NEW YORK 0
So...as I'm driving after the game tonight, they announce that Tortorella's going to be on the radio...I laugh and say to LMHF #2 that he'll just say "We SUCKED!" and storm outta there...then he did. I laughed pretty hard.
While the Rangers weren't exactly world-beaters tonight, to give no credit to the Oilers after that effort was a little bush. His team didn't give away the game we're clearly not last year's squad, so to act that way is a bit much.
Which brings us to our discussion...what is this team we've got in front of us? Seems like we've got some strange sort of responsible team playing hockey that verges on cautious and just beat one of the better teams in the eastern conference in a game we pretty much controlled. It wasn't exactly supposed to be this way. Are we "riding the percentages" right now and getting breaks in the defensive zone? Or are we building a strong 6-man effort from the goalie out and stuck with a bunch of talented forwards that are overdue. To put this in perspective, Jordan Eberle is nearly PPG right now and can't buy a goal to save his life...he's had a ton of chances...seems to me we may very well be on the favorable side of this equation and set to reap some benefits of our building...but only time will tell and a sterner test awaits us this week.
As has become standard practice this year, we controlled the opening period. It was quite impressive as we were very calm and passed the puck very well. It was unfortunate that we didn't come out of that period with a lead and felt a little like we might have let too many chances slip away.
The Rangers came out stronger in the second but we didn't get overwhelmed. There were a few bad shifts but our squad kept pushing and one wicked wrister later we had a familiar lead. Oddly, going up by one stirs a bit of dread for many fans at the moment.
In the third we were more forceful than last game. We didn't score on the powerplay right out of the shoot (in fact it was horrid), but kept after it and that bargain bin #3 defenceman we've managed to grab ourselves rifled one past one of the better goalies in the league. It was incredibly odd as a fan of this team to feel so secure when "holy crap we're leading by TWO!". The boys proved that notion right tonight, and took us safely to a 2-0 win including drawing a penalty while the Rangers had an extra two guys on the ice. That's exceptional hockey right there.
Tonight was a very complete game you felt very content watching. I know many people hate low-scoring games, but when they're played that way I can enjoy them very much. I'm glad we got the two points mostly, but also glad we did it on national TV, against a strong and high-profile opponent, playing a complete game, and forcing another coach into a hissy fit.
I'll take about 90 more of those please!
- DId all that was asked and was helped by another strong defensive effort from his forwards and defenceman. Made a couple really nice saves including Gaborik on a breakaway which is certainly not anything to sneeze at. I'm not sure we've seen two games in a row that were in control like that from Khabibulin since he got here.
- I know he made a nice block near the end of the game, but when I hear people praising his effort after a night like tonight it makes me want to vomit. He was terrible. He let Brandon Prust make him look like a scared child in their fight (after taking a dumb penalty), took another dumb penalty later because he got caught standing still in the offensive zone, lost multiple races where he started with a BIG advantage and could have very well cost us this game tonight by the scoring chances he generated. Gross.
- He was kind of all over the place tonight. In the first specifically and slightly less so the second, he was really solid. He made an excellent breakaway pass that wasn't cashed, played physically and took his time with the puck. In the third he was a disaster half the time, including an utterly horrible pinch late in the game that created an odd man rush and again could have cost us big. I had a lot of optimism for him early tonight and then to see the way he finished was very disappointing. He managed to successfully cut in front of his own net twice late...but man that was scary!
- So at this stage we've got to be asking, what can't he do? The guy played 5v5, PP, and PK and did well with all of them. He was in position, kept his check at bay and scored on a lovely slapper to put this one out of reach. He was really fired up after that goal too, and not in an "I was desperate" kind of way but instead an "I've worked my ass off for this and it feels amazing" kind of way. He's looked even more at home since he's gotten to play with his old teammate Ryan Whitney. What a difference he's made over the alternative.
- Despite a pass from behind his own net that eluded Hopkins and nearly wound up in our net, as well as another rather ugly giveaway I can't recall the specifics of, Whitney had a pretty strong game. The D and the passing are mostly there, with the aggressiveness at about a 75% level compared to normal I'd say. He made two excellent slap-pass plays that both could have ended in goals and showed tonight that he's pretty well back. He steadies things back there so much.
- He's just playing excellent hockey right now and that continued tonight. In one sequence I recall, he hit his man to delay him near the blue line, looped back, got the puck and made a great pass to start a rush. I haven't seen that play from him in a long time. He's also confident enough right now that on several occasions tonight he took that all important extra second to find the shooting lane and got great shots toward the net, where in recent years he would've had them blocked. Confidence is a tricky thing for some people, and I think Tom finally has it back because he was a rock tonight and looks to be in for the long haul.
- Paired perfectly again with Gilbert tonight. Smid was tough on the puck, made solid passes and even made a great little power forward rush and took a really nice slapshot. Not much else to say because he was plain excellent.
- They were effective and responsible with limited ice time. The one thing that was a little off from past games with them is that they spent a little more time chasing the puck and wasted a bit of effort on some chase skating. While I felt Eager had a fairly good game and could've gotten some offence out of this one, he was the biggest culprit in this regard. Petrell doesn't really seem to make mistakes, but did get caught a little too slow for the play on a couple of occasions. With his role on the PK seemingly reduced, I'd be in favor of taking him out of the lineup at this point to try to give this line a little more pop and give him some motivation. Lander continues to impress with all the little things he does right and by (for whatever reason) making the other team's players quite angry with him. What is it with these swedes and drawing penalties?
- The thing about these guys is they don't need to set the world on fire to be effective. They're moving the puck in the right direction all the time. Hall especially is a puck transporter and when he gets that extra bit of motivaion (as he did on multiple occasions tonight), he's something to see. It might seem an odd reference, but there was a point when NYR had their goalie out that Hall just kind of decided to blow by the guy who had several steps on him and proceeded to do it...very impressive. He also set up Hopkins again and I'm glad to see he's got his passing going this year. I still fail to understand why he'd go backhand-fivehole on that breakaway he got out of the penalty box when he had blocker shelf the whole way...but that's somewhat nitpicky. Eberle didn't score again, but again played a tremendously solid positional game and made a ton of excellent passes. He's just the kind of guy who never seems to have a bad game and that's why I like watching him play so much. I didn't know that Hopkins could shoot the puck like that...I don't think we've had an Oiler beat a good goalie that cleanly with a plain shot in a long time. He just made it happen...*SNAP*. Hopkins also made a really nice defensive stop in the first and generally had a solid game. These guys work together against solid opposition which is amazing to see at this point. The way they came out with so much confidence and nearly scored again right after #93's goal only serves notice that once these guys get in gear, it is very tough to stop them.
- A quiet but very effective night from this trio. I'm starting to worry if we're overplaying Smyth some...he looked really tired near the end of the game. With that said he still managed to skate into traffic and draw a penalty with the NYR net empty. #94 didn't get a lot of great offensive chances tonight, but he doesn't really need to get them to be effective. This was probably one of Horcoff's best games in quite a while. In addition to an utterly perfect screen on the Potter goal, he was big on the PK and really efficient with his skating. He's not overskating checks like he used to on so many nights and the best way I can describe his game right now is healthy and comfortable. Healthy for obvious reasons but comfortable because he's not being asked to play a role that overwhelms him.
- I must admit that Belanger is growing on me. He makes so many little plays that make a difference and you can tell he too is going to start scoring some before too long. I can see that it will often be tough to point to a specific instance in his games, but tonight the theme was that he was just always where you needed him to be. We haven't had a guy like that in a while. Magnus got a couple offensive chances and made his obligatory rush around a defenceman, but didn't have a lot of pop to his game tonight. In some ways that's okay because he's an effective regular already anyway (and this line's puck transporter. So far this year every line has one and that's making our D's job so much easier), but I wonder if he's not pushing himself hard enough as there's a lot of hockey player in there. I also still have an issue with the length of his hockey stick, as it really seems to be making him slower with the puck that he would otherwise be. Gagner was just okay in his first game back. He didn't make too much happen offensively and you could tell he has some settling in to do if he's going to be an RW. I wouldn't have minded at all if he'd played as 4th line C tonight, because some of his best games are playing with the bangers and crashers, but I see why he played where he did. Hopefully he finds his legs again quickly.
So, by my count we've already had two teams captains/coaches throw hissy fits over how bad they played against us after we stymied them...I like that a ton more than the "they're talented and getting better!" prattle that we get after someone beats us. Big tests coming this week...I hope we're ready. Scarily enough...we might just be. There's a glimmer there.