In a freaking shootout...
Driving home in the car tonight, I got to thinking that either I must be losing my brain, or the commentators were watching some other Edmonton versus Minnesota game that I was not aware of. There will always be disagreements...usually over nuanced things, but tonight there were some things said post-game that made me turn the radio off several times and wonder what exactly was going on.
I'd rate this as the third straight game that we simply placed in a sealed envelope and handed to the other team to open when they saw fit. The Oilers controlled more of the play in the first two periods than they did against Nashville, and did some really excellent things. It is interesting that someone remarked that they had been pushed around in the second period. I LOVED the way they finished the second and began the third in terms of being physical. They managed to knock two Wild players out of the game and sent a number more flying all over the ice. The first two periods were adding up to be one of our more physical games...then the tap was turned off for some reason.
I have a lot of strategy criticism to offer regarding tonight's game. It began with the puck drop...I would have started Hordichuk and got right down to business. I also wouldn't have effectively sat him down on the bench for the second straight game. Either find an offensive player you can dress, or play the guy. Late in the game, Renney had just sent out the Hopkins and Belanger lines, then with about 3 minutes to go, inexplicably double-shifted Hopkins' line despite the fact that the Horcoff unit had just had a strong shift. They didn't accomplish much of anything and looked quite tired. There was no reason to rush them back out when they were one Horcoff shift from a fully-rested shift with the game on the line. Then, Renney also played the third line AGAIN before the game was over. Moronic...In overtime, Jordan Eberle (who was our best forward AGAIN) didn't get a shift until the fourth line change (and who runs FOUR units in OT anyway???) and played with Ryan Jones...I couldn't believe what I was seeing. How he isn't out there with #93 right off the hop is beyond me. He only really got the one shift and wasn't able to muster anything. I'd argue with the SO choices on principle, but the fact is with the way the shooters performed we should have won anyway.
Even though these bad choices seem concentrated, they seemed to play a decent part in costing us the game. You should know that Kelly Buchberger was on the bench tonight and seemed to be very involved in all this, so I'm thinking it might be on him and not Renney, which would not surprise me as he's not exactly the smartest man they could have making decisions at that point. Either way, this is two home games in a row where the coaching staff has allowed their team to get stale as the game went on, despite two or three distinct rallying opportunities, and some of the blame must be laid at their feet.
As for the Wild, I remain incredibly unimpressed. They don't seem to do much of anything well other than tend goal and despite a whack of offensive talent they are not a dangerous hockey club for most of the game. It's very strange to watch. I was utterly gleeful watching Clutterbuck stagger around and the Oilers continue to push him around and ultimately force him to leave. It is so utterly satisfying to punish a guy who plays the game in such a wrong way. I still find it inexplicable that the referees call any penalties on his BS dives, as in the 1980s or early 90s, not only would these pathetic attempts to draw a call be ignored, he probably would have been sent off because he'd pissed off the ref. This kind of policing of dishonorable hockey players needs to be brought back. These guys deserve zero protection and should be punished for how they mock the game.
- During regulation and OT he was quite solid. The Brodziak goal looked bad, but I'm not sure you can really hang it on him. What you can hang on him is the difference between the SO win and loss. Koivu's goal was fairly good (although I'm still weirded out that #35 stretched when he had time to slide across), but the other three were pathetic. There's no excuse for the horrible leg-stick positioning on the Bouchard and especially Brodziak goals, and he had Heatley dead and still managed to screw it up. Not a good performance when your teammates get you some SO goals for sure.
- He's really not the same guy at the moment. Just like last game, he's got no offensive presence in terms of taking good shots or making passes down low. He's standing at funny angles all over the ice and is not positioning himself well. Lastly and worstly, I counted nearly ten times tonight where he went into the corner and either lost the battle for an easily winnable puck or gave the puck away. That's unacceptable for a rookie...much less the guy who should be at worst our #2 defenceman even with all the rust. Loved what he managed to do to Clutterbuck and hope it was intentional. Very Souray-style thing to do and came at just the right time.
- First of all, I really liked that he stepped up his physical game. He made a number of strong hits where I actually had to verify again that it was indeed #58 making the connection. On the other hand, his positional game suffered and he was often forced to chase rather than employ his smooth skating game and also didn't make a lot of very nice passes. Very hit and miss from Jeff tonight.
- Andy Sutton had the 2 nicest passes of the first, springing Ales Hemsky for a near-breakaway and hitting Hopkins with a lazer to set up our first goal. I don't know what they did with the real Andy Sutton but they can keep him. While Sutton's defensive play seemed pretty solid, the two plays that stood out for me were the massive hit he took behind our net (which should have resulted in a charging penalty) and a really stupid penalty he took in front of the Wild net when he (albeit fairly gently) crosschecked a Wild player to the ice. Such a weird game, but better than running Peckham-Teubert.
- I don't know what it is about being down to 3 players that brings out the best in Theo, but once again he was excellent especially late in OT after Smyth's penalty. There were times tonight where got caught standing still and watching the puck, but generally he was okay. I'd still have played Teubert instead.
- Great job on Clutterbuck before and after Whitney got the kill-shot in on him. JUST missed a huge shot at him just before he left the game. Defensively he was strong but what else is new. He also dropped down and got a couple decent offensive chances again which is always good to see. Also great on the late PK in OT.
- Ho hum, another excellent game.
- Okay, here's where this will probably get weird. I heard a lot of praise of Gagner tonight and some of it was absolutely effusive. I didn't see that from Sam at all. He certainly wasn't bad, but the guy couldn't get a decent shot off to save his life. Despite set ups from both 83 and 10, Sam was slow on the trigger and if he did get the puck away everything was either chest or wide. That's not a solid performance. He was also very hesitant when the puck wasn't on his stick, including on a rebound play set up by Hemsky in the third where he failed to score only because he stopped skating instead of getting to the area he needed to be in. Sam needs to be a bunch better than this in the offensive and offensive-neutral zones if he wants to be anything near a top six guy. I'm a fan, but this was far from a great night from him. Ales I found to be fairly average. He set up a decent amount of chances but didn't really drive much of the play himself and is currently struggling to get his patented drag-shot through defenders. I've never seen his shot blocked so many times as lately. If there are goat horns for this line tonight though, they have to go to Horcoff. He lost a ton of key draws tonight, thanks to the insane mentality of attempting the exact same approach even though he was getting beat cleanly every time. You have to trying something different...anything...when that starts happening. He did not. Minnesota's second goal sequence started because of an odd hesitation and failure by Horcoff to pick up his man at the blue line. He also had a number of sequences where he simply couldn't get the puck out of his own zone and had to have a linemate bail him out. Not to mention ANOTHER breakaway miss due to a poor shooting choice. Some of the issues weren't his fault entirely...for instance Gagner's bad positioning was requiring Horcoff to set up higher in the offensive zone to a point where he couldn't effectively connect on Hemsky's one-time passes, but #10 needs to recognize that and adjust rather than just plugging away. 10 and 83 need Hall back badly. He was the perfect linemate for them.
- This was one of Smyth's weaker games. He lost of lot of pucks in the corners for him, didn't really beat anyone with the puck, and looked visibly tired compared to Eberle and Hopkins. Some of this is on the coaching staff for overplaying him, but Smyth also has to be able to reach deep in games like this and help to gut out a win. Eberle as noted was once again the Oilers' best forward, scoring with what may very well be the best backhand in the NHL from his office and helping to set up another goal as well. I love that he takes winning and losing so personally and is so driven to getting the job done. He always demands more of himself. He had a few other chances and was just really good out there. Hopkins was a little less noticeable, but there are very few guys who could so seamlessly put away that pass that Sutton sent his way. He was also positioned perfectly. Great patience and moves to set up Eberle on what is effectively that same angled-pass play we've probably already seen 20 times this year. He did give the puck away a couple times, either in close or on passes and that is something he needs to watch out for. Teams are reading him in the defensive zone.
- The worst thing Ryan Jones did tonight was constantly get in the way. He disrupted a number of rush chances and offensive sequences by being out of position and generally awkward. Aside from that he was okay and did some nice things on the PK and in the neutral zone. I heard a lot of glowing review of Magnus after the game and I couldn't disagree more. While he tried some new offensive skating lines...he showed zero agility or ability to get around offensive forwards and create offensive space. He is still drifting WAY too far out of the play to cheat for defence, and this is costing him gap control so that he's then out of position and has to skate a bunch. For a positionally sound guy, he's on another planet right now and having to play nothing but catchup hockey. He got some shots away...but all weak and right at the chest. He's not doing any of the things that show up in his best games and that's very perplexing. It probably doesn't help that he's playing with Eric Belanger...who has apparently fallen down an elevator shaft. Watching Belanger early, he struggled offensively but made a bunch of subtle defensive things happen. He was bad in every zone tonight, never knew where he had to be and gave the puck away a bunch. Totally incomprehensible. He needs to see a sports psych or something because he's forgotten how to play the game and his disease is infecting other players.
- Good fight from Hordichuk and took/gave some solid hits in limited icetime. O'Marra looked slow and just okay positionally but also hit some people. Petrell was pretty good. I'd have considered moving him up the lineup at some point tonight.
So, there we are. Six game homestand is not off to a good start. No good.
*ADVISORY* There will not likely be a game report on Friday as I am headed to the airport very very early Saturday morning and will be in Maui until the 11th. Sorry guys but the beach beckons!