*I almost forgot to add this* In what was nearly another freakish injury that only the Oilers could suffer...as the oil derrick was being raised to the rafters, something went wrong and it went swinging into the bench. Only quick thinking and players either getting out of the way or stopping it with their hands stopped someone from likely getting hurt. No idea what happened but boy were those ever a few tense moments as it wobbled up to the roof.
Alright, I'm hoping that through this report and the subsequent discussion in this thread that we can figure out exactly what went on tonight. I'm torn between two possibilities: that the Oilers were simply taking their time and waiting to be dominant in the third period, or were rather average for two period then simply played a little bit better and Nashville was bad most of the game. Which was it?
The thing is, and we've been on the wrong end of this way too often, sometimes good teams just lay in wait. They play iffy, within one or two goal hockey for 2 periods, or maybe even 50 minutes, then they crank it up and beat you before you knew what happened. We had a string of about 9 consecutive shifts where our top 3 lines battered Nashville in wave after wave like they'd just arbitrarily decided to crank up the volume. It was something else to watch because those lines aren't even the best we can throw out there and they sure looked good for a while. We'd also managed to keep ourselves in the game to that point and allow Nashville about 1 grade A scoring chance the whole game. That's not something I'm used to. The evidence seems to be pointing to the fact that we might actually be starting to become a good hockey team...scary I know.
As I watched, I kept thinking that maybe Nashville is just horrible. They were indeed missing Erat and Fisher, but the other skilled players they have, as well as their pests like Tootoo (who I didn't even realize was playing until seeing him getting ready for a faceoff in the third period) were completely invisible. We certainly negated them to a great extent tonight with an excellent puck-control game from many of our forwards, but did we really outplay them or did they just have absolutely nothing? I kept expecting our lack of offence in the first and second to bite us in the butt, but then there's the 2-1 and we're not letting up...what happened?!?!
The D were pretty good in one of the bigger turnaround games I've seen in some time. Looks like having Petry in on Saturday might have been enough to get us the win. They were not superstars, but they made the plays they needed to and really only got beat badly once (and even that was on a good choice pinch by Gilbert that caught a bad break).
Our forwards in the third period were simply something else. I could watch most of that any night of the week. The scary thing is, there are still a bunch of guys stuck on zero. We have at least 4 guys who are due for a breakout. That means that if we can hold the line on D (and with Whitney coming back the chances of that improve greatly), we should be able to string along some wins.
It is true that we're still not scoring a lot of goals and that maybe finishing is a bit of an issue for this team at present, but you saw the pieces of the tumbler start to click into place tonight. Things started happening with lanes and passes and angles and it looks like the door is about to swing WIDE open. This could get very fun in a big hurry. Here's hoping that third period was just the start.
- For two periods these guys were the main positive piece. They weren't setting the world on fire, but they were moving the puck well and getting decent chances. Eberle specifically should have scored before the 40 minute mark. I really hope he's not getting frustrated and is able to take solace in the fact that aside from plays he's forcing to try and make offence, he's still playing excellent hockey. He's moving the puck, skating well and getting in position for goals. Once he gets just one (which is why they tried to feed him with the EN and Hall gave him a bit of a pick me up chat on the way to the bench), he's going to get a bunch because he's still ahead of just about every play. What Hall did much better tonight was add more side-to-side skating to his game, choose better shots, give Hopkins more of the puck carrying duties, and used his speed in the offensive zone to make puck retrievals rather than wasting it on skating down the wing and taking harmless shots. It was great to see him get the powerplay goal on a sublime feed from Hopkins after a great shot-sell with Horcoff in position to screen, but it was actually more important that he was keeping plays alive in the offensive zone and making passes to his two gifted linemates, This is one of the things Hall can to at an absolutely elite level and yet sometimes he gets away from it. I hope he sticks to it. When it comes to Hopkins, I've come around fast. Even though he wasn't spectacular in the same way as the other night, he looked so much like he was in the right place. NSH really adjusted to cover him and it just didn't matter at all. He made the plays anyway. He nearly forced his way into goals at least twice and made some excellent little defensive plays. I knew it would take some time to see what this guy has, but didn't think it would go this fast and this obviously. Make no mistake, Hall and Eberle will be excellent, but I think Hopkins is the first guy I'm looking at and saying "he'll be a 100 point man. Period". He just pulls the play into him and makes things happen. Awesome that we have a #1 C.
- Belanger seemed to pick up a lot more of what the Swedes want to do on the ice tonight. It's great to see he can adapt quickly and go to the right positions and lanes. He's certainly not operating at that skill level and never will, but he did what he could and provided adequate support. Magnus was able for the first time this season to really crank up his skating and drive the net a couple times which was great to see. I think he's overdue for some goals at this point and will do some good things very quickly. Omark had his best game of the season. Aside from two very short one and a half shift stretches where he was a little iffy and got pushed around a bit, he was just excellent. There is no one besides him on this hockey team who can do what he did to Weber in the corner in the first period. Watching a man that small take Weber to school and make plays like that was just absurd. Then later on he makes a through the legs saucer pass to almost set up a goal, gets an excellent one-timer off, and makes a few other really excellent plays and at least two very solid safe dump plays in the third period. The man gets the little things right.
- Ben Eager's first game as an Oiler was a positive for sure. He skated well, tried to be physical even if the chance didn't really arise, should have drawn a penalty and held up on two occasions where he could have taken a penalty (one a hit he had lined up but the player was in a vulnerable position, the other a play where he'd been wronged and though about kneeing the guy in return). I liked what I saw from him to the point where I would have given him a shift or two with Smyth and Horcoff to see if that would work. His speed and style is more suited to them than Jones. Lander held his own for sure. I think it is a foregone conclusion that he's soon headed to OKC, but he is certainly not making glaring mistakes or looking out of place; he's just not quite up to speed yet and thus can't seem to create much. Petrell is doing his job and made some good defensive stops and a couple hits tonight, but he's not finding the extra gear he needs to find if he wants to stay. You have to be a very very good specialist to have the job he's auditioning for in the NHL, and he's just a good one.
- Let's start with Jones and I really hate to be the guy bagging on him because I'm not a stats guy and that's who was all over him last year, but I have to be honest and say he's making way too many mistakes out there. The most glaringly obvious ones are the numerous times tonight where he got caught standing still as the puck passed him and he wound up WAY out of position, usually at our defensive blue line. He also make a huge mistake late, sending a free puck up the boards from behind his own net and allowing NSH to set up the attack. He made this same kind of play, always while he had time to make a better one, on a few occasions tonight. He also wasn't in good enough offensive position to take advantage of the game Smyth and Horcoff were playing. Sure he called for the puck a bunch (you could really hear him yelling out there) and it is good that he wants to be involved like that, but he was a stride off the rush and couldn't capitalize on too much of anything. He's too impatient with the puck and also isn't hitting people. I really don't want to be this negative, but I'm not seeing a lot of good from him. I'd also like to address the EN goal, which nearly gave all of us heart attacks...why Smyth passed I have no idea. He had a clear net and no excuse not to finish the thing and have it over with. Instead, he makes a risky pass to Jones...who makes an even riskier pass to the only forward who's nearly being checked (Horcoff), who thankfully doesn't smack it into the defender's shin pads and finds Jones to end it. That was a weird sequence that I hope will never be repeated. In the end it looked pretty, but it had all the makings of the famous Smyth icing vs. LA disaster and the last thing I need is that flash back. Horcoff's pass to Smyth to set up the second goal may have been the pass of his life. For once he tried something different, and connected on a saucer perfectly. To a man, absolutely everyone was wondering why he was slowing down because he never makes that pass...but he did. That's my favorite video game move BTW...to hit the streaking winger like that. Smyth scored as only he can and the party was on. There can be no doubt, these guys are the minute-eaters and when re-joined by Hemsky we are very likely to have 2 excellent forward lines, a solid supporting line and a very very very good 4th unit. If Smyth and Horcoff can keep things up as they did tonight and be that reliable and simple (despite some usual Horcoff awkwardness), we'll be alright up front. I also want to tip my hat again to #10 for the screen play he made before Hopkins' pass to Hall for the first goal...that was very very smart. Very good game for 94 and 10. As an aside - the crowd thought Smyth was the obvious 1st star choice and had begun chanting for him.
- He did what was asked of him tonight. The goal wasn't great but it was also mainly caused by a defensive breakdown and there wasn't much he can do. Not enough shots to say he was great, but it does take a decent amount of focus to play well in such a quiet game.
I'll be honest BTW, I had a night where I was preoccupied with the forward units and might have missed some D stuff. Feel free to fill in.
- Our best pair again despite the GA. Gilbert is really pushing the offence and hitting right now...almost to a fault as one of his pinches went into our net (mostly bad break though and could very well have been a goal for us) and he hit his way out of position at least twice. I would much rather he not worry about the hitting and stick to strong positioning while being aggressive on the offence. He makes a positive difference when he's not required to be the defensive stalwart, which is what Smid was doing for him tonight.
- Petry showed why he needs to be in the lineup, as he had a strong night on the puck and made a couple strong, key defensive plays late in the game. He's very smart and skilled at using his body to break up the play in key instances and rarely makes a subsequent bad decision with the puck. Very valuable guy. Barker probably had his best game in that he made some good passes, hit some people, was generally mean and only got caught out of position a couple times. Good stuff.
- I'm not sure you can find a way to send Potter down at this point. Even though he wasn't as good as in game 1, he moved the puck well, went to the right spots and absolutely wasn't a liability. That's good stuff from a bottom pairing dman. Sutton...I still have problems with him even on his stronger nights. He made at least 2 ill advised pinches and got beat to some pucks in races he should have won very very easily. I hope it is he they take out when Whitney returns...but I'm doubting it.
Lot of fun at the rink tonight and great to come away with a win despite some uncertainty early. Hoping the scoring floodgates open for Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark tomorrow in Calgary!