NEW JERSEY 2
While tonight's game wasn't particularly exciting, it was very interesting as there were many little things to look at and watch during the 60 minutes of play. I don't know if I'll capture them all, but there were certainly more stories than usual.
The deciding feature of tonight's game was New Jersey's ability to get sticks on the puck and break up scoring chances. Many players, and especially Parise and Kovalchuk did this very well all night long and it kept the Oilers from scoring despite the fact that they were getting the puck in good shooting areas and generally carrying the play. This was somewhat surprising considering the Oilers lineup, but the Devils don't appear to be very good at much else outside of their top line.
The Oilers had their chances to win this game. They controlled the first period (especially the first ten minutes) and also got two consecutive powerplay chances to start the second. That should normally be more than enough for a team to build a substantial lead against a weak opponent and take it home. I am in fact quite confident that if even only Mr. Eberle was added to this lineup, that would have occurred. Understaffed as the team was, they were not able to take advantage and despite a strong push in the third, they wound up on the losing end of things tonight.
The way Renney used his lines tonight was rather interesting. The first period and specifically early saw more use of the fourth line than usual. I was quite surprised by this, especially considering Milan Kytnar may have still been digesting his airline snack mix and working the kinks out of his plane/taxi legs. They played okay but it seemed strange to use them in this manner. After a somewhat lacklustre PP (mainly because his linemates stood still and were not open), Renney benched Hemsky for a PP shift. This only lasted one shift and when he came back he had the same level of jump he was showing 5-on-5. In the third period, Renney played the Hall-Gagner-Hemsky line more often, reading just as he should have that they were really the only line going. Overall it was a better coached game than others of late. The only thing late that baffled me was Ben Eager's shift with very little time to go, that nearly resulted in 2 slashing penalties.
It is tough for a team to win when it really only has one line that can score. I'll get into it more in the individual breakdown, but lines 2-4 didn't have much of a hope tonight. 3 and 4 were put together this way with what scrap parts we had lying around, and 2 had an off game both 5-on-5 and on the PP to some extent. They didn't necessarily put forth a bad effort, they just didn't have any real offensive jump tonight.
Defensively, both teams put forth a fairly solid effort using very different styles. I'm not sure what style the Oilers are deploying exactly, but aside from a couple of flurries the Devils didn't really get much. The Oilers got the chances, but as noted above, the Devils stick-play shut them down pretty effectively and they didn't have the personnel to wear down the opposition.
- Can't complain. He made some excellent saves on Devils chances that seem to come in from much closer on average than other teams. The Devils set up little pass plays very close to the net (almost too close) and #35 had to be quick. Not much to be done on the Kovalchuk goal...he showed how a breakaway king does it right there. I suppose he could have pulled an NHL 12 style diving poke-check, but Kovalchuk is probably quick enough to dodge that.
- I'm guessing these will be five and change of the most memorable moments of #64's life. He certainly didn't shame himself out there, only giving the puck away a couple times and nearly scoring a goal from the side of the net in the second period. He was certainly rushing the puck out there, and often passing back to his defencemen who were safer targets, but for a guy who leapt off a plane and sped to the rink? Decent enough. Hordichuk landed some hits but also let up on a couple others. He seems far too cosy in his roster spot right now and is not going out of his way to make a difference. On nights like tonight he simply skates around, hits a couple people, and returns to the bench. Eager was okay I suppose but mostly invisible. I would've liked to see him play with Lander and Paajarvi to be honest, as he tends to jump at offensive chances well, but there weren't many of those tonight. He is also neglecting his duty to play the physical game even more so than Hordichuk.
- Ahh, the line built to...I'm not sure what. Everyone was of course interested and glad to see Magnus back in town. Aside from one relatively decent scoring chance he had a pretty quiet night. I know people wanted to see him crash the net...though probably not his own net as he did in the second period. He was okay in terms of getting into the play and working for the puck, but there was nothing really new to his game, he didn't get much chance to shoot or pass, and he did not use his speed to get open in dangerous areas. It is just game one, but I hope there's more to his return than this. Lander got hit a bunch tonight. He usually takes the beating pretty well, but by the third tonight he looked quite shaky and tired. It is good that he plays a physical game and indeed laid a couple very nice hits, but he should also protect himself a little better. No real offensive action from him tonight. Eric Belanger got two very solid shooting chances. One went right into Hedberg's midsection and another went into the pad for no rebound. While the shot choice on the second was good (credit to Hedberg for controlling it), the first was horrible and was a better chance. I don't know why he doesn't have a wrist shot he can use. He was also on the powerplay and nothing new was going on there...PK was solid as per usual. Frustrating that #20 wasn't winning races to pucks tonight though. Might have had something to do with the way he had to position himself I suppose.
- This line might have under performed most when compared to expectations. Horcoff had a really tough night. You could see the effort was there, but for some reason the body wasn't willing and he lost or quit on several races for the puck tonight. He made an awkward weakly-shot mess of a chance that Smyth set him up for, and didn't have much else to give in the offensive zone. On the PP he was okay, but drifted out of position and got lost a couple times. People tend to forget that #10 is actually a very good goalie screener and he's gotten away from that lately. Smyth obviously played a huge part in our only goal by providing a perfect screen (it looked like he was virtually sitting on Hedberg's right shoulder), but aside from that had a weak game. He missed several pucks that were directed towards him in front of the net, didn't win as many corner battles as usual, took a stupid penalty and also made a bunch of errant passes to absolutely no one. He had Horcoff open and all the time in the world on one play in the first and didn't even come close from behind the net. It was ugly at times. He looks so tired. Jones didn't have a lot of jump despite the promotion. I expected less of him than the others so I'm not going to judge him too harshly. He at least hit a couple people and pushed the puck forward in limited icetime.
- Excellent effort from this line tonight. Hall and Hemsky a step above Gagner, but all-around they were very good. You could see Hemsky was going very early on, and save for a couple crossed wires and the fact that the Devils could focus all their defensive energy on these guys, they win the game going away in the first. Hall unfortunately whiffed on a couple passes in that period with his linemates open that were setting up as truly great scoring chances. He also made a mistake when Petry jumped into the play, made a brilliant fake-shot-to-pass move and Hall missed it because he'd stopped skating. Then he missed a Hemsky pass to Hall's office because he slacked for a second behind the net. I'm not ragging on the guy, just pointing out how much could have happened. I noted Hemsky's shift off earlier; he'd been great 5-on-5 prior to that, and was very good on the PP afterwards. He really controlled the flow of the play and set up both Gagner and Hall numerous times while having at least 3 scoring chances he generated on his own either stopped by Hedberg or deftly deflected by some of the Devils' best efforts of the night. As for his goal, I find it very revealing that so many people don't understand what happened there. It was not that Hemsky just shot because; he saw Smyth screening and the Devils forward had backed off of him, giving him a shooting lane. As well, there were not any good passing options because Potter had to make such an awkward play at the blue line. It was an excellent read by a guy who knows what he's doing, not just "firing it". I still believe he's supremely miscast playing that old MacTavish-style half board position, but that appears to be what we're stuck with. Gagner had a good game in that he played an excellent support role, stayed out to finish shifts and make sure there were no bad changes, fought hard for the puck and went to all the right areas for shots. It was disappointing that he misfired on several occasions and didn't dish the puck as good as he can, but was still very solid effort.
- I was fairly impressed these guys survived the night. Potter I expected to play well but the pairing is a mismatch brought on by necessity. Potter was his usual self, jumping in a few times, making a key play to set up our goal, and making several hits that ended plays and got the Oilers the puck. I have to say that the penalty at the end of the third was pretty weak...especially after the way this game was reffed in the first period. If I were a player I'd have no idea what to expect most nights. It was a very clutchy-grabby New Jersey game in the first...and there was nothing. The Devils play a style that can often lead to penalties in the modern game (active sticks are frowned upon), but the first indicated it was a passive referee night...not so. Peckham did alright for himself, but he just can't contribute enough to the transition game to be useful when we need a boost. I'm still wondering where the big hits are as well...another game goes by without one.
- Kind of an all over the place game from these two. Petry made some utterly brilliant offensive reads including the set up to Hall and a couple of slap-passes that completely froze the Devils defenders. He also made shooting miscues and blew his defensive coverage a couple times. I"m going to chalk that up to growing pains and too much responsibility tonight. Loved the offensive passing from him, truly. Smid was having a very solid defensive game, but made a mistake that led to the winning goal. You cannot sell out flat like that on a 4-on-3 PP. It just won't work if the other team has any skill, and the goal by that shoulda-been-Oiler showed you why.
- They did quite well. Sutton made a horrendous giveaway in his own zone...only to make a brilliant set up pass on the very same shift. Aside from that 30 seconds, he kept it pretty quiet and didn't take any dumb penalties or jump badly into any rushes. Teubert played a solid, simple, physical game. He's passed Peckham (aside from maybe PK) and tonight's game was another example of that.
Tough one. In a playoff season I'd be happy with the point on a night when we're that understaffed, but it is just disappointing at this stage. Need wins to feel good...at least it was an interesting game.