So the key game tonight was that the oilers came out early and were very aggressive. You don't often see that kind of attack from them early on in the game. I think there's something about playing Minnesota now that has this team riled, because they tend to come out with a lot of pop and they're slightly angry when they play the Wild. This is something that you don't see when they play a lot of other teams even division rivals like the Flames and Canucks.
Minnesota, while missing a bunch of its better players still didn't put forth a very strong effort. They were slow from the beginning and never really had much of a chance in this hockey game. The Oilers were very good, don't get me wrong, at least for the first couple periods. Some of this is on the Minnesota Wild though, for having what was a fairly bad night. If you look at their recent record, it isn't exactly surprising. So I'm Ggnna give them the Oilers a lot of credit for the way they started tonight as I noted earlier.
Nick Backstrom didn't have a very good hockey game but he was also beat by some very good shots and I think we have to give the Oilers shooters credit for what they were able to do. They took advantage of loose pucks and pressure situations to score some very nice goals. I'm specifically speaking of of course Jordan Eberle's goals and Lennart's goal. Ryan Smyth's goal was not the greatest in the world, but good on him being persistent and identifying the puck was still loose and tapping it off Backstrom's Skate into the net. The Minnesota goal wasn't anything to really be concerned about, as we had just killed off a major penalty of course, which I'll get into in just a minute, but the Oilers were playing good hockey at that stage and a loose puck came to Heatley and he took a very good shot which #35 couldn't really see. Despite eventually catching the Oilers in shots Minnesota, didn't really play a very strong name and I think if the score we a bit closer you wouldn't of seen a lot of the play we did in the late second and third periods.
And speaking of the refereeing in tonight's game I have seen few games refereed as badly as that one. The Oilers bore the brunt of some absolutely atrocious officiating in terms of the call on Petrell the call on Gagner and some other things that were missed including Anton Lander taking some abuse, Ryan Jones being hit away from the play, and some other plays that really should've resulted in power plays. I really don't like how NHL referees take such liberty when a team has a substantial lead, and if you paid attention at all to the Nashville-Columbus game tonight I'm guessing there were some referee-effects involved in that score that ended up going from a 5-2 Columbus lead to a 6-5 Nashville win. Columbus is a bad team but the same thing could've happened to us tonight with the way the calls were being made if our penalty killing was as bad as it was last year. If you look at the Petrell major, which wasn't even a penalty much less a major, you'll see that Petrell not only let up, but tried to keep since Zidlicky from going into the boards. He either caught an edge or launched himself into the boards, I don't know what's more embarrassing. If you were actually at the game, you would've seen Zidlicky talk to Petrell after the hit in what looked like a very understanding manner rather than an angry manner, so I think he understood what was going on. If you want to talk about 89's penalty, well Sam lightly tapped the Minnesota player on his arm, and then the Minnesota player'ss arms went up and the stick hit him in the face apparently. Somehow that resulted in a four minute minor penalty. Everyone at the game was quite confused by what exactly had happened on this play and obviously quite surprised that we wound up having to kill off a double minor. The Eager penalty was also not a penalty. As usual our pal Clutterbuck dove into the boards as he was gently tapped by #55. I think this penalty was almost worth it as the Oilers were doing a very good job of imposing their will and making Minnesota keep their heads up as they played. So even though I don't think there should've been a penalty, even if there was going to be one called I don't have that much of a problem with Eager taking it. I will however criticize Darcy Hordichuk for stupidly hitting the goalie on purpose and thinking he can get away with it.
In the end though despite the fact that all these penalties meant we had to keep our most dominant line off the ice, we did enough tonight to win and that's really what was important. I don't understand why Tom Renney won't break out Eberle and Hopkins or something to that effect during some of the extended penalty kills to keep them fresh. This wouldn't hurt the team and would keep the young guys moving, which I think it's very important in a game like that.
There can be no doubt that tonight the key was the kid line. From the very beginning, Eberle and Hopkins especially were playing a fantastic game, exhibiting great puck control and driving through the Minnesota defense. As with the Detroit game, the Minnesota defense and forwards had no answer for either 14 or 93. Hall started off the game a little bit slowly. He gave away the puck I will say about seven times in the course of a couple shifts including on a power-play where he wasn't really under pressure for any length of time. It was very odd to see him having this much trouble. He was also falling all over the ice. That's not a particularly unique occurrence with Taylor Hall, but he was doing it even more so tonight. If I were him I would really think about putting more edge on my skates. I don't see how he can continue to think that he's getting that much of an advantage from what appears to be not much hollow on his blade if he's going to spend the whole game including several chances to break away from the pack, on his butt. His penalty shot effort appeared to be more a symptom of him being tired than making a bad decision. I was surprised he didn't break away from the defender more cleanly when he had the initial chance quite frankly as he would usually make that into a cleaner scoring opportunity. On the penalty shot he really appeared to be tired and took what I would describe as a pretty futile shot on net. He had Backstrom beat if he went high and I really wish you'd consider going upstairs more often on those opportunities. The good thing was his missed chance didn't cost us much because as I noted his linemates were having an excellent game. Although Hopkins only managed one point he controlled the puck excellently in all zones. He kept it away from the Minnesota defenders very well, creating time for both 14 and 4. I don't know if there are enough superlatives to describe the way Jordan Eberle plays hockey. It is amazing the feeling you get when he has the puck and time, because you know he's going to score a goal. On his second goal, you knew he'd finish about both three seconds before he actually put the puck in the net. He had the time, space, and angle. The play might as well have been over. I can't believe how bad Nick Backstrom, one of the best goalies in the league looked on that backhand deke. That was gross. On his first goal he made a very nice pick off of an attempt to clear the zone by the Minnesota player, walked into the middle, fought off a couple of slashes, stickhanded just the right amount of time to get around the defender and finished. It was an absolutely beautiful, exceptional, and elite-level play. I maintain the Jordan Eberle is right now the best hockey player on this team. There is simply no other way to describe how valuable he is and how complete the game he brings is on any given night. He is simply excellent. That is not taking anything away from Hopkins, Gilbert or any of the others, but he is just that much better. I am still a little worried about Taylor Hall as he did not pass the puck as much as he could've tonight. He could have generated several more scoring chances and did not. This is the reason why Jordan Eberle did not get a hat trick and while unfortunate is not a severe problem and clearly did not prevent us from winning. That's the important thing and this line is the reason we won tonight.
The Smith, Horcoff and Gagner line did their job in most areas tonight; especially on the penalty kill as that was a very important part of the game. They did very well in clearing the puck out of their own zone unlike some others. On five on five they weren't as flashy and I know Smith scored that goal but the interesting part of that goal was that Smid and Gilbert were the ones in on the forecheck while Horcoff and Gagner covered for them at the blue line. This is not a bad thing and if it works I will take it. The main thing that this line did all night was simply to move the puck into the opposition zone and keep it there for a period of time. They did not allow Minnesota to generate offensive chances while they were on the ice. That in a lot of ways is all they had to do because our first line was so good, but on many nights that would not be enough. I hope they can improve to where they were earlier in the year and believe they will. The thing to watch for the rest of the season is that if we are competitive we need to monitor Ryan Smyth's ice time very closely so that he is not overplayed. This would be a disaster come the playoffs, should there be any. If we are going to talk about Horcoff in a little more detail, I say he played a marginally better game than he did against Detroit in pretty much every area. Gagner is still in my opinion not the right man for this line but he did his job to a decent degree tonight. I don't know why he isn't being more effective or dynamic in the offensive zone. Perhaps he's just trying to keep his game more simple. That's okay for now but I'd like to see him be more dynamic in the offensive zone and take more of his shots. He needs to play a little more like Jared Stoll would on that line.
- The worst line for us tonight was the third line. Ben Eager played a fairly solid game and he was the strength of that line. I don't think many people would have predicted that before the game. #55 hit a lot of people and won many races to the puck which was key to maintaining control of the play and the puck. I really liked how focused he was and that he went to the right spaces and generally did his job. As a bonus he also annoyed several Wild players and I must say that after the game as he was yapping at them and they were very annoyed I was smiling and chuckling. If you look at his linemates however, this story is not so positive. Ryan Jones had a very strange game. He bounced the puck off the metal pieces in the boards on three separate occasions. Once this generated a scoring chance but the other two times it generated turnovers. While he can't be blamed too much for this he can be blamed for being out of position on several occasions, missing chances to clear his own zone and not covering his man properly. He wasn't the worst member of this line however, as number 20 took that honor. He missed many chances to clear his own zone (especially on the PK), was out of position on several occasions and once again did not do anything in the offensive zone. Wait a minute, that's not quite true; he actually took a shot from the goal line that had absolutely no chance to score. He then skated away in frustration and confusion. I have said before that I do not know what is wrong with Eric Belanger and nothing tonight really changed. I just did not expect such a solid performer to be a constant source of disappointment. He plays a simple game that in the past has resulted in goals and I looked forward to watching him play it in Edmonton. Oh well.
- Anton Lander had a very solid game tonight. If you look at the way he skated, the physical contact that he made and the choices he made with the puck, it was all good. When Lander plays like this he reminds you that he is going to be fairly special at some point. Also Petrell played a really solid game until he was kicked out for his non-penalty. His goal was a great example of checking your man, winning a race and then taking an exceptional shot. Because he doesn't get a lot of good scoring opportunities you forget that #37 has a great shot that he showed in the preseason. He went roof on Backstrom with ease. It is great to see a guy like him have success because he does work hard. He is also smart and large which helps. Aside from the good goal he hit several people cleanly and played a generally solid game. Hordichuk didn't get a chance to do too much tonight other than take an incredibly stupid and unnecessary penalty. If he is not going to annoy the Minnesota players then he has no business in our lineup.
Gilbert and Smid
- Tom Gilbert and Smid played a really nice game tonight, which doesn't seem to be exceptional this year. The exceptional thing tonight was noted burst in to dominate the offensive zone and set up Smyth's goal. It is really hard to say anything negative when these guys are hitting, passing, shooting and defending so well.
Potter and Whitney
- Corey Potter also played a nice game. There were several instances in which he deftly separated the Minnesota players from the puck and made a play to one of his teammates. He's in the odd position of bailing out Whitney right now. #6 spent much of the night roaming, chasing the puck badly, and making iffy passes. I'd say he was a little bit better than lately but still really iffy. He refuses to shoot the puck or skate into the offensive zone. Potter was excellent on the PP, and it only really slowed when he wasn't on it any longer. The only bad thing #44 did really was that he nailed Taylor Hall with a shot, then after #4 had come back, almost did it again! OOPS!
Petry and Peckham
- Petry played a solid game in terms of his defence, but for whatever reason he struggled slightly on the powerplay point. It was the same sort of awkwardness as last game. Part of this might be his teammates playing to Potter's style, but that can only account for so much. Peckham was pretty average, which is an improvement.
- Khabibulin was excellent tonight and you knew it from the very beginning. You know when an Edmonton goalie is stopping Mr. Bouchard that it is a good night. The way he robbed him in close in the second period was stunning. He was so patient to out wait the shooter like that. He was aggressive when he needed to be as well, kept his pads flat on the ice and was two steps ahead of everything. Absolutely sublime performance. Shame it wasn't an SO.
Big win that we needed very badly. It really is unfortunate that things went the way they did in terms of having to kill penalties because this should have been a rout.