SAN JOSE 1
In a freaking shootout....
Well, that was certainly better. The ship was not righted and we have not in any way returned to course, but it was good to get a break from the garbage that has passed for Oilers hockey lately.
The shot totals tonight were misleading. What you had was a combination of an Oilers squad that was outskating the Sharks' defenders until Hemsky was kicked out but couldn't connect and a Sharks team that was firing iffy shots from just about anywhere.
I'd chalk the Oilers' issues up to not having practiced in these line combos before. They were a step ahead of the Sharks for a lot of the game when on the attack, but couldn't seem to find a groove in terms of passing and finding each other. This led to a very strange sort of game where despite "generating chances", the Oilers erased their own opportunity immediately after. If this were a successful season I'd be nitpicking in a big way about that.
SJ looked tired and quiet for most of the night. They couldn't take advantage of a large amount of turnovers and showed exactly what will kill them in the playoffs; you can skate right past them.
Our defensive group had a very strange night. On the plus side, they kept the Sharks' attackers to the outside, didn't allow a bunch of odd-man rushes and were decently physical. On the other hand, almost every one of them had a 5-star unforced giveaway that required a quick recovery. It was a little strange watching them add up as we seemingly made sure that everyone got one.
It doesn't take much to get the fans going. There was certainly some cheering in the building tonight which was actually fun. There were also some solid performances and some new guys to take a look at.
One difference from recent games is that even though we certainly weren't world-beaters, the team sent out 4 lines that were close to appropriately staffed with NHL players and no plugs. This meant that the Sharks couldn't really slack off and was wearing them down and preventing them from cheating for offensive chances. Our top 2 lines did a pretty decent job when they were intact.
I'm quite puzzled as to why Renney didn't use Horcoff third in the SO. He's got either the best or second best career percentage. I'm also puzzled as to why we always shoot first and put so much damn pressure on our goalie. Not a good plan. Hall was going backhand-to-fivehole AGAIN and changed at the last minute when he realized he had no chance...how can such a gifted scorer only have one move? (and such a crappy one)
- What can you say, he was excellent. Only called upon a few times to make great saves, but make them he did and that is what matters. He was more aggressive than usual, didn't get loose in his positioning and absorbed pucks much more effectively to prevent rebounds. I hope he's able to string some game together but history tells me he won't.
- A fairly mediocre game for #44. He used body checks to separate guys from the puck a couple times, but also made the previously mentioned giveaways and struggled with his positioning at times. It is really too bad we can't deploy him appropriately as a #5 or #6, as I think he's burning out a little bit right now. I guess we'll have to see what that looks like next year.
- Minus some giveaways he was solid. Chose his pinches well, including right after his excellent check on McGinn when he had the advantage of intimidation. Good decision there. He also did well with these in the third and in OT. Certainly one of his better defensive games as well.
- I didn't see a lot of him tonight to be honest. This is sometimes a good thing but it also means he didn't really make a difference offensively.
- Umm, yikes. He really wasn't very good. Tentative from the beginning of the game, this led to giveaways and indecisive skating into bad positioning. He didn't game much ice as the game wore on and this is probably because of the giveaways. I honestly hope he's not in the lineup for much longer. There just haven't been any signs of him improving or turning a corner at the NHL level.
- He was really really good aside from a couple giveaways. He too used his physicality to get the man away from the puck, then was more patient than usual and made generally solid passing choices. There was a play in the third where he made a mistake with the puck that could have led to a chance, it was near the Oilers bench and the old Theo would have panicked and done something silly, but instead he simply corralled the puck, made a pass and got back in position. Simple and lovely.
- What a game from him. He was everywhere. Hit people, defended, got shots away from the point including a great one-timer in the third, and was probably the best player aside from Dubnyk. This guy has stepped up in such a big way since #77 has been out and we don't win this one without his effort.
- I didn't like the decision to put this line together for tonight, but I think they might have to try it out for a few games. Aside from Eberle's goal which was a good read on a bounce followed by a quick release, they were a touch off all night. Passes were just being missed, lanes weren't being filled, and players were not getting open in the right spots. I'm not saying they were bad, just that they were not clicking. It is worth pointing out that for whatever reason Eberle struggled a bunch to move the puck up the boards tonight and Hall kept losing the puck backwards when he tried to deke. These two little things led to a bunch of stifled chances. None of the three was shooting it well or getting ready to shoot it all that well. As I mentioned earlier, I suspect this has to do with practice and comfort level. The effort was there and the Sharks could not skate with this group when it rushed the puck or got moving down low. They just kept losing the puck. Kind of like unforced errors in tennis.
- This line struggled with problems similar to those of the first line. #56 was playing a bit of an AHL game in the first period...waiting for the puck to come to him instead of going to get it. This cost him some chances to make plays. In the second and third he got it going to some extent and did some nice things. I really hope he gets a similar chance in Vancouver. Hemsky was going really hard tonight to the point where I think his fitness may be nearing normal levels. He's still having to cut shifts too short but he's able to take hits and force his way past some players at this stage. The weird pass he made in the second that was not in the direction of the only Oilers player in the vicinity (I want to say Hall?) looked to have resulted from a tipped stick on first glance rather than any weird sort of fake-out by Joe Thornton but I'm not sure. The kneeing call was utter BS. He was trying to make a play on the puck and start a rush, not knee somebody. Burns knew it too and said so in his post game. The ref who actually made the call knew it too. I'm not sure if you could see on TV, but he'd called tripping before Burns was down and then some sort of weird conference took place and the original call because kneeing. What crap. It screwed up our flow and nearly cost us this one. The two lines as constituted were doing enough to the Sharks that they weren't able to generate many meaningful chances. Horcoff? He was okay. I didn't see a ton and he certainly wasn't flying, but he also wasn't bad.
- An interesting call with some potential for success but the combo didn't really translate into much. SJ had to respect the combo for Magnus' speed and Smyth's savvy, but they weren't able to string plays together either. Smyth played a tired game which is old news, characterized by lost races and inaccurate passing. Paajarvi showed some jump early on and I thought he might make some good things happen, but he wasn't able to hit the holes or drive through the Sharks D as the game wore on. They certainly had him played in terms of his speed. Lander didn't make much happen.
- While not exactly world-beaters, it is nice to see a 4th line that can play some hockey. #37 looked solid in his return, going to the net and making some physical contact while playing a strong positional game. It is truly sad that every time Eric Belanger touches the puck I am now saying to myself "there's no way anything exciting will happen". He got the puck in a few dangerous spots tonight and couldn't even take a provocative stride. He's having trouble even corralling the puck, BUT, for a fourth line C he had decent enough positioning and didn't get beat. If he's in this spot in the lineup, that is enough. Jones played a pretty quiet game and wasn't really able to use his speed to force the Sharks. He needs to remember that he can still contribute through physicality in these types of games and focus on that.
The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game!