So that's two very frustrating games in a row for me. Obviously the one on TV was a little harder to take, but this one of course is an evening and a live event so it is always worse when a game like this happens. A lot of people are just going to declare that the Oilers played badly tonight...they did not. The game could be broken up into two rather clear halves. Pre-Major and post-major. This picture/time may be approximate as it also has to do when #35 went on a tear and ripped off a bunch of world class saves all in a row.
Before the penalty, we were playing a pretty solid game. The chances were coming reasonably frequently and it really looked like we'd win. 14 was going strong along with his linemates, Hemsky and Horcoff were tugging along a struggling Paajarvi, and Gagner looked to have found some of his stride along with Jones (who was having one of his best games as he often does against Nashville) and Belanger. Things looked really good in terms of attacking and we were generally keeping Nashville to the fringes despite being outshot. Our D were playing an aggressive but simple game. It was really looking like the recipe for a win.
Then Ryan Jones delivers a clean, solid, beautiful hit in return for the BS that Tootoo is busy perpetrating and it all goes down the tubes for some reason. We got that 5 minute major for bodychecking, but it specifically didn't hurt too much. This was because our continued aggressive play combined with some ref-guilt resulted in multiple penalties to the Predators. We couldn't take advantage of the less than 5-on-5 action and indeed our goaltender put on a display the likes of which you might see once a year, with a sequence of saves that were truly sublime.
I figured this series of events would simply boost our chances; especially after Tootoo took another penalty. For whatever reason we were suddenly useless. Every puck was just out of reach. Nearly every player overskated their check constantly. The puck was a hand grenade. It had nothing to do with getting shots...they were forcing absolutely everything from passes to possession to shots to dekes. It was just ugly. I'm sure some of this was the ice, but we also won 9-2 on that ice so that can't be all of it. I don't know whether we were suddenly tired and completely out of gas or whether we got completely off our game plan or what. It was just ugly after that. Despite some intermittent pressure, we never really contended for the game again. All the pop was gone. It's sad to see games like that because one individual effort could have taken it. One rush (we totally stopped rushing, btw. It was all dump and not much chase which DOES NOT WORK FOR US), one tip, one great shot....we had none of that left for whatever reason. It was very perplexing.
I'm not saying the game was in hand, but we were building a win for a decent part of this game. There's a comfort level there on most nights, which I say in the positive because it means we know we always have a chance.
Nashville didn't look good at all, save for a couple strong spurts and Weber/Suter. They just aren't very talented. Their goalie looked to have gotten hurt in the third and I'm fairly confident that if we could have tested his ability to go side-to-side we would have scored easily, but we just couldn't manage it.
I have to criticize Renney's use of the 4th line tonight. Hordichuk made some mistakes early, including having a man WIDE WIDE WIDE open in front and missing him because he couldn't be bothered to pick his head up and look, but #16 should have been out there in the second to cause some NSH player some grief. Instead...he comes out when we're losing in the third...NO.
I know we're going to lose games like this because we're far from a complete team as yet, but it is ones like these that make me angriest in many ways because they are there for the taking and we just give them away.
- He was all-world tonight. No doubt. At least 10 utterly beautiful saves and boy was he focused. He also prevented multiple scoring chances by positioning aggressively, pokechecking and/or stick lifting a couple guys and everything else. He was on tonight. His flurry of saves in the second period should have been more than enough to spur this team on to victory, but it was for naught. I hope he's not discouraged after this sublime effort.
- While he played fairly decently, you can really tell he's not all there. He struggled at the opposition blue especially and didn't have any of the offensive game in him that we're used to seeing. I can specfically recall when he joined a rush and got the puck in the slot but instead of attempting a minor drag and shoot that I'm sure he would have last year, he made a low percentage and low quality pass to Horcoff. The puck may have still gone in anyway after caroming over to Hemsky and resulting in a pile-up, but Whitney should have finished that play and showed no interest. Come to think of it, he didn't seem to be patrolling his own zone with much ferocity either. Disappointing effort from #6.
- I don't recall any particularly spectacular plays, but he had some strong moments moving and controlling the puck. I didn't see any defensive lapses from him tonight really, which is always a positive. I'm still not sure he's getting the rushes started as well as he needs to, and this was more evident in the second half of the game.
- There was a play in the third where Theo had a Predator lined up inside the blue line all the way from the bench. Theo of last year would have clobbered that guy and jumped back into the play...Theo of today backed off the hit and then got himself out of position somehow as well. Didn't move the puck well enough, didn't cream anyone and took that goofy penalty on Tootoo (which if he was having a great game would have been worth it just to make him look like the moron he is). Not a strong effort.
- He was really strong in the first half; aggressive, physical and solid on the puck. In the second half, he was too aggressive, missed his checks, bumbled the puck and created odd-man rushes in the wrong direction. I suppose to some degree that's a rookie playing with a struggling young partner, but he still has to be better than he was as the game went on. Still like his trajectory and his chances to be a factor for this team in the near future, but he can't have many more nights like tonight without getting sent to OKC.
Gilbert and Smid
- Might as well group these guys together. They were both pretty good. I loved Gilbert stepping up to make a couple nice hits. Smid could have been more physical but I understand that he's got to much minute-responsibility to be laying random beatings on people in scrums around the net. In some ways that is unfortunate but at that is because he's good.
- As I alluded to earlier, #16 had a bit of an off game. He missed that pass, missed some hits and didn't get Nashville off their game in any meaningful way. He also didn't get a chance to do so in the second period, but we can only really judge his on-ice play. #37 and #57 played pretty solid games, each both giving and taking some bumps as well as generating a couple of decent chances. They weren't really given much chance to influence the game, but they did what they could.
- Belanger played bad enough that at one point he got taken out for Lander. He really couldn't find any offensive flow or positioning and bobbled the puck or made bad passes on a number of occasions. Usually this is compensated for by strong defensive play and staying high in the offensive zone to get the puck back to his linemates but I didn't see that tonight. Jones came out like crazy, winning races, landing hits and generating offence. The first half was an excellent effort. I really didn't notice him after the five minute major for whatever reason. I don't know if he backed off or what, but the effectiveness and the jump that was carrying his line and giving Gagner room to work were gone. Sam certainly played one of his strong games despite that fact that his senseless giveaway and the subsequent NSH goal will probably be what he is remembered for. He got to the net with the puck strongly, made some excellent passes and dekes, chose well in terms of when not to shoot and showed a lot of speed. What's still missing? He's got zero finish right now. Sam of a couple years ago scores 2 tonight easily.
- I suspect there will be some negative reviews of Hemsky and Horcoff after tonight but I don't buy it. They played mostly strong games and put forth some serious effort to try and get another goal or two. Hemsky did more skating tonight than I've seen in quite some time and set some excellent plays up. Horcoff hit the holes, got open for shots and supported well. There was a problem though, as that #4 guy wasn't patrolling their left wing. I suspect that with him there, at least 2 goals come out of this line tonight. I know there were some giveaways and less than ideal plays, but many were the result of #10 and #83 having to do way too much of the skating and play both wings. It is really too bad Horcoff went weak-backhand on his breakaway...he had Lindback beat through speed and only needed to take a strong forehand shot. This was not exactly the seizure of opportunity that fans of #91 (and I count myself among them, but not as high on his offence as others) were hoping for. He was near-horrible in fact. He didn't get past anyone despite receiving several excellent passes in quality areas (he either had speed and backed off or never turned on the jets depending on the situation). He failed in close and lost the puck several times and also failed to get shots off when in the open. I maintain that part of this is because his stick is too long to make intricate plays with the puck or be a strong offensive player in close quarters. He can't get by on flying wide and making weak attempts at the net for long. You give #91 another chance next game, after clearly speaking to him about skating in different lanes, playing assertively, hitting people (he gave up at least 5 good hitting chances and 2 specifically resulted in ineffective D) and understanding that he's out there to produce offence. If he can't figure that out in half a game, he's back on the 4th. It is really a shame that both Linus and Teemu are hurt in OKC. I don' t think Magnus is actually ready for this. Too many fundamentals to work on.
- Eberle was the guy who nearly dragged us kicking and screaming to victory tonight. In addition to his goal, which was an excellent little play based on patience and shot choice, he generated several other excellent chances and just barely missed. He was the one constant and certainly could have gotten the job done given a couple small changes. Hopkins was just okay...he had one particularly bad shift in the second period where he got caught out too long, turned the puck over and nearly caused a goal. The thing is, he also managed to land a nice hit and make a goal-saving defensive play on the same shift. There wasn't a ton of fireworks from #93 tonight but he was fine. Smyth started strong but appeared to get very tired as the game went on. I can understand why, but this is something we'll really have to watch.
I think the important thing to take from tonight's game was the lack of discipline and distraction that shaped the play in the back half of this one. It isn't that we didn't have the talent, weren't prepared or didn't have the chances...we just got WAY off the plan and no one dragged us back there.