I think we learned a lot about our team tonight, which is probably a good thing so early in the year. If we were intent upon competing, we'd know a lot and be able to adjust already. I'm not too sure that we're even at the stage of coaching to compete yet (though it certainly isn't so blatantly coaching to lose as last season) and we're definitely not managing to win, but we could make adjustments at this stage.
What has become abundantly clear is our D is terrible. Utterly terrible. I know we were already fairly convinced of this but a game like tonight shows it big-time. In addition to struggling in the defensive zone on several occasions tonight, there were so few solid breakout and rush passes made by the D, that the forwards had to do all the legwork and were worn out by the third period. Most of the efforts from our forward crew tonight were excellent and yet it was for nothing because of the effort of the guys defending our goal.
I really hate losing to those jerks and we didn't deserve that tonight. In addition to our shots there were a large number of chances generated that we just couldn't pull the trigger on. I suspect that several of our forwards will be more angry than disappointed tonight and that's part of our evolution as a team.
Looking at the goals Vancouver was able to score isn't particularly pretty. Dubnyk struggled with bad rebounds all night, creating many extra chances for the opposition including Salo's first. It's no excuse for the cover team not having their man, but he can't be letting the puck bounce out into prime territory and that happened on several occasions. The first goal also had another theme we'd see later: Sutton and Peckham standing around doing a whole lot of nothing.
On the second goal things weren't pretty either, but again Dubnyk had a chance to end the play and whiffed on an attempt to glove the puck, leading to an easy goal. Normally despite what's going on around him, he traps those pucks.
The third goal was created through multiple mistakes by Andy Sutton again. Where on the first goal he blew a faceoff win, then spun around, then missed a puck, on the third goal he nearly took a penalty, took his eyes off the play and a hand off his stick, then totally blew his coverage. The man in more useless than a pylon...Horcoff was also beaten badly on this play, but it shouldn't have mattered too much.
The fourth goal began with a completely boneheaded turnover by Theo Peckham. Even if he'd made the pass he was attempting, it would likely have been directly onto a Canuck stick and the best we could have hoped for would've been a big save. Cam Barker was in on this one too, losing his stick, standing around not knowing what to do, not getting it when he had the chance, then diving in front of a puck and hindering Dubnyk's efforts to stop the winner. Straight out of a horror film.
So the unfortunate reality we face is that three of our defencemen need to be sat...great...
- As noted, this was not a strong night for him and that's pretty tragic with #93's hat trick and being on HNIC and everything. He's played so well so far this year and I really don't know where all the rebound issues came from tonight, but the Canucks really could have had some more goals on those rebounds combined with a half-horrid D. I'm hoping he bounces back soon and doesn't let this game get in his kitchen. On the plus side, he was pretty strong on the puck tonight, and has become more confident and aggressive in this area lately.
- I was amazed he's only listed at just over 26 minutes tonight because Gilbert was everywhere. Without him they get absolutely thrashed tonight. GIlbert passed well (though even he struggled at times with hitting players in stride out of the defensive zone), hit a bunch of people, positioned himself well in the defensive zone and pushed the offensive side of things harder than I've seen him do in a LONG time. This kind of game is what he's capable of and he was excellent. Really sad that we can't have him hitting #3 in a strong defensive order. His pass-shot on Hopkins second goal was a really nice shooting choice and something that Tom hasn't done near enough of lately.
- Very ably supported #77's very strong night by being a very steady and defensively strong partner. I didn't see as much with the puck out of Smid as I would've liked, but nothing really to complain about. Smid always bring a little extra physicality to the games versus VAN and tonight was not exception, as he was always right in the face of their forwards in front of the net. He's been really solid so far.
- A very pleasant surprise tonight. As advertised, Potter was really solid in terms of passing, getting shots away and moving with the puck (including probably the weirdest looking shot fake I've ever seen) in the offensive zone. He really brought a dynamic that we were lacking in previous games. He was also very solid in his defensive zone for much of the night as well, which was more than I expected of him. He blocked several shots and passes, as well as staying in very solid defensive position throughout almost all of the night. If things operated solely on merit, he'd have passed several Oilers defenders tonight and be a lock for the lineup and significant minutes on Monday.
- Theo is away from the strengths of his game right now in that he's not lining up big hits and sticking to simple defence and good skating. Instead he's trying to be perfect, unaggressive and make better plays with the puck than he's currently capable of. Though he wasn't playing with a strong partner tonight, there's still no excuse for missing assignments, turning the puck over, and not taking any shots at the Canuck forwards. I've let Theo slide for a time now because I thought he'd find his way again rather easily, but the thing is that I'm not really seeing any positive signs in his game these days. He's looking like a #7 and that's it...which would be very disappointing.
- At least Theo isn't playing as bad as Mr. Pylon. The biggest impression you're left with from Sutton when watching him play, and especially after a night like tonight, is that he just isn't very smart. He gets into situations where he needs to react quickly and instead loses focus, panics or seems to be not paying attention at all. He did his best ballerina impression around the puck several times tonight including at least two plays that cost us. We probably have no choice but to play him right now, but he is hurting the team with both his defensive play and his complete and utter inability to move the puck effectively. At least he had a half-decent fight I guess...though I will always remember him as the pansy who wouldn't fight Laraque and went after Eric Brewer instead.
- He's also not showing any positive signs. He pinched several times tonight, but did so with no urgency or focus and thus came up with no result. He also almost caused a goal by getting caught on a pinch...then got caught again the very next rush. He's not getting his shot through, isn't hitting people and isn't making strong passes save for a couple each game. Is it possible for talent to just rot away in such a young player, never to be seen again? It might just be all gone right now. Marc-Andre Bergeron sure would look good in his role right now...
- Well, he's got his first truly embarrassing Oiler moment under his belt after taking a goofy-looking run at a Canucks defenceman and getting sidestepped and injured. I liked what Hordichuk did in the preseason, but he can't be acting silly. He's effective when he makes in-position hits to get the puck or send a message, not when he tries to turn the whole tide by charging at some guy.
- He was okay and showed strong fundamentals like he always does, but I will be very happy when Sam's ready because #57 just isn't quite ready. He's still a little bit behind every play, can't break away from checkers and while he slows the game down very well, he doesn't make a ton of effective puck olays at the NHL level just yet. It will come.
- While he struggled a bit early with positioning and a bit too much excitement, he settled down and made his time count. Canucks players knew they were going to get hit when he was chasing the puck, and he was generally strong defensively. It is a little bit weird watching such a specialized player, but the fact that he's big and can skate makes up for a lot. What you see on the ice in games like this is a talent player that could be molded into a specialist who's effective at the NHL for a few years. Whether we are up to that task is an open question.
- Linus had a really nice game tonight despite fairly limited ice-time and was unfortunately not rewarded. Whether it was his lovely flip pass to spring Paajarvi, his drag-and-shoot move that nearly fooled Luongo in the second, the jump out-skate-to-stick-and-pass-out-front play he made from behind the Canucks net, or the myriad of other offensive plays he made, it was very impressive. He also won corner battles as is par for the course when he's playing, but also did so in his defensive zone on a couple of occasions. This is a very positive sign because I'm quite convinced that #23 could become a truly excellent winger in the defensive zone by combining his great corner work with improved defensive awareness and positioning. Great first steps to bigger things if that's what was happening tonight. Other than a couple wonky passes, very nice game.
- Renney shows that he is comfortable with Magnus by playing him a ton of minutes already. I understand this because he's such a solid hockey player, but I wonder if it is hurting his offensive game a little but. I didn't see any creativity from him tonight in the offensive zone, and he started to look very tired in the third period. I also think #91 has the tendency to get locked into an overly simple game and stray away from attempting to generate and capitalize on offence. This often meant that Belanger was in more opportune offensive position than Paajarvi, and unfortunately he's not exactly a finisher. So, I don't really think there's an issue with how Magnus played, but how he is being played. He needs to be reminded to attack, especially if they're going to keep him pasted to Omark, because the chances will come.
- It's becoming clearer that he is indeed the type of player that winning teams have on their roster. He's very positionally sound and while not offensively gifted, he makes smart decisions and that was all on display tonight. I have a feeling most of my reports about him will be short because he doesn't even make spectacular defensive plays...but on nights like tonight that's because he didn't have to make them. That's good. I will be relieved though when he is our fourth line C with significant PK time instead of trying to be pivot for an offensive line.
- In way over his head tonight. He gave the puck away too much, was too slow to be effective on the rush and often got caught not knowing where to go, standing still, or even facing the wrong way waiting for a pass that would never come during one weird sequence in the third period. I don't mean to bag on the guy too hard, but he needs to get back to the basics of his game and start hitting some people and being aggressive on the forecheck. When he is elevated in the lineup he tends to get away from this and his play suffers, which is what happened tonight.
- While I appreciate both Smyth's defensive efforts and the fact that he did indeed move the puck ahead on the ice tonight, there are some areas in which he needs to improve. These penalties need to be less frequent and he especially needs to control his stick. Including tonight that's already a couple times he's taken that penalty and there could have been more tonight. He's not skating enough and is using his stick too much. With that said, really good effort to control the Van players he was up against tonight. That was his job and he did it. I bet if they've got Hemsky on the wing, they get a goal or two.
- Some very good moments and some not so great moments for Horcoff tonight. As noted, he totally blew his coverage on one of the goals, and he really wasn't generating any offence 5-on-5 tonight. He did make a nifty (even if awkward) play that led to a goal on the powerplay point, and seemed to survive in that role going back and forth with Eberle. Like Smyth, Horcoff took on a big defensive assignment tonight and was most quite good with specific kudos to his work in the faceoff circle.
- While most of the attention tonight will go to Hopkins, Jordan Eberle somewhat quietly had one of his best games as an Oiler. He stirred the drink out there tonight. He was the guy that identified very early on that #93 looked on and made it his mission to get him the puck for the rest of the night, doing so beautifully. He set up the first goal directly and the second through a sublime little play along the boards that got the puck to Gilbert. It was unfortunate that he couldn't pull the trigger on some of the goal scoring chances he got for himself including the one right near the end of the game that slid just past his stick. Eberle was positionally perfect, moving his feet like crazy and physical all night as well. Just a sublime effort.
- He was certainly better than he's been on other nights and especially in the passing department as he finally connected on some tonight. There was a little less rushing down the wing and a little more loop and look to his game. I still don't know why he keeps shooting five hole though...these are NHL goalie Taylor and you're a top shelf shooter anyway. Great driving to the net though and much better positioning from Taylor tonight. Anyone got a read on why he's falling so much though? It's awkward to watch such a talented player do that. He'd be served well if they set him up in a shooting position a little more in the offensive zone than is going on right now. One thing I really liked from him tonight was that he took an absolute beating from the Canucks and just kept coming back for more; he does not quit. Ever.
- Well wow, I must admit I didn't see this coming so much. Hopkins isn't like a lot of other dominant players you'll see in that he doesn't really come at you like a freight train. In some ways he was like Mike Comrie when he was really really on his game tonight...he just went to the exact, perfect area, set up shop and the puck came to him. It usually happened quite quickly and didn't look like it, but I bet it felt that way. He had so much time and space even after his goals, it was amazing to watch. The puck came towards him like a magnet and his moves were always quick and deft. Aside from the goals he made some excellent passes and read specifically well off of what Eberle was doing tonight. There were even some defensive plays in there and a couple missed chances including a break he passed up in the second when he only had 2 (still don't understand the decision to go to Hall there, I would smacked him on the side of the helmet and said FINISH KID! if I were his coach or linemate in that instance. Don't dish when you're on fire like that...shoot it. It'd be great if we had a guy who is already in Luongo's head. While you can't expect this from him every night, the thing I really noticed is that Hopkins is very very difficult to contain. Even after that Canucks had identified him as having a great game and assigned extra priority checking, he still got free and made plays. That's dangerous. His is a subtle game that I'll miss on some nights, but boy is he ever good and especially with Eberle. If you could get Hemsky onto that line as well and let Hall run with another line that's more north-south, I think we'd be in the money big-time. What a joy to watch #93 make it look so easy tonight.
If I had to pick another issue besides the personnel on D I'd have to go with the coaching. Renney made some odd decisions late in periods and in defensive situations, as well as not getting some of his offensive guys out as much as he should. Jones playing with 94 and 10 was a total miscue...that winger has to provide supplementary offence and be somewhat dynamic whereas Jones is a puck-pusher when he's at his best. We need to be in this to win. I absolutely hate losing to the Canucks, all the more when we deserve better. So close folks...