on the PP than he has in previous NHL sojourns. He got a smooth shot off and beat Lehtonen because he was forced to move. I hope the Oilers remember everything about this play. Great read by Horcoff on this one as well. Penner and Hemsky did some great work that shift and weren't rewarded on the sheet but were certainly noticed.
The third Oilers goal was again because of great passing and movement of skates while the rabble once again called for a wasteful shots. I loved the composure the guys showed in setting that play up and Hemsky's read+pass to an open Horcoff who deceived his defender and got into the open ice to tip it in were both beauty. Perfect example again of what we need to do on the powerplay.
Ales Hemsky had been demanding what resulted in the fourth goal for much of this game. He was motoring all night and finally Horcoff found him with a nifty little pass to spring him, then he finished as only he can. He'd already missed a breakaway so I was glad to see that he wasn't gripping too tight and went for the deke instead of the shot.
It's worth noting that we could've had several more tonight. Eberle hit bar and had a couple bad bounces. Hall got a couple good shots off but also got caught sleeping beside the net on beauty sets from his linemates a couple times. Kurtis Foster actually hit the net with some degree of danger and used a shot-pass for the first time in forever. Linus Omark created a couple brilliant chances on his own and even the fourth line (specifically Reddox and Jones) had their try. We also had an exploding stick session that cost a few guys great chances. It was a very different game tonight and I'm delighted to be able to break it down by player.
- This team has not gotten the key early saves from Khabibulin that they got tonight in a long time. For once he actually looked zone in. His glove and blocker were alert, ready and batting everything away. He was even taking swipes at pucks outside the net with his stick and getting them, which is something he doesn't normally do. On other nights I don't think the Oilers get going because they did indeed make some mistakes early that could have wound up in their net. The thing is that tonight their goalie actually looked like a #1. I recommend immediately going to Dubnyk against MTL because I don't see this repeating and he deserves an effort from the players like Khabibulin got tonight. Goalies shouldn't last long enough as starters to see the streak he had in the L column.
- So much better from Tom tonight. Why? That stupid twitchy head move was gone and he was passing, skating and pinching with authority. Perhaps the change of partners to Smid helped him, because he really looked like a whole new (and by new I mean what he used to look like) man out there tonight. When this guy shows up, he's a massive asset. Earned those two assists and played an underrated and possibly unnoticed by many role in getting the 27-10-83 line going. He did a great job of getting them the puck quickly and smoothly.
- Though he had a couple early adventures (two ugly turnovers and two instances of skating himself way out of position), Ladislav then calmed down a bunch and had a pretty good game. The change he allowed in Gilbert's game alone was enough to make this a worthy effort. Could've been more physical I suppose.
- I liked that he went at Steve Ott early and then after about 2 shifts Ott was invisible. This is something Theo can do that our other defencemen and our goons cannot. #49 is a scary guy when he wants to be and that had the desired impact tonight. He wasn't great with the puck and got caught defensively at least twice (including an awkward sequence in the second where he had position but stopped skating and let the DAL forward past him for a chance) but overall he played a decent game especially considering he was with Chorney.
- I'd like to applaud Taylor on coming back with some confidence; especially in the offensive zone. The strength of his game is to take the puck with his feet moving and then either direct a solid shot or pass while keeping the flow going. When he's on he essentially doesn't stop moving. He made some UGLY defensive errors early, but kept his composure to contribute positively to the win. There are other times Chorney and most offensively gifted defenceman would have taken that early start as a rebuke, backed off their game and played rather badly. He did not and for that he deserves credit.
- Efforts like this from him perplex me. He was mean, a little physical, and dished the puck well. He didn't do anything exceptional, but played a simple game and got the job done. There's zero reason he shouldn't be able to do this most nights. I really don't get it. I'm not saying this in the same way I'd say that the Oilers as a team should be able to at least make a decent effort, what I'm saying quite frankly is that Vandermeer's job is actually pretty easy, he's qualified to do it, and struggling to do it makes little to no sense.
- He was definitely better tonight, as he managed to keep his shot under control and his wits about him. I don't believe he was pressed much defensively, but a lack of big mistakes counts as a positive compared to the rest of his year. He had a lot of help from his forwards today, but still credit to him for a better, more calm effort.
- I think Ales is confident in his health again. It started late in the last game with some really strong shifts and spilled over to tonight. While his offensive effort, creating numerous chances, getting his goal and showing an insane amount of jump was impressive, I was actually more impressed with his effort on D. He was phenomenal in his own zone, breaking up several plays including one early where he was forced to play D. Tonight the transition game ran through him, and the Oilers win when the play is flowing that way. It was a beautiful thing to watch. Great game. His best plays didn't even result in points. Check out his second period dangle if you can find it somewhere. The only thing I'm scared of is that he took a couple really solid pops (including one that left him squinty) in this game and I hope that they didn't impact him negatively.
- The rapid acceleration to loose pucks and scoring zones was back in Horcoff's game tonight. It made a huge difference. When he's reading off of Hemsky like tonight and playing decisively, he can be a big part of the offence. Some nights he doesn't need to do what he did tonight because Penner's also very good at it, but if you have 10 and 27 swapping nights with 83 stirring the drink (as he did ruthlessly tonight) then you've got one of the better lines out there. He was very good in all zones just like Hemsky was, with just a little less pop.
- Didn't blow the roof off like either Horcoff or Hemsky, but also got a couple bad breaks that prevented goals. While he wasn't running people over like crazy, he did a good job in the role of providing positional support to his linemates as well as getting to the slot for shooting opportunities. He had a stick blow up, at least two get deflected wide, and was also stopped. Underrated game from Penner tonight. I also really like to see him on the PK. Think he'd be interesting playing with Magnus there.
- Not much to complain about in his game, and he certainly got a couple of nice hits in. I still didn't see value for having him in the lineup really.
- He pushed the limit of his game a bit tonight to include a little bit more hitting, which was good to see and I think made an impact against Dallas due to them missing some of their more physical players. Very much liked his work on the PK and he generated a couple of offensive chances.
- Not a loud night by any stretch of the imagination, but he had a couple decent hits and was a minor threat offensively a couple times. Jones' positioning was very good as well. I hope he likes Edmonton enough that a reasonable contract can be agreed upon.
- I'm still not quite sure what he was looking at on the couple cross-ice chances he got from Eberle and Gagner tonight. I would have thought he'd be ready to finish on those but he wasn't; also had a couple pucks bounce on him. In the second period he made a wide drive and took what has become a typical shot at the net that was stopped. I'd really like to see him either hook to set up a pass or make an Eberle play and bounce one off the far pad to a linemate on those, even if only to open up the wide drive roofjob goal and make him a threat in multiple ways. I really liked the way he took the physical play to Fistric in the third period and frustrated him into taking a penalty. He had a really physical shift that was great to see.
- Andrew was one of the only Oilers I was disappointed in tonight, in that he couldn't seem to catch the wave of solid play riding through the team. He made and effort and I did like his play on the PK, but he made too many giveaways and disrupted several dangerous-looking rushes that Hall or Eberle started. Maybe he did a better job in puck support than I saw, but I really thought he could've had a dynamic night and he didn't.
- Another great night from Jordan where it was an absolute travesty he only got one point. He set up a number of chances for linemates but was only rewarded on the play Gagner made. I can't stress enough how much this guy knows about where to be and when to be there. He's an incredibly smart hockey player who is calm at all times.
- Effectively drove the bus for 2 lines tonight (Eberle and Hall looked best when with him on the PP, then Omark and Paajarvi looked good as well), Sam played probably his best game of the year. The difference tonight was his confidence with the puck, willingness to drive to the shooting areas and confidence to let it rip (he really should have scored). When Sam plays like this you sure don't notice that he's a fairly small guy compared to the others. How do we keep his level of play up this high.
- An understated but solid night. He doesn't necessarily have to put up points when he's a positive impact like this. Most nights like this he would, but it didn't happen tonight. He's really improving in his reads from the PP point and made a couple very inventive fakes. At least twice he drove alone to the front of the net and created some very dangerous chances. The best players on the team definitely trust him with the puck. Good as gold in the corners fighting for the puck as always; should have drawn at least two penalties.
- Fairly quiet night for Magnus, I'm guessing mainly due to limited icetime. Nothing to be ashamed of surely, just nothing jumping off the page.
Well, that was definitely different! I hope like hell we can do that Thursday. Would make for a fun night! I also hope the horrid (and French) ref we appear to have had for the past 4 games now is gone by then. For him not to be may prove disastrous.