And the thundering herd marches on to yet another glorious victory...well not quite but at least this is officially a winning streak (3 wins required rather than 2).
This was a very different win than the last two but does a good job of illustrating why "how" doesn't really matter. We got it done today and finished with a bit of style actually. I think a lot of the Oilers early struggles can be attributed to the awkwardness of an afternoon game. That first period was pretty brutal all over the ice but if this thing had started at 8pm I think we may have seen a serious drubbing. This team has just enough confidence at the moment that superlative efforts of the young will not be denied. The last two games also saw stellar goaltending bail out mediocre D. Tonight the goaltending was horrid at both ends and certainly led to an interesting game.
The central point of debate in this game, whether we won or lost, would have been Renney's decision to bench Penner, Jacques and Omark then run with 3 lines in the third. I thought he went to the short bench a little early and might pay for it, but thankfully Hall took off like a rocket and we overwhelmed any possibility of an ATL rebound. It helped that our usually anemic EN efforts were again successful. Obviously the boldest benching was Penner; but he certainly deserved it. I'm also debating whether Jacques and Omark were actually benched or just didn't get any time because Renney needed Reddox for D on line one, but didn't want Jones to not be on the ice .
ATL is an interesting team; they have a lot of talent floating around but don't look very organized at all. I guess that fits being that their best player is in effect a throwback to the days of the rover combined with the modern athlete. #33 is an interesting guy to watch and I certainly would've poached him for the Oilers if we'd ever had a reasonable chance. He could make the difference on a lot more nights than a guy like Penner, but appears to cost a similar amount. ATL was let down by their goaltending as well today, but we don't always take advantage of a goalie who's fighting it like that, so I'll definitely take it.
- One of his absolute worst performances of the year. Even though there were distinct breakdowns on two of the goals he allowed, if his D wasn't covering people and getting pucks away the Thrashers would have had a disturbing amount of great chances. I lost count of the number of ugly rebounds he generated at around 10. Devan didn't look confident at all today and fought hard to stay on the horse. Thankfully he made just enough saves, but he's got to be better than that.
- I think this game confirms my initial thought from last game that Penner was making Hemsky and Horcoff look a lot more iffy than they actually were. Early in this one, Penner missed several Hemsky set ups and simple pass plays from both 10 and 83 (who looked quite solid early). Then he went offside a couple times. Then Penner skating past his check led to both the Ladd goal (where he actually bumped into Ladd and just kept going) and the Kane goal (where he made some half-hearted hooking attempt and stopped in the middle of nowhere, not only missing Kane but blocking out Chorney). He was absolutely horrible today and I agreed with Renney benching him. The sequence after his benching was rather unfortunate, because I'd have bet you $100 he'd have scored a goal today if he hadn't got that somewhat unlucky penalty after a really nice chance. He was fired up so at least he had the right reaction to the benching. I'd play him on a different line to start next game and tell him his job is to get some hits and get the puck deep. Simplify a bit. Ales wasn't at his absolute best but certainly made some nice plays. The little give and go that Hall worked with him was pretty nifty (great pass through a player while Horcoff took the stick of the man in front of the net so he couldn't block the pass) and he managed to get the EN goal again which is good to see. He's really productive right now even though I don't think this is the 'A' game aside from Dallas the other night. Loved the play he made where he entered the zone 1-on-5, held off the ATL players and made a pass to his winger. Horcoff had a pretty solid game and definitely has his wheels under him again. He and Hemsky are really reading off each other well right now. I'd also like to cover Reddox here because he did some really nice things playing with Hemsky and Horcoff, mainly related to working along the boards and showing some real jump into openings on the ice. You could tell he was pumped for the chance at that stage of the game and he did what he could. He was also quite good on the PK and good enough with his line. Liked the bit of feistiness he showed in the first too, getting into a scrum in front of the net. With all that said, I would not support starting him with Horcoff and Hemsky next game. Hall and Eberle need either Horcoff or Gagner so things need to be shook up.
- I hope the thing that Taylor Hall remembers about this game is that all it really took for him to score those three goals was deciding he was going to do it. Two of those plays were simply Hall willing the puck into the back of the net. The first he certainly took advantage of a mistake by Mason, but he just kind of decided he was going to score that one. The second was a beauty play by he and Hemsky; one they could run a million times over. By the third goal, his team knew he was hot so the puck was headed his way; rather than taking wild shots or doing something goofy, Hall found his spot and drove that puck right through a goalie who he had to know he owned at that point. It was great to watch Taylor finally realize the types of goals he's going to score a ton of in this league. Even before that, the ATL was shifting towards him and opening up others. If this had happened in period 2, Eberle would have scored 2 in the third because he'd be so alone he could wind his watch. Cogliano might even have popped one. I don't remember the last time an Oilers player had a natural hat trick in a period...but I have a feeling his name might have ended in zky. It's not easy to do. Taylor Hall sure made it look easy. That's a dominant a short stretch as you're going to see. You don't have to be going end-to-end at a billion miles an hour or make a whole team look silly, but you do have to know that the puck will go in if you make your play. That's what Hall did. Cogliano played the exact same game I've seen him play for several in a row now where he's really making an effort, but when it comes time to be productive, either through a pass high in the offensive zone or a shot down low, he just can't do it. Better on the PK though. Eberle played a really solid game, and the little flip pass he made to set up Hall on a rush before Taylor had any goals was disturbingly good. Not a night where he shines too bright, but a night where you notice how solid of a support player he can be.
- These two wound up benched in the third but I didn't think either was having a particularly bad game. Jacques was okay in the corners, had a solid fight to stick up for a teammate and didn't make many mistakes. Omark generated some offensive chances and did a good job of getting to the net on a couple of occasions. I think both fell victim to the numbers game, but that Jacques will be in next game and hopefully Omark will benefit from some different line combos (play him w/Penner and see if you can't get that combo going). I didn't appreciate how good the rush pass to Magnus was until I saw the replay...that was nice.
- Sam wasn't amazing today but he did distribute the puck well in the offensive zone. His powerplay efforts have improved significantly of late mainly because he's found better ways to use those around him. Jones joined this line in the third period and kept up what was already a strong effort. Regardless of this guy's shooting percentage and debates around that, you can't argue with how hard he skates and that he's usually a guy you at the very least notice in a positive way. Had a couple scoring chances. Magnus was a little quiet but strong enough defensively. He got his goal but I think the thing to notice was his solid positioning and overall play. He got that goal at a key time in a game that seemed to be going away from the team, so it was certainly helpful.
- Pretty decent effort from Tom tonight though not as excellent as a couple games recently. He was still decisive and aggressive with the puck, including great stretch pass he made, but he could've wowed me more.
- Theo fought hard to salvage a good game from one that didn't start out too great. Early on he was trying to make too many plays with his stick rather than body positioning and hits. This resulted in some bad mistakes and nearly a goal (Little hit the post). Thankfully he simplified, went back to hitting and closing gaps, and got in the faces of people like Kane and Byfuglien. He went from a negative impact on the game to a positive one and even got a couple shots towards the net. I really liked how much effort he brought and that he didn't get frustrated despite an odd start and a non-penalty called on him. That was a really bad stretch for the refs, where Theo got his non-penalty, then they tried to give Smid a phantom Delay of Game. It was really bad.
- A tough, solid bounce back game after Thursday's awkward injury. Glad to see him on the scoreboard as well. He was really composed on the opposition blue for most of the night, which is an improvement.
- Though he continues to baffle me entirely due to the fact that every single time he is open with the puck in the offensive zone he shoots high (including a great chance to put the game out of reach today), at least Foster made a defensive effort today. He landed more hits than usual, got to pucks and just generally got in the way of people. I'm all for not letting him join the rush anymore though as it is way too frustrating.
- His teammates seemed more reluctant to give him the puck than in the last 2 games, so Chorney wasn't able to make the offensive impact he has lately. He didn't really make a bad effort defensively in any noticeable way, though his positioning on the goal ATL scored 4-on-4 was somewhat questionable.
- He played okay other than a couple times where he got too aggressive and had to scramble back into position. Thankfully ATL didn't take advantage. I have a feeling if scouts of a team who feels they need depth on D have been watching us, he may leave at the deadline.
Afternoon games are always strange and this one could have really gone sideways, instead we're left with a memorable day and a victory. That's why I keep going I suppose! You never know when it's going to happen.