We lost. To Toronto and this strange team in stripey uniforms.
Odd to face two opponents at once, no?
This is not one of those losses that will just go away. There were so many reasons we should have won. There were so many reasons we needed to win. There were so many things that went against us and we overcame them. Then, as things reached what seemed like the inevitable and glorious conclusion, it all went wrong again. I'm having a really difficult time with this one.
First off, I'd forgotten how bad Leafs fans are to deal with. It goes beyond booing the home team, shrieking like girls at every half decent play and celebrating like you've won a playoff series after the game. A friend of mine who was at the game even witness a Leaf fan on the concourse mocking a young Oilers fan who was getting sick at the intermission. How no one beat the tar out of that guy for acting that way towards a kid I have no idea. Stand up for yourselves in that rink people. No one deserves to walk in and act like those jerks did. Sure, there were some good ones who were respectful, but I'd put that number at about 5%.
Strange look of the night: the Oilers have apparently taken a cue from other teams around the league and colored the dividers between pieces of glass. They are now blue. It isn't sharp-looking.
We started this game out less than perfectly, but that shouldn't really have mattered too much. Having the other team burst out with two quick shifts might put you back on your heels a bit, but it usually doesn't turn out like that. I'm going to get one of the player reviews out of the way right now:
- He stunk. He was horrible on the first two Toronto goals and then actively battled to make even the simplest save subsequently. He should have been pulled after 2 goals or at least after the first period for that reason alone. It was horrible. Any time Toronto actually got a clear-ish chance he was dead to rights and hoping for a miracle. Absolutely brutal performance and he's lucky he only allowed 4.
The Leafs will get crushed if they somehow make the playoffs. The Oilers adjusted early on to the Leafs cherry-pick centric offence and started intercepting passes, which is when the table started to turn. Once this happened, our top two lines began charging into the Leafs zone with some real fury. Those 6 guys all wanted this game really really badly and showed it big time. They weren't all perfect but boy did they ever put the hammer down, skating through checks, holds and grabs while forcing offence and getting physical with Toronto for much of the game. It was great to see and if they'd had better support in a couple areas it certainly would have won them the game.
I know that many people are going to be ranting and raving about the officiating tonight. Those people would be correct. In the last two games against Toronto, it is unbelievable how few penalties have been called against the Leafs even as we skate like crazy and take the play to them. The picks, hooks, grabs and trips were just unbelievable out there. Hall and Eberle especially were absolutely molested on several shifts and couldn't buy a call out there. That's pretty sickening when they're working that hard. It is bad enough that so much of the subtle stuff gets missed and that so many simple calls get blown, but when it is the blatant penalties where players actually go down, that's just sad. The play that turned this game ultimately, which to my mind happened before the Leafs third goal was a perfect example. Several calls could have and should have gone against the Leafs in the sequence leading up to Jones putting the puck out of play, the worst of which was Jones himself getting a headshot. Just sickening. But we responded properly and fought ridiculously hard to get it to 3-3 and then by some utter miracle have a powerplay chance to win it at the end. We didn't capitalize, but it never should have gotten that far.
In OT we looked like the team that was actually ready to take it. We were really revved up and I'm surprised more didn't happen in that period. We all know how it ended. More on that in the reports.
- Andy Sutton made a good pass to set up the Hall goal and intimidated the Leafs on several occasions into dumping the puck rather than rushing it in. Cam Barker was mean. That is the entirety of the positives comments I can make about these guys tonight. They were horrible. I'm not sure I've ever seen two guys combine for such awful giveaways so many times in a single game. It is bad enough when Sutton's off his game and making passes to Leafs players at the Oilers blue line, but then you add Barker, who has totally lost any and all that he had going on last homestand and you have utter disaster on your hands. #13 couldn't handle the puck to save his life. One of the poorest efforts I've seen from a supposedly half-decent defensive pair in a LONG LONG time. Most damning was their inability to adjust to Toronto's constantly passes from behind the red line into the slot. This opens them up for serious physical punishment and is easy to defend, but they both failed miserably.
- First off, this pairing is wrong. Smid needs to play with Gilbert. Even though they're mismatched, both of these guys gave strong efforts tonight. Both were physical and aggressive while maintaining defensive positioning and doing some really nice things with the puck. Petry especially stepped his game up, showing once again that he is capable of skating seamlessly into a rush and making a nice little tip. I have to criticize Smid a little though...even though the powerplay never should have happened, there's no way he should be trying to block Gardiner's shot in the way he did. That was not a good choice.
- I'm not a huge fan of the way they play together at the moment but they seemed to have a pretty solid night. Neither was as physical as they're capable of, which is a little perplexing in such an intense game. Gilbert made a pretty bad play on the OT goal. The puck carrier was cut off enough that he could have either played him aggressively or hit the ice and made the block (as there was pressure from behind so Lupul couldn't stop and out wait him) but instead he made some sort of odd stick play. This was all the result of a good decision followed by a bad decision by Ryan Whitney. Good decision to join the rush in OT to make it a 3-on-1. Always go for that. Horrible decision to call for the puck (that puck has to go to Hemsky or at the very least on net and Whitney is in the best position to see that) coupled with the absolutely baffling decision to wind up for the giant slapper. That's just asking to turn the puck over and give up a winning goal. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Other than that they were pretty fine including both filtering shots, passes and slap-passes towards the net from the second onward, but man you cannot make those mistakes in OT like that.
- Certainly one of their better games with Lander and Eager a decent bit above Petrell in terms of performance. Petrell certainly made a nice read and slot pass (that could have gone to either Lander or Eager which is often the mark of the best slot plays), but he eased up a bit as the game went on and didn't play as physically as he could have. Lander got a couple really nice scoring chances, was choosing great skating lanes and really had a nice game. He could have won it for us in the third but wasn't able to pull the trigger. Eager did about the best he could. The goal was a nifty little slot pick up followed by an excellent shot at a time when we really needed it badly. His fight with Brown was a "not taking no for an answer" kind of fight and he bashed Brown pretty decently. From then on, he landed some nice hits and took the puck to the net on several occasions. There is one thing he needs to change though; he engages with the guy closest to the puck way too early and rather than beat him to the puck (Eager's usually got more speed), he slows up and tries to battle him for it. This is inefficient. Eager is a skilled enough guy to retain the puck after he wins a race and needs to start doing that more often.
- If there was a line that let the team down somewhat, I would say it was this group. They are clearly not designed for offence, but still have guys that should be able to do something when they get the chances. I'd put #94 a fair bit above the other two in terms of performance tonight. He carried them by winning battles in the corners, keeping pucks alive and putting passes into areas where he teammates either received them or should have received them. I will dog he along with Horcoff for horrible positioning on the 3rd Toronto goal as you cannot go chasing like that on a PK. Jones really struggled to maintain his speed and receive the puck tonight. There were several occasions where he was set up for breaks either by the defencemen or Smyth and he either missed the puck entirely or bobbled it. Not good. Belanger was decent enough defensively and battled for the puck but was so brutally inept when he actually got the puck that it didn't really matter. There were several occasions where he had opportunity in a dangerous offensive area and didn't even make an attempt. Looking forward to #93 returning so that these guys get broken up, though what should really happen is a recall of Omark to spill Jones to line 4 where belongs and can reinvigorate himself.
- I'd rank them Eberle - Hall - Gagner tonight. This was the first time in a while that I've seen Sam try to force some plays rather than just making them happen and being patient with the puck. I can think specifically of a play where he came around behind the net and instead of waiting for an open man or getting the puck on net he whipped it through the slot way too hard and simply hoped someone would find it. He was still good, but he needs to remain in the zone. The best thing about Sam right now? He's remembered how to skate through people and is doing so when they pressure him because the puck is away from #s 4 and 14. It takes a solid player to handle that additional pressure. Hall did a good job of forechecking, skating hard, laid a couple very impressive hits and never ever quit on this game. His goal wasn't exactly a thing of beauty but it was a very good read and predicated on hard work. You could feel it coming. Once again though, he carried the puck wide without looking for (or looking off) his passing options as he came into the zone. Eberle was open an absolute ton tonight and Hall especially did not take advantage of the chances he had to find him. When the clock had about five minutes left, I said "it's Eberle time" and implored the guys to get him the puck whatever it took. Sure enough, he gets the puck, fights off a Leaf defender with a terrific effort involving strength and dexterity of his feet, then has the presence of mind to settle himself and unleash one of the most hellish wristers you will ever see. Amazing goal. Truly an elite play. He also made a very nice move to stay onside on the Hall goal. He was going all night and really made a positive difference for the team.
- Oh, what could have been for this crew. I'm going to put Horcoff lowest on the totem pole as even though I liked his positioning, desire, the hit he threw near the end of the game after getting skewered by two Leafs and a bunch of other plays, he really struggled with the puck tonight and gave it away or bobbled it under little to no pressure after solid plays by #s 83 and 91. If #10 could have been any kind of triggerman tonight, he'd have had at least 2. Magnus really played well for all three periods. I've hardly ever seen him moving so fast and with such authority. He did just about everything we could ask of him, firing two laser beams at the net (one robbed by Reimer and the other hitting the bar), drove hard with the puck, made nice passes and was generally excellent. I loved what I saw for sixty minutes from Magnus. This was also one of Ales Hemsky's best games of the year. From the word go he was after it. He took hits, skated though people, deked several leafs out of their shorts, hit a cross bar and a post and was all-world for most shifts during this game. If you can watch that game and say that #83 wasn't driven (and I know there are some that will) then I'll submit you should cease watching the sport. Shame he wasn't rewarded.
The OT Play
- I separated this out because I thought it deserved it and I wanted to note that I really loved the way Magnus played during regulation. As this play broke into the offensive zone, Magnus is flying along and the Toronto defenceman cheats towards him because he thinks #91 is going straight to the net. At this stage, Hemsky, who as I noted was flying and is due, is flying down the right wing and suddenly has a totally open path to the front of the net, where he'll no doubt go forehand-backhand around Reimer and probably score (he converts those a lot). The pass to #83 is an absolute no-brainer hockey play in this position. The defenceman will be totally discombobulated. Ryan Whitney should be yelling for Magnus to pass to Hemsky at this stage (clearly he wasn't). If you make the pass to #83 and something goes wrong, the option to #6 will still be there so long and he can hang onto the puck. You may also get a PP as Phaneuf would have to think about hooking/tripping Whitney if he's got to play body rather than puck. That 3-on-1 should be GAME OVER just about all the time. Instead, Magnus makes the worst decision he could. A weak shot would have been better. A forced late pass to #83 would have been better because you could have recovered. Even the totally unadvisable opposite corner shot would have been better because Tom Gilbert probably would have got the puck at center ice. Instead, the pass goes to Whitney and the rest is history. Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID play Magnus. Dammit.
Well, that's about all the rage I can muster at this point. I think the sadness is creeping in. Can't believe we didn't walk out of there the winners on a goal by #83 in OT assisted by a flying Magnus Paajarvi after another clutch effort from the superhero in the #14 jersey. Dammit.