LMHF Report Webcast Link

10/30/11

LMHF Report - Game #8

EDMONTON 4

VS.

ST. LOUIS 2
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Seriously, this is so much fun. Even on an early Sunday where either afternoon or 6pm games are always slow starters for whatever reason and the fans are always a little bit out of it, this was absolutely awesome when we got going.

What I'll take from this game is that we can win with a seriously subpar defensive group even when playing a physical team...and that when teams have to open up and try to catch us, they are dead. The Blues realized part way through the second that they weren't going to squeak this one out and weren't generating enough solid chances. As soon as they tried to stretch out the play, we were rushing at them like mad men. It could easily have been 6 or 7 goals for us tonight.

To give some insight into how far the forwards have come...once Ales is healthy again, we'll have to sit someone and it may well be Sam Gagner...and we're not terrified. I'd greatly prefer it be Jones but that seems unlikely. The logical choice is Lander...but he sure is doing some nice things on the PK and in tough spots against tough players. We have some very very good problems right now up front.

They're certainly not perfect...but no team is at this point in the season. Most aren't also missing two of their very best players. What we are doing though is building a ton of confidence in the fact that we can make games go the right way for us. We have the ability to lock the barn door and wait for an offensive chance; or to push other teams into giving us one. In games where the refs haven't been a joke...we're drawing penalties. STL was allowed to get away with some serious liberties tonight, and we should have drawn a number of additional powerplays. That we didn't get them doesn't change the plays that should have drawn them.

We're obviously heading out on a pretty serious-looking road trip here...and this is both a massive challenge and massive opportunity. For once, we've taken advantage of a nice stretch of home games (even though we played some really solid hockey teams) and are in a position where we know we can run and now have the opportunity to announce our presence to this whole league. This is huge...and it's going to be a serious ride. If they went out and grabbed a #2/3 defenceman without sacrificing significant resources, I'd say they'd be totally ready to roll some teams. We shall see what is to come.

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Khabibulin

- Just another ho-hum night for #35 this year. The two goals he allowed were both fairly exceptional; Backes shot was not only perfectly placed but straight through Petry and the other goal was an ugly scramble. Everything else was gravy. Once again, focused and active are the words I'd use to describe Khabibulin which is something I just couldn't do last year. I can see how it'd be hard to focus through our last two years...but man, it's just a different guy there. He didn't have to be spectacular tonight, but there were two specific sequences in the third where he was money and kept our lead at 2. He allowed our inexperienced and thrown-together D to play a much more comfortable game. Lovely.

Petry

- Stepped right in and played a really solid game when we needed it badly. Aside from not playing Backes' goal very well (that's a must block), he was really good. The most noticeable thing he did tonight was grab the puck at around his blue line and skate it with authority into the opposition zone on multiple occasions. He also jumped in very nicely on Eberle's goal to pressure the STL defence into allowing a mismatch. He needs to stay and to play. Too good to sit when among this current crop.

Peckham
- We needed him to step up very very badly and for pretty much the whole night he did that. Aside from a couple shaky corner battles late, he made solid decisions with the puck and stayed in position most all night. His pass to set up Hall's breakaway was a thing of beauty...quick read, couple quick steps and fired it right onto Hall's stick. Awesome. Also did a really nice job in supporting Plante. We need more of this from Theo plus a whack of physicality.

Potter
- The Corey Power Potter Play rolls on...lovely little pass to Hopkins at just the right time to allow him to set up Horcoff for the goal. He generates the lanes and chances that more experienced defencemen haven't been able to provide us with. Tonight was a repeat of his other games...solid D positioning, walked the line in the offensive zone and intimidates opposing forwards trying to contain him. So steady. Lock him up before he commands 3 mil.

Plante
- He struggled...but struggled well enough. Unfortunately for Alex and for us, he's just not an NHL defender. When you watch him play, you'll notice that he spends way too much time worrying about having one hand on his stick and staring out at the play rather than getting involved in it. What he managed to do though was not have any ugly blow-ups and that certainly is worth something for a guy pressed into action like that against a pretty decent hockey club with some big, powerful forwards.

Smid
- Beautiful game. He was in superb defensive position the whole game and even excelled when necessity required him to be separated from Gilbert. As usual when #5 plays a solid game, he skated the puck beautifully to positions where he could make a strong and safe pass. This is the key to his game and when he's on he's tremendous at it. Awesome shot-blocking tonight as well.

Gilbert
- I remember one awkward sequence in our defensive corner that resulted in a giveaway. Aside from that...if you'd like to see what the definition is of a perfect game from a team's #1 defenceman, go watch the game over and observe Gilbert. WIth the puck tonight he was absolutely stupendous...every decision was good and most were perfect. He was everywhere on a night when they needed him to be huge. So glad to see him back to playing this way and there's zero reason he can't keep up his game this way because it's perfectly within itself.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- This crew got the job done very nicely for us tonight. I have to wonder if it is difficult for teams to transition from playing this line to playing Hopkins' line and then back again because it is so drastically different. Horcoff had himself a pretty stupendous game. His goal was a nice little read in a spot that has become a strong point of his game especially this year. When the play goes to the front of the net on the PP, Horcoff is either screening, driving or getting a stick on the puck. That's pretty much exactly what you need. He absolutely owned the faceoff dot tonight and seemingly out of nowhere is on a 7-game point streak. Second-best hockey of his career for sure. Smyth is doing what he does best; playing well and making it look incredibly awkward! Both goals were the result of him driving the net and went through Halak's pads. I won't complain though because it looks so much better than the super slow motion slapshot. I'm not sure what happened to him in the third, but that fluffed breakaway was just ugly...The thing that he and Horcoff have done though is brought a level of stability and responsibility to the defensive zone from their combined effort...it makes the D's job much easier. Jones was fairly decent tonight in that he won some battles and was physical. I'm still waiting for him to use some speed to get open, but perhaps this line just doesn't generate rush chances really.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- Great little play by Hall on the Horcoff goal driving through to distract the D...such good fundamental hockey. It is these things that make the difference between wins and losses. I'm guessing Hall actually goes home tonight pretty frustrated because he missed a breakaway (stop going backhand-fivehole Taylor...it's a low % move and you have a great forehand), an absolutely filthy juke-and-feed from Eberle (why whack at that rather than holding it for a fraction of a second as Eberle would have?) and just about scored the goal of the year after making a STL defender look absolutely stupid. The pass he made to set up Eberle's goal was stupendous...but it says something about a player when he's a big part in two goals and we're able to look and clearly say he should have had more. Eberle was Eberle...silly-solid and constantly generating offensive chances. You don't have to worry about him in an even more solid way than you don't have to worry about a guy like Smyth. I love how he's adapted so well to his role of helping control the point with Potter and there were several excellent examples of that puck exchange tonight. The thing about Eberle is he was actually frustrated with having not been able to shoot that goal he scored in...he's so demanding of and confident in himself that he thinks he should have shot that puck into the net. Love that guy. Hopkins obviously made an absolutely perfect read and pass to Horcoff for the goal (all while showing that the Hall and Potter pass options were still there), but what I liked about his game were the subtle offensive plays where he turned on the speed on even if he didn't get a good chance he took the puck to a safe area, his wicked-hard shot in the third period that just barely missed, and his subtle D that kept STL from getting several solid chances. Lovely effort from these guys tonight.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Gagner
- For a line that got no points tonight, they were pretty impressive. Sam pretty much turned off the giveaway machine he's been operating these past couple games. He got his slapshot on net and generated some rebounds, as well as making a great little move and read that was stopped by Halak in the third. He needs to build on tonight's performance. Magnus blew by several defenders and used his speed once again to keep plays alive in the offensive zone. He was also very good in the defensive zone. I understand he's got to be frustrated and you could see that in the third when he worked himself into a really nice chance, was stopped by Halak and hung his head for a time. The thing is, it hasn't impacted the other aspects of his game on most nights and specifically tonight. Poor Eric Belanger had a really tough game despite playing quite well. He got his head bashed into the boards twice, then got the most ludicrous boarding penalty I've seen in some time. I'd have forgiven him if he snapped on someone before the end of that game. Thing is...he was once again very solid on the defensive zone including a couple of absolutely key defensive breakups and got some pretty solid offensive things happen. He owned the dot too.

Eager-Lander-Petrell
- These guys right now are precisely what a fourth line should be. They're generating a really solid forecheck and some decent chances while not really giving up anything offensively. While Eager had a pretty solid game in terms of skating with speed and being in the right place, I actually thought he could have been better as he whiffed on a couple shots and missed some passing opportunities. Still a solid game, but I wonder why he doesn't seem to take wrist shots ever...Petrell again was super solid defensively, hit when he had the chance and played his position wonderfully. Lander? Again, broken record. In position, took beating, moved puck forward. Excellent job from this crew tonight.

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The thing I think I like most about this team right now is their attitude. They are saying they saw this coming. They are very very demanding of themselves. They are very calm about things. The young guys and the veterans are on the same page and enjoying themselves. This is what the beginning of special teams often looks like.

10/27/11

LMHF Report - Game #7

EDMONTON 2

VS.

WASHINGTON 1
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Okay. It is time. We have arrived. Re-build over. We do not suck anymore and it is time to win.

Some people will be discouraged and chalk tonight's game up to things like luck...naw. Good teams win games like this. They find a way. They win despite segments of their lineup struggling to score. They win even when they don't dominate.

What a great feeling. I don't care that it was a low scoring and special teams heavy kind of game. We beat the last undefeated team in the league. We beat Alexander Ovechkin. We beat the mighty Capitals. Everyone in now on notice. Apparently there were an absolute ton of scouts in the building tonight...I'm guessing they were trying to figure out exactly what's going on here. The birth of one hell of a hockey team is what's going on here.

Also, I've figured out what has happened with our goaltending. You see, when Nik went to jail in Arizona, he was visited by former Vezina Trophy winner Jim Carey, who was able to dispose of him through some sort of Face-Off style procedure, and having rehabilitated his brain through extensive sports psychology work, returned to the NHL impersonating Nik Khabibulin to dominate once more. What a story and what luck for us!

Let there be no doubt that the Caps are an excellent hockey team. Only through seeing them live can you appreciate some of the finer elements of their skill. The way they float to the dangerous areas and always have a backwards passing option in the offensive zone is just incredible. They are patient, fast, can fire the puck and are dangerous at all times. With all that said, I think they're still decently beatable. If they face a squad that reads the play really well, and is able to think through their D system and adjust, there are a lot of passes that can be picked off. It is also possible to frustrate them and get them to stop skating if you don't play into their game. Tonight we forced the Capitals to use their sticks where they would normally use body position or skating. Our strong effort gave us enough powerplay advantage time that we scored enough goals and didn't allow Washington to get into a groove. We really did some good things to them and they couldn't cope for some time, especially in the second.

There we some very good efforts tonight, and some not so good ones. Rather than being disappointed we didn't play perfectly...such as being outshot and not scoring on the 5-on-3 or that our bottom three lines still aren't doing anything, be glad that we won without all that.
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Khabibulin
- What can you say really? On the only goal he allowed, he appeared to be interfered with and the rest of the night he was active, focused and ridiculously solid. He stared down Ovechkin several times and made some great saves. Even on the bar-rattler with little time left, I'd argue he took away everything else. He was never shaky and made some absolutely stupendous side-to-side saves. The crowd chanted his name at the end of the game, then when he was announced as first star. He acknowleged the applause and that was appreciated. What a start. He looks like a different man.

Potter
- Sign him right now to an extension. Right now. On the plane, draw up a deal and sign him. The guy has been mind-boggling and tonight was no exception. His D was excellent. He managed to carry around Theo Peckham all night and ran the powerplay point like a seasoned veteran. His shot on Eberle's game-winner was an absolute thing of beauty that I as a former defenceman just marvelled at. He took the pass, found his lane, shot hard and low to the perfect side (that shot either goes in or goes to Eberle. all day long that is a goal either way.) through a screen with an open Eberle waiting for the puck. Absolutely perfect. Before that he'd made an absolutely gross slap-pass to Eberle who then set up Hall for a beauty. This guy isn't just surviving, he's playing like a star back there for a team that needed to find a guy like him so badly. Just an amazing joy to watch.

Peckham
- Pretty much the opposite of Potter unfortunately. I really like Theo...but he's been terrible and tonight was no different. The gift-wrapped second period giveaway pass to Ovechkin was just the most obvious point. He also took an early penalty, didn't impact the game physically, bobbled the puck a bunch and didn't make many good plays in his own zone where he needs to be effective. I don't know what's wrong with Theo but he looks like a totally different hockey player as well. Sit him. Petry needs to play tomorrow.

Gilbert
- He had a very quiet but very effective game. You can't really point to anything specific that I can recall, but there were really no mistakes from him tonight.

Smid
- I liked what he brought tonight; especially getting in the face of the Capitals forwards and even his elbow that resulted in a penalty. You do what you can against a team that good and Smid has become the kind of player that stays in the right position and never gets beat on anything weak. The only thing I'll dog him on is that I think it was him that missed the slapshot chance on the empty net.

Barker
- Probably his best game tonight. There was a play near the end of the game where the Capitals forecheckers were expecting him to make a panic clear and he just sat there calmly with the puck for a while...just a brilliant little play that makes the difference in one-goal games like this. He also got his shot on net and near the net several times, made some excellent little passes and played physically. He seems to be able to cross-check the hell out of people and not get called for it...which is essentially art for a defenceman. Came up pretty big when we needed him to very badly.

Sutton
- There were times tonight where I almost liked Andy Sutton. Watching him throw one Capitals player into another not once but twice was one of the funnier and more impressive things I've seen. He didn't make a lot of good passes...I think he needs a new stick because even when he has time he just doesn't seem to be able to work his correctly. The penalty at the end was pretty bad...there's no reason to get your hands up there at all. He had position and just needed to make a good, solid hit. Ugh...

Eager-Lander-Petrell
- Once again they played a nice, effective fourth line game. They seem to be very good at it. I was a little surprised that we didn't see more of Eager because you can certainly get the Capitals off their game through a distraction such as the kind he can provide. Petrell was once again extremely solid positionally, used his size to his advantage and contributed to the PK. He plays a broken record sort of a game and there's nothing wrong with that at all. Lander had fewer good moments in this one than he's had in the past couple games in that he didn't show a lot with the puck. He also didn't get beat, which is a plus but it seemed like he could have done more even in limited time. Good work on the PK though.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Gagner
- Sam gave the puck away all night tonight, and not even trying to make plays most of the time, he was just bad. I think I counted around 10 giveaways from #89...which is totally unacceptable. He too seemed uncomfortable with his stick as he was fiddling with it between stoppages in play, but his reads are off, he can't see the passing lanes and his timing is horrible. Until he gets back up to speed, Sam either needs to be the fourth line C so Lander can go play #1 minutes in OKC, or ride the pine entirely. I actually like what Gagner brings when he plays on the fourth line, and have found in the past that it helps get him going. Couldn't hurt. Belanger was really steady defensively and especially in the third period. There were a couple times where he swooped in and skated loose pucks to safety as I'm not quite sure anyone else on our squad could. He's definitely making a difference for us even if he's not showing up on the scoresheet. I am a bit perplexed as to how useful he is on the PP...I don't see it at all. Paajarvi wasn't really a big factor tonight. I can recall him skating some pucks in decently well but he really didn't make any big plays that I can recall. There's nothing particularly wrong with this but I'm betting people will make a big deal out of it. This line actually had some solid shifts early on and seemed to be a tough match for Washington, but couldn't capitalize before the special teams parade started. I agree with getting Magnus off the PP as he's just not cut out for it right now (though that doesn't mean I like the 94-20-89 unit either...yuck)

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- Smyth looked tired again...but saved his most focused and determined efforts for the defensive zone and the PK. That's where he's making a huge difference right now. He did set up a couple chances that Jones and Horcoff missed...but he wasn't effective on the powerplay and couldn't get any kind of transition game going. Horcoff did what he tends to do in games like this...miss some decent offensive chances, put up a great screen to help create a goal (Eberle's) and play really solid D. There were much fewer turnovers from him tonight and it really looked like he bore down. I'd say this was one of Jones' better games as his positioning wasn't so bad, he landed some hits and kept up to his linemates. I'm not sure where his loose-puck-chasing speed has gone exactly though...that seemed to be his trademark play last year and he's missed chances at it so far including tonight.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- I'm getting to the point where I wonder what else can be said. These guys had their hands full in terms of keeping up in the defensive zone tonight and certainly allowed some extended possessions, but again they bent without breaking. In the offensive zone...I really don't think any team can contain them when given even a little time and space. The Potter-Eberle-Hall goal (which saw #93 touch the puck before that) was a thing of beauty which we could have seen at least two more times tonight. They also set up that diagonal line play I talked about after last game and Hopkins made an absolutely sick pass through that could have been banged in. The Eberle goal was the result of a sustained effort and again, Hall touched the puck before Hopkins and Potter. These guys are playing the game in the offensive zone at a level I haven't seen live from any Oilers before. Even on quiet nights they do what they did tonight. They all have 9 points now...just wow.
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I'm struggling to finish this tonight but boy was that ever great. Winning these games rather than the inevitable disappointed feeling we've left the rink with for the last several years is so satisfying. I gave a pretty huge fist-pump after this one was done. Can't wait to see these guys play again. It is a new day.

10/25/11

LMHF Report - Game #6

EDMONTON 3

VS.

VANCOUVER 2
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It is so much fun to care again.

It's been really hard these past few years for someone who wants the home team to win so badly and doesn't particularly believe in "rebuilds". The thing is, if you threw yourself into a game like tonight, you would always be disappointed. The missed chances would come back to haunt you. The team would allow bounces, miscues and panicking to beat them. Not so tonight, and possibly not so again for a long time. There will of course be nights where we lose games, but not without a fight, and not with the utter hopelessness that has been present until recently.

Tonight for a few minutes against last year's Stanley Cup losers (WOOOOOO!!!! I mean...LOOOUUUUUUSSSSEEEERRRRRRRR) we were absolutely unstoppable. We took off and came at them in waves. It was a semi miracle that Vancouver wasn't down 4 or 5 goals after that outburst. To watch our guys rock and roll like that was one of best sights that ice has seen in years.

The only reason we were able to reach that point is that our entire team weathered a rather vicious storm in the first period. The Canucks threw everything they had at us and we gave them absolutely nothing. There could be no honest whining from the Canucks coach about them playing horribly in this one. That was an impressive period and if we had been able to keep 6 healthy defencemen, would have meant that this becomes a 4 or 5 goal win for our squad. The Canucks were on the ropes badly.

The third period was certainly a trial by fire for many of our players, and I have to credit Renney for properly realizing that the path to victory tonight required the kids to keep playing a whack of minutes. Staying aggressive for most of the game made sure we got the win tonight.

We can certainly face the Canucks with a different look this year, as we can finally bite back when they play their typical, classless game. We absorbed a lot of punishment tonight but it did not distract us from our game plan. Getting popped didn't change what our players were out there attempting to do on the ice where it has in the past.

I'm going to take it pretty easy on the defence tonight. They were in it up to their necks and certainly made some mistakes that could have been bad...but they bent without breaking and gave every last bit of sweat they had to this game. It is tough against any NHL team when you lose your #1 Dman early in the game, but against a pesky rival with a lot of speed it is usually fatal. It wasn't pretty, but they found a way.

I actually prefer beating the Canucks to the Flames, because as I've covered before many many times, I really really don't like their Edmonton-based fans. This one felt great, and especially because it was our young guys that came out and took it to the Canucks.
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Khabibulin
- Before he allowed the first goal, he was utterly stupendous. He was once again active, engaged and clearly fired up for this one. He had a couple sequences including the key one in the second period where he was so locked on it was amazing. An unfortunate stick that directed Cody Hodgson's shot into the net threw him off his groove a bit though, and to be honest he fought the puck pretty hard for the rest of the game. He gave up a giant rebound then overplayed the puck to allow the second goal, and made similar plays down the stretch that thankfully didn't cost us. I'm very interested to see how he rebounds next start.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- These guys showed tonight that they can play some amazing hockey against a strong opposition. Vancouver had no answer for these guys all night, as they drove possession and created an absolute ton of chances. Eberle's goal was one of the best wrist shots you'll ever see and he was clearly incredibly happy to get it. Hall made a fabulous read and pass to set it up as well. 14 and 4 were pretty locked in tonight, with 93 often deferring to a support role (and playing it beautifully, this is a complement about his hockey sense not a slight). The second goal looked like a replay of several plays we've already seen from that line this year. Either Eberle or Hall had a wide open net and Hall made no mistake. I'm still surprised they didn't score on the 4-on-1 after Bieksa made the world's stupidest pinch, but that actually revealed one of the only troubles these guys sometimes have...they get aligned horizontally across the ice sometimes and don't have any depth to their attack. They'll find this soon enough, which only means they're going to produce more. It cost them on both that rush and in the third on the play where Eberle had no angle and shot it into Schneider's glove. The pass that Hopkins made on that play was just amazing. I'd actually like to commend 93 on his defensive and neutral zone efforts tonight. He was in such good position and made great stops and poke plays to disrupt the Canucks. He played an every zone game for the whole game. Hall took hits and it only focused him more. He was flying around the ice and is really looking for his linemates right now. I heard Eberle was angry to the point of expletives after the game regarding his missed chances...you have to love a guy who is nearly PPG and is angry at himself for not being better. What we are watching here is truly something special. 3 complete players playing hockey on a level we haven't seen in at least 20-some years at a very young age...it is something else on nights like tonight when they're really tested.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- I'm a little conflicted on what to say about these guys tonight. On one hand, their absolute results look pretty solid as they logged a ton of minutes and did well to keep the Canucks top guys from hurting us too badly despite the situation on D. On the other...Horcoff for one missed a whole ton of passes in the first, gave the puck away several times late, and lost a ton of faceoffs. He didn't look right tonight, but went to the right place and scored a very similar goal to the triple OT goal vs. San Jose several years ago. Smyth looked very tired and slow most of the night. He didn't seem to be able to forge past the Canucks D very much at all. Again though, he makes the key play behind the net to set up a huge goal. Jones worked hard to keep things moving in the right direction, but tipped a puck into his own net and missed his check on several occasions. SO these guys were kind of all over the place tonight. I think it showed why it is so important that they get Hemsky back and get him on this line...they need someone to do more of the puck work and add some dynamic play. In the meantime...I'd try a split of Eager and Petrell in Jones' spot...but then again I'm crazy.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Gagner
- Sam was pretty bad early on...there's no getting around that. He made a bunch of weird passes that didn't connect or were picked off, and was making some really strange skating/turning decisions. His game improved as things went on until he got hurt, but 89 needs to put some work in before he's ready. He honestly looks overmatched on this team at the moment. Magnus was playing a decent game in the first and then got absolutely pasted on his typical board rush. I haven't seen anyone catch him on this play yet this year...and it wasn't pretty. After that play, there was a pronounced back-off in 91's game, which is not good because he's already not the most in-your-face drive-through-people guy. He did play a solid defensive game and maintained strong position, but really didn't use his speed in the same kind of way he has for most of the year. The one guy on this line who was pretty impressive was Belanger. His defensive positioning was excellent, he skated many pucks to safety and really took charge in his late shifts when others were panicking like crazy. Big effort from 20.

Petrell-Lander-Eager
- These three played an excellent fourth line game. Eager, despite the two penalties was effective on the forecheck and moving the puck down the ice as well as getting in the Canucks' face just enough. They hate him and it throws them off. He also got in some hidden elbows and stick shots, which are usually the exclusive tool of the Canucks in abusing our squad. No longer. 57 and 37 both played strong games on their line, on the PK, and when they were elevated to play with Belanger. Petrell specifically made some absolutely tremendous blocks, landed several hits and was seemingly always in the right position. Maybe he won't need to be sent down...could be he's learning on the job. Lander really stepped up as well and once again, took a beating and kept going. We seem to have rounded up a bunch of really tough young forwards.

Gilbert
- For most of the night GIlbert was excellent. He had a few giveaways as all the defencemen did tonight, but he got it done. You could certainly see that he was somewhat out of his comfort zone after not being able to play full time with Smid.

Smid
- He made some great plays including a huge breakup play late in the game to prevent a goal after a puck hit the ref's stick and went to Hansen in front of the net. 5 seems to step up in these Vancouver games so it certainly is not surprising but it is definitely impressive.

Sutton
- It was a strange mixed bag of a game for Sutton. He was so tired by the end that he was getting knocked around in utterly embarassing fashion. He actually won some races that mattered and moved the puck okay at other times. He also defused a couple situations where the Canucks would have gotten some cheap shots in against us in the past. There were also a couple solid hits but also some nasty giveaways. I don't know what to say...he had to play too much and did okay with it. His attempt at defending Burrows in the third might have been the saddest thing I've ever seen an NHL defenceman do. It was like watching a horrible curve ball hitter take the worst swing of his life and smash his face into the ground.

Barker
- At times it was ugly...he sort of skates into pinches with caution and tends to be too late to do much of anything. Thankfully on the most dangerous 2 of these plays tonight, he had enough sense to take the body. He also made some solid outlet passes and was okaya on the powerplay.

Whitney
- Dammit....

Potter
- Honestly he made more mistakes in this game than in any other he's played for us...but still put forth a tremendous effort. Amazing to see that he was the TOI leader tonight but he was indeed everywhere, moving the puck, blocking shots, hitting people, it was pretty terrific. Specifcally, he made an excellent little play to get the puck to Hall, who then got it to Eberle for the first goal. I heard a variation on this on an old Beta tape from the 1988 playoffs...."THANK GAWD FOR COREY POTTER!"
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There were moments tonight where it really felt like we'd arrived and I'll tell you what...if they find a way to beat Washington and end their winning streak, it's officially on in this town. At that point, management must go out and get a defenceman and get this show on the road. You cannot waste what these kids are doing and the efforts we're getting from vets right now. It's falling into place people.

Smid great defensive stop late

Potter lovely play to Eberle goal

10/22/11

LMHF Report - Game #5

EDMONTON 2

VS.

NEW YORK 0
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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!
-----------------

Khabibulin
- 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.

Sutton
- 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.

Barker
- 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!

Potter
- 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.

Whitney
- 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.

Gilbert
- 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.

Smid
- 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.

Petrell-Lander-Eager
- 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?

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- 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.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- 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.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Gagner
- 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.

10/20/11

LMHF Report - Game #4

EDMONTON 1

VS.

MINNESOTA 2

In a freaking shootout...
-------------------------

Sorry in advance for the shortness tonight guys...I'm exhausted today for some reason and this will be a little less in-depth than usual.

Well, that was pretty tough to take. It's bad enough to lose that way when you don't play very well...but tonight we put forth a pretty solid effort and came up short. We deserved a win and didn't get it. It wasn't luck, but inches and some coaching decisions that cost us tonight. We were very very close to having a very good game.

I have to call out Tom Renney's decisions in the third period tonight. Not playing the kids and not trying to make this 2-0 was a bad move that ultimately played a part in costing us the game. They weren't lighting the world on fire, but they also weren't playing badly and had generated some excellent chances.

We obviously hit some posts tonight which stinks...we made some really strong plays and did not finish. On one hand that's upsetting as we need to focus and make the most of these...on the other...we are certainly generating more than I thought we would at this point.

Our team is playing solidly defensively as a five man unit right now. We kept Minnesota to the outside of our zone for most of the game, even on extended possessions and that is impressive. We'll need to keep that up while finding a way to improve our transition game.

Offensively...well...we're seriously overdue...but so were the Generals right?


Smyth
- He played a solid game other than that stupid goaltender interference penalty that negated a dangerous looking rush. Lots of solid plays, passes and checking. Continued to have an edge which is certainly something we need to see from him.

Horcoff
- Also played a solid game until late in the third when he made some fairly perplexing puck decisions. Horcoff seems to be healthy and that's making a big difference right now.

Jones
- Much better game from him tonight. He wasn't getting caught gawking or standing still and moved into much better offensive positions. I'm still looking forward to him going down the lineup some, but he held his own tonight.

Hall
- Not one of his better efforts as he had limited rushes and wasn't all that great at puck retrieval in the corners. He still set up Eberle and had a couple dangerous shots, but the fact that he's ill showed somewhat (and not just in his goofily unshaven look).

Eberle
- The poor man can't buy one right now. He was given a gift by Hall and couldn't cash, made a great little play late in the second and caught jersey, is just missing shots and no one could finish his passes tonight. I'm worried he's getting a little down on himself...he even changed up his shootout move and missed because he didn't go high like usual. Jordan's still playing some excellent hockey, but he needs to see some positives right away or we might be in for a prolonged slump.

Hopkins
- Not his best game, but he got a couple chances and broke up some plays in the defensive zone. Good to see he can contribute even when he's not on fire offensively.

Paajarvi
- Really liked his game tonight because he used his speed so well. Beat every defender he had to on the rush and kept the puck in the offensive zone with beauty reads and pure speed on at least 5 broken plays. A really veteran-looking effort from Magnus tonight.

Belanger
- Speaking of can't buy one...hits goalie pad...post...the SO disaster...it was a painful night for him, but he played some very good hockey, showing a lot of speed and adapting to the position of the swedes better than in the other games.

Omark
- Very solid game from Linus as part of a very solid line. Omark made some really veteran decisions late in terms of either dumping the puck or putting it on net when that was appropriate. Also set up a couple glorious chances for Belanger and Paajarvi that just weren't cashed. This line deserved much better tonight.


Eager
- I continue to be impressed by Eager. In addition to his keeping the Minnesota agitators occupied, he broke up a strong minnesota rush with a nice backcheck in the first, and got himself into good offensive position many times. I hope he's growing as a player and we don't see a regression, because he's very useful right now.

Lander
- Gave it his all in what might be his last NHL game for a while. Some really good offensive and defensive efforts, and also took a beating and kept at it. He'll be back soon and for a long time.

Petrell
- Simple and effective defensive game, as usual.

Whitney
- Showing really well in his return so far. Tonight he played a focused and sound defensive game with some well timed and judged jumps into the rush. Some of the dynamic offensive skills aren't back just yet but the fundamentals are there.

Potter
- Just keeps on impressing. Despite some small signs of nervousness early tonight, he settled right back in and played quite well.

Gilbert
- Aggressive physically and offensively tonight...another guy who probably should have scored. He gave the puck away a couple of times but other than that was excellent.

Smid
- Skated the puck out of some really difficult spots flawlessly and played a solid, physical game.

Sutton
- Quite good tonight actually, as he made some good puck choices other than 1 pass to absolutely no one, played physically and kept things sane around the goalie.

Barker
- He's playing like a very talented guy with absolutely zero confidence. He's getting by, playing simple with checking and some decent passing, but that's nowhere near all that he is. Good enough tonight.

Khabibulin
- The best I've seen him for almost the whole game tonight. He was aggressive, loose and active the whole game. I didn't think Minnesota had a chance with him playing like that, which is what made it all the more shocking to see him leave his five hole exposed with 2 seconds to go by cheating to the other side of the net with one leg and not covering with his stick...we found a way some how. Other than that 2 seconds, he was sublime.
-------

Another thing that didn't help us at all tonight was the pathetic reffing. We should have drawn at least 4-6 extra powerplays with the hard work we were doing and got nothing. It was pathetic right down to that moronic linesman screwing up so many icing calls.


Frustrating night guys...this team should have at least 4 wins by now.

10/17/11

EDMONTON 3

VS.

NASHVILLE 1
----------------

*I almost forgot to add this* In what was nearly another freakish injury that only the Oilers could suffer...as the oil derrick was being raised to the rafters, something went wrong and it went swinging into the bench. Only quick thinking and players either getting out of the way or stopping it with their hands stopped someone from likely getting hurt. No idea what happened but boy were those ever a few tense moments as it wobbled up to the roof.

Alright, I'm hoping that through this report and the subsequent discussion in this thread that we can figure out exactly what went on tonight. I'm torn between two possibilities: that the Oilers were simply taking their time and waiting to be dominant in the third period, or were rather average for two period then simply played a little bit better and Nashville was bad most of the game. Which was it?

The thing is, and we've been on the wrong end of this way too often, sometimes good teams just lay in wait. They play iffy, within one or two goal hockey for 2 periods, or maybe even 50 minutes, then they crank it up and beat you before you knew what happened. We had a string of about 9 consecutive shifts where our top 3 lines battered Nashville in wave after wave like they'd just arbitrarily decided to crank up the volume. It was something else to watch because those lines aren't even the best we can throw out there and they sure looked good for a while. We'd also managed to keep ourselves in the game to that point and allow Nashville about 1 grade A scoring chance the whole game. That's not something I'm used to. The evidence seems to be pointing to the fact that we might actually be starting to become a good hockey team...scary I know.

As I watched, I kept thinking that maybe Nashville is just horrible. They were indeed missing Erat and Fisher, but the other skilled players they have, as well as their pests like Tootoo (who I didn't even realize was playing until seeing him getting ready for a faceoff in the third period) were completely invisible. We certainly negated them to a great extent tonight with an excellent puck-control game from many of our forwards, but did we really outplay them or did they just have absolutely nothing? I kept expecting our lack of offence in the first and second to bite us in the butt, but then there's the 2-1 and we're not letting up...what happened?!?!

The D were pretty good in one of the bigger turnaround games I've seen in some time. Looks like having Petry in on Saturday might have been enough to get us the win. They were not superstars, but they made the plays they needed to and really only got beat badly once (and even that was on a good choice pinch by Gilbert that caught a bad break).

Our forwards in the third period were simply something else. I could watch most of that any night of the week. The scary thing is, there are still a bunch of guys stuck on zero. We have at least 4 guys who are due for a breakout. That means that if we can hold the line on D (and with Whitney coming back the chances of that improve greatly), we should be able to string along some wins.

It is true that we're still not scoring a lot of goals and that maybe finishing is a bit of an issue for this team at present, but you saw the pieces of the tumbler start to click into place tonight. Things started happening with lanes and passes and angles and it looks like the door is about to swing WIDE open. This could get very fun in a big hurry. Here's hoping that third period was just the start.
-------------

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- For two periods these guys were the main positive piece. They weren't setting the world on fire, but they were moving the puck well and getting decent chances. Eberle specifically should have scored before the 40 minute mark. I really hope he's not getting frustrated and is able to take solace in the fact that aside from plays he's forcing to try and make offence, he's still playing excellent hockey. He's moving the puck, skating well and getting in position for goals. Once he gets just one (which is why they tried to feed him with the EN and Hall gave him a bit of a pick me up chat on the way to the bench), he's going to get a bunch because he's still ahead of just about every play. What Hall did much better tonight was add more side-to-side skating to his game, choose better shots, give Hopkins more of the puck carrying duties, and used his speed in the offensive zone to make puck retrievals rather than wasting it on skating down the wing and taking harmless shots. It was great to see him get the powerplay goal on a sublime feed from Hopkins after a great shot-sell with Horcoff in position to screen, but it was actually more important that he was keeping plays alive in the offensive zone and making passes to his two gifted linemates, This is one of the things Hall can to at an absolutely elite level and yet sometimes he gets away from it. I hope he sticks to it. When it comes to Hopkins, I've come around fast. Even though he wasn't spectacular in the same way as the other night, he looked so much like he was in the right place. NSH really adjusted to cover him and it just didn't matter at all. He made the plays anyway. He nearly forced his way into goals at least twice and made some excellent little defensive plays. I knew it would take some time to see what this guy has, but didn't think it would go this fast and this obviously. Make no mistake, Hall and Eberle will be excellent, but I think Hopkins is the first guy I'm looking at and saying "he'll be a 100 point man. Period". He just pulls the play into him and makes things happen. Awesome that we have a #1 C.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Omark
- Belanger seemed to pick up a lot more of what the Swedes want to do on the ice tonight. It's great to see he can adapt quickly and go to the right positions and lanes. He's certainly not operating at that skill level and never will, but he did what he could and provided adequate support. Magnus was able for the first time this season to really crank up his skating and drive the net a couple times which was great to see. I think he's overdue for some goals at this point and will do some good things very quickly. Omark had his best game of the season. Aside from two very short one and a half shift stretches where he was a little iffy and got pushed around a bit, he was just excellent. There is no one besides him on this hockey team who can do what he did to Weber in the corner in the first period. Watching a man that small take Weber to school and make plays like that was just absurd. Then later on he makes a through the legs saucer pass to almost set up a goal, gets an excellent one-timer off, and makes a few other really excellent plays and at least two very solid safe dump plays in the third period. The man gets the little things right.

Eager-Lander-Petrell
- Ben Eager's first game as an Oiler was a positive for sure. He skated well, tried to be physical even if the chance didn't really arise, should have drawn a penalty and held up on two occasions where he could have taken a penalty (one a hit he had lined up but the player was in a vulnerable position, the other a play where he'd been wronged and though about kneeing the guy in return). I liked what I saw from him to the point where I would have given him a shift or two with Smyth and Horcoff to see if that would work. His speed and style is more suited to them than Jones. Lander held his own for sure. I think it is a foregone conclusion that he's soon headed to OKC, but he is certainly not making glaring mistakes or looking out of place; he's just not quite up to speed yet and thus can't seem to create much. Petrell is doing his job and made some good defensive stops and a couple hits tonight, but he's not finding the extra gear he needs to find if he wants to stay. You have to be a very very good specialist to have the job he's auditioning for in the NHL, and he's just a good one.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- Let's start with Jones and I really hate to be the guy bagging on him because I'm not a stats guy and that's who was all over him last year, but I have to be honest and say he's making way too many mistakes out there. The most glaringly obvious ones are the numerous times tonight where he got caught standing still as the puck passed him and he wound up WAY out of position, usually at our defensive blue line. He also make a huge mistake late, sending a free puck up the boards from behind his own net and allowing NSH to set up the attack. He made this same kind of play, always while he had time to make a better one, on a few occasions tonight. He also wasn't in good enough offensive position to take advantage of the game Smyth and Horcoff were playing. Sure he called for the puck a bunch (you could really hear him yelling out there) and it is good that he wants to be involved like that, but he was a stride off the rush and couldn't capitalize on too much of anything. He's too impatient with the puck and also isn't hitting people. I really don't want to be this negative, but I'm not seeing a lot of good from him. I'd also like to address the EN goal, which nearly gave all of us heart attacks...why Smyth passed I have no idea. He had a clear net and no excuse not to finish the thing and have it over with. Instead, he makes a risky pass to Jones...who makes an even riskier pass to the only forward who's nearly being checked (Horcoff), who thankfully doesn't smack it into the defender's shin pads and finds Jones to end it. That was a weird sequence that I hope will never be repeated. In the end it looked pretty, but it had all the makings of the famous Smyth icing vs. LA disaster and the last thing I need is that flash back. Horcoff's pass to Smyth to set up the second goal may have been the pass of his life. For once he tried something different, and connected on a saucer perfectly. To a man, absolutely everyone was wondering why he was slowing down because he never makes that pass...but he did. That's my favorite video game move BTW...to hit the streaking winger like that. Smyth scored as only he can and the party was on. There can be no doubt, these guys are the minute-eaters and when re-joined by Hemsky we are very likely to have 2 excellent forward lines, a solid supporting line and a very very very good 4th unit. If Smyth and Horcoff can keep things up as they did tonight and be that reliable and simple (despite some usual Horcoff awkwardness), we'll be alright up front. I also want to tip my hat again to #10 for the screen play he made before Hopkins' pass to Hall for the first goal...that was very very smart. Very good game for 94 and 10. As an aside - the crowd thought Smyth was the obvious 1st star choice and had begun chanting for him.

Khabibulin
- He did what was asked of him tonight. The goal wasn't great but it was also mainly caused by a defensive breakdown and there wasn't much he can do. Not enough shots to say he was great, but it does take a decent amount of focus to play well in such a quiet game.

I'll be honest BTW, I had a night where I was preoccupied with the forward units and might have missed some D stuff. Feel free to fill in.

Gilbert-Smid
- Our best pair again despite the GA. Gilbert is really pushing the offence and hitting right now...almost to a fault as one of his pinches went into our net (mostly bad break though and could very well have been a goal for us) and he hit his way out of position at least twice. I would much rather he not worry about the hitting and stick to strong positioning while being aggressive on the offence. He makes a positive difference when he's not required to be the defensive stalwart, which is what Smid was doing for him tonight.

Petry-Barker
- Petry showed why he needs to be in the lineup, as he had a strong night on the puck and made a couple strong, key defensive plays late in the game. He's very smart and skilled at using his body to break up the play in key instances and rarely makes a subsequent bad decision with the puck. Very valuable guy. Barker probably had his best game in that he made some good passes, hit some people, was generally mean and only got caught out of position a couple times. Good stuff.

Sutton-Potter
- I'm not sure you can find a way to send Potter down at this point. Even though he wasn't as good as in game 1, he moved the puck well, went to the right spots and absolutely wasn't a liability. That's good stuff from a bottom pairing dman. Sutton...I still have problems with him even on his stronger nights. He made at least 2 ill advised pinches and got beat to some pucks in races he should have won very very easily. I hope it is he they take out when Whitney returns...but I'm doubting it.
--------------

Lot of fun at the rink tonight and great to come away with a win despite some uncertainty early. Hoping the scoring floodgates open for Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark tomorrow in Calgary!

10/15/11

LMHF Report - Game #2

EDMONTON 3

VS.

VANCOUVER 4
-----------------

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...

-------

Dubnyk
- 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.

Gilbert
- 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.

Smid
- 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.

Potter
- 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.

Peckham
- 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.

Sutton
- 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.

Barker
- 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...

Hordichuk
- 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.

Lander
- 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.

Petrell
- 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.

Omark
- 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.

Paajarvi
- 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.

Belanger
- 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.

Jones
- 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.

Smyth
- 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.

Horcoff
- 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.

Eberle
- 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.

Hall
- 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.

Hopkins
- 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.
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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...

10/9/11

LMHF Report - Game 1!

EDMONTON 2

VS.

PITTSBURGH (The Pengs according to the scoreboard...ECH!) 1

In a freaking shootout....
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For those of us who have forgotten somewhat, the point is to win the game. You PLAY to WIN the GAME. We did tonight and it really would've felt bad otherwise. Not only because the game wasn't particularly spectacular, but because we seem to be really really solid in season openers and for a while I thought this one might not turn out that way. I must confess that despite our abundant offensive talent, the lack of scoring is starting to worry me some. It looked as if they were having a difficult time in the preseason, but I was thinking that wouldn't carry over. The Pens D wasn't THAT good was it? We had a really hard time getting anything into prime scoring territory most of the game other than powerplays.

Speaking of the Pens for a moment...Kris Letang is one heck of a player. Anything the Pens did tonight he seemed to be in on. Sure don't remember him being that amazing last time we played them.

For those who are interested in these things; they went light on the pre-game show this year, sticking with player intros and the like rather than freaky acrobats or strange music. I thought that was a solid choice. Not having Paul there to sing the national anthem just isn't the same; I don't mind Samantha King but I don't see her voice as even somewhat iconic, whereas Paul singing O Canada IS my national anthem.

In the first period we had a pleasant surprise...ORGAN MUSIC! I actually requested it on my survey. Combine that with the NO ACROBATS in bold letters and maybe they actually read mine and took a shot? hahaha

The game didn't start out with a lot of pop, which was kind of disappointing. If Ryan Smyth had managed to put his patented World's Ugliest Slapshot top shelf on the first real rush, it would've been something special. The reaction to his return was deafening and the fans made him tear up a bit. Allowing the first goal of the year on what looked like a pretty harmless play was unfortunate for Dubnyk, who was on his way to a simply excellent evening of goaltending. It was great to see him start on merit and play solidly without any signs of nerves. The crowd was dead at this point though. It was a game without a lot of flow and Renney didn't seem to be able to get his effective units on the ice in any kind of a sequence that would allow them to make a difference. I'm guessing he was frustrated. The combo that showed immediately that it will work is the 4-93-83 unit on the powerplay; they were very good from their very first shift and will terrorize opposing PK units if allowed to remain together. When Whitney returns to QB that, they're in the money. Speaking of the D...frightening...but to the home fans. We had some scary times behind our own goal line tonight.

In the second it became apparent that this season may include a lot more stickwork. I don't know if it was just the Pens but there was a ton of hacking and slashing tonight almost to the point of it looking like a university game. This occurs because fighting isn't allowed down there, but I'm wondering if toning down the amount of allowable hitting will result in more stickwork. It sure looked that way tonight. For anyone interested...they still have that stupid ESSO race promo...though less people cheered thank gawd.

The third period was a little bit better than the first two. We seemed to be getting more cracks 5-on-5 even if they weren't great ones, we tied the game and we killed off Smyth's "5 minute major" (which was an utter load of crap, I've just seen the replay now. No one in the building had any idea what happened) thanks to some excellent efforts.

SO was fairly predictable. They seemed to identify Johnson's glove and attack. Omark woulda made it three-for-three but the puck stuck to his blade a touch too long.
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Dubnyk
- He was excellent tonight. Calm, composed, positioned himself well and just let the play come to him. While the Pens weren't exactly buzzing, they did get some good chances and he shut them down. He'd better start the next one.

Sutton
- Made at least three horrible plays tonight. One was an own zone giveaway in the second that nearly result in a goal, another was a terrible dump up the boards in his own zone to absolutely no one while he had time (this was in the third), another was an ill-advised pinch and I'm guessing there were more. The problem I see in Sutton's game that was evident tonight is that while he positions himself well initially, he is unable to use that position to his advantage through skating, power, or puck access. He just can't capitalize for whatever reason and I don't quite understand. Most guys can't set up and then try to chase the play to make up for it, but he seems to have a problem with the play. Also chases too much, but ALL the Oilers D were guilty of that tonight.

Gilbert
- While Tom didn't make glaring defensive mistakes in terms of missed coverages tonight, he did also give the puck away a couple times in less than pressured circumstances and managed to get away with it thanks to teammates and goalie. This was not the more confident Tom we saw late in the pre-season which was unfortunate. He didn't have a lot of offensive confidence and thus didn't make the difference we need him to on the opposition blue line. What Gilbert almost always manages to do though is be solid enough...losses are very rarely on him.

Smid
- The most notable thing from Smid tonight was the game-saving extra effort shift he gave right near the end of the long PK. He gave everything he had, succeeded and the crowd gave him a huge ovation for it. Also, despite taking a couple shots and a puck to a rather sensitive area, he forged on and finished what was a pretty solid and complete game. This could really be the year he shines.

Barker
- I was worried Barker wouldn't get away with the mistakes he was making in the preseason when the games mattered and I think I was proven right in my worry tonight. Barker just isn't disciplined enough with the puck or his positioning and that causes trouble many times over for him. It's very weird to watch because you know you're looking at a talented player, then he does something kind of incomprehensible with the puck or an attacker and you're just baffled. He also didn't push the play on the powerplay, which will need to be his main asset to this team. Hopefully he finds whatever he's looking for, but there were some times tonight when his play was downright scary.

Peckham
- Fairly quiet game from Theo. The Pens were really hitting and sticking and I thought guys like Theo would respond with a big hit or six, but none were to be found really. He also tipped that puck into his own net...oops. I liked that he got the puck to the opposition net and created chances a couple times, which is something he needs to do more of (his shot is underrated). Theo will always be a bit of a chaser on the blue line, and it's all about how focused he is when we're talking about whether he has a good game or not. I'd rate him at medium tonight because of the aforementioned, and because he wasn't strong behind his own net.

Petry
- Had a great chance to win the game and rang it off the bar (which was even sadder because it was a beauty play, read and shot). He had what I'd describe as a very mature game tonight in that he sure didn't look like the least experienced member of the D-crew. He was in his position for the most part and fairly confident/aggressive most of the night. Whenever he stays confident he's a positive contributor to the games. It's never really a question of talent.

Hemsky
- Ales is still the best offensive player on this team. Tonight he made a number of excellent passes and reads to put his teammates in position to score, cashed in on the SO and probably should've opened the scoring on a nice little rush that ended in a stick lift. Ales made himself the rusher a few times tonight and that worked out. He also moved around on the powerplay and made things work from behind and in front of the net, which is where he's most effective. What Ales will have to get used to is having fast linemates who can think as quickly as he can. There were times tonight where Ales' natural reaction to slow down and wait for the slow-pokes who can't read offensive rushes kicked in, only to see 4 and 93 hurtling forwards. Once he picks that up, knocks off a little rust (he lost the puck a few times tonight and looked a little like he hadn't played enough yet) and locks in, that line is going to be tremendous. They're already elite-looking on the powerplay.

Hopkins
- He looked a little overmatched or nervous early on, getting knocked around a bit, making a couple defensive mistakes with the puck and taking a penalty (along with another play or two that could have been as well) but after that he settled in. I hope his goal (which at first it didn't look like he knew he'd scored) locks him in and makes him realize he just has to play his game. On the PP, you can see the magic, but it may take him some time to settle 5-on-5 and I'm not sure he's going to be able to play with strong linemates for that time because while Hall and Hemsky have strong shoulders, that could be a decent bit of carrying. I'm not saying I didn't like his game because you can certainly see a lot of skill and strength there (the goal, drawing a penalty, moving quickly on reads and being in the right places) but he will of course have to put in a bunch of work this year.

Hall
- Taylor is doing one of the things I find rather difficult to assess in that he's creating a bunch of chances but not taking advantage of them and not looking particularly dangerous when he attempts to. He's also shooting 5-hole far too much, which is apparently something Fredric Chabot told them last year (and a horrible piece of advice) and this is leading to harmless shots on net that also aren't generating rebounds. So...he's playing...well, but not actually creating goals. It's strange. What I do like is that he is making a point to attempt hits, get in people's faces a little bit and put others on notice that he won't be pushed around. This is something he's very capable of and needs to continue doing.

Hordichuk
- Didn't see enough of him tonight. He should have either been out there early setting the tone or responding when the Pens upped their physical game. I don't really understand putting him on the bench when you're not going to play him. He could have been useful tonight.

Lander
- Kind of stuck under the 3 offensive lines tonight which is perfectly fine. You don't really want Lander to have to have a great game in order for us to win. I thought he was just a smidge off the NHL pace in terms of reads, but he made up for it with talent and positioning smarts. Renney trusted him with a late PK shift tonight and he didn't disappoint which was good to see. I was kind of surprised he didn't get a chance in the SO as I believe he has a reputation as a solid shooter there.

Jones
- Not bad and not great. He was chasing the puck more than controlling in, but also made some chances happen and wasn't too bad on the PK. Workmanlike effort and I liked that he got back to some of the hitting and agitating that sometimes go missing from his game.

Smyth
- Where he makes the most difference seems to be on the PK. I didn't much like his powerplay line even if we finally have someone in front of the net, and his 5-on-5 was smart but not exactly dynamic, but on the PK he's so much better than the rest of our scrap that he probably helped in a big way to get the win tonight. You can imagine the terror we all felt when it was he who missed the 5-minute PK at the end of the game. I don't know what the refs thought they were doing...but they were inconsistent all night anyway and this is sadly par for the course. One thing that's completely true is that the fans love having #94 back...it also seems that he will help us win games...which is good for us who've been suffering for several years now even if we aren't exactly massive Ryan Smyth fans.

Belanger
- I'm going to have to watch his game a little closer to get a read...I suspect he's kind of like a defensive defenceman in that if your main recollection is not really having noticed him then that's probably not a bad thing. Belanger got some offensive chances too; some that ended in ugly and sad attempts while others were okay, but he will be judged by his faceoff prowess and his D, and it appears he did okay with that as well as his PK tonight. I'd like to see a move to make him clearly 4th line C though, as he did seem to be holding back some of his offensively talented linemates tonight.

Eberle
- He should have played more, pure and simple. His line also didn't seem to fit his game, either on the PP or 5-on-5. He was the main person I was thinking of when I said that Renney struggled some tonight. Eberle's a big moment guy and didn't really see the chance to grab many of them tonight. I hope he's on a line more suited to his talents shortly, and if not, I hope he starts getting double-shifted some. Did I miss any great chances he had or was there really not much of anything from him tonight? As always though, his "off games" are simply games where he's not excellent. He's almost never bad.

Horcoff
- I see he did really well on the faceoff dot tonight, which is of course great. Positionally he was solid and made a difference that way. He still cuts into the middle and messes up his offensive rushes though. I really don't know if he'll last with the Swedes as it's just such a different style of game. I also don't like Horcoff on the PK as he tends to misplay his position and that happened again tonight. Overall though, he was a positive force in the game. Is it possible we could use him only at 5-on-5 where he seems to succeed?

Omark
- Kind of like Eberle, he didn't get enough of a chance to show his game tonight. What time he did play was pretty solid, and it was interesting to watch how smoothly he and Magnus interchange positions on the PP, but he needs some time to work his magic during a game. His trademark board play was certainly on display, including a lovely sequence where he got knocked down, gloved it to himself and made the play anyway. Linus is almost at the stage where he could be added to a line above his weight class at strategic points during the game just to mix up the offensive look.

Paajarvi
- I'm not a fan of him on the PP point and that didn't change tonight. This is because he's an up-and-down skater rather than a lateral movement guy and sometimes struggles to play the position because of this. Elsewhere, I can only really think to say he was solid. He didn't do anything flashy, but he was in position, held the puck, made passes and skated well. No complaints.
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So, one down and we're undefeated. I would have picked us to win tonight with the Pens lineup as it was, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying.

Random tip - If you're looking for a solid new beverage to try, Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey has arrived in Canada; mixed with Coca-Cola (or Pepsi Throwback) it is tremendously delicious.

See you all next game! Sorry for the lateness today...actually went out for a bit after the game for a change.

#1