What a giant pile of garbage. My friend who accompanied me tonight has come to about 1/4 of the home games each season for the past 3. She figures that's the worst game she's been to. I'd be inclined to agree. Even in blowouts and bad efforts there's usually something that is even mildly entertaining. Tonight's game was the definition of boring.
A lot of people at the game we saying that they didn't see a lot of effort tonight and I'd disagree with that sentiment. It was not that we went out there and had no try, but much moreso that we went out and tried really really stupidly. I'm not sure I've seen such a confusing and awkward effort from our team in a long time.
Our passing game wasn't great against the Blues, who put on a clinic in terms of keeping their passes short and crisp while closing gaps on the Oilers as they tried to advance the puck. Dallas wasn't near as good at either aspect of the game but still managed to keep the Oilers bouncing the puck around the ice to no one in particular. If we could have connected on even a half-decent amount of the passes we attempted in the first and second period, we win this game going away. Instead, players were hesitating, second-guessing, re-routing, bobbling and basically doing everything possible to screw up. It was amazing.
One exceptionally weird thing about this game was that it probably should have ended 0-0. Both meaningful Dallas goals were horrible, they added an empty netter and then we got one in garbage time. It is not every day that you see a game played that sloppily.
Don't get me wrong, the Oilers had chances. The amount of times Ales Hemsky hit a player with a pass in a dangerous shooting area tonight had to have been at least 8-10. Hall got the puck in his office multiple times in the second period alone and couldn't do a bloody thing for some reason. Though I am usually in favor of shaking the lines up in such a game, I thought it was a mistake to take Hall off of the line with Gagner and Hemsky. They hadn't connected yet and were having some confusing/frustrating ventures into the offensive zone, but they were also generating enough chances that eventually one would have bounced in or finally come off Hall's stick smoothly. It was only a matter of time. The other lines I wouldn't have minded, but not that one. Then again, this is the price you pay with 91, 23 and 56 on the farm. All the bottom sixers you could elevate on nights when people go cold are in OKC.
I'm really sick of talking about how bad the officiating is, but I will say this; if it is true that the Oilers are getting after the officials vocally I understand, but if it isn't doing anything you might as well snap a little bit, REALLY get their attention and maybe scare them some. If you're going to passively complain and get treated the same or worse, you might as well crank it to 11 and really get something going. What's the worst that happens so long as you keep it short of physical contact? They've been patient enough with this BS all year. They play a disciplined speed game that should draw a ton of penalties, yet are grabbed, hooked, and interfered with by the Detroits, Vancouvers and Calgarys of the world and don't get a thing. Time to change the approach.
As I got into above, I didn't really mind the top line so much. They didn't connect but the chances were being generated and the puck was moving the right way. They were a couple connections off from being money. A couple of times, they hit the line with speed and went offside. Just so you know how I see this, the puck carriers job is to make sure his line hits that blue line with as much speed as possible, and he needs to make sure that puck gets to the blue paint quickly. This sometimes means extending and always means having the puck fairly forward. Gagner and Hall didn't do this and it cost the Oilers two very nice looking rushes. Hemsky was the one hitting the line at break-neck speed both times. Another time, Hall made a great back pass, opening up a lane and Hemsky was a step too late getting there. All of these guys slightly miscued and it cost the Oilers some glorious chances. These plays could have been the game. It is not good that they whiffed on them, but at least they had the opportunity to begin with.
Our second line was a bit of a different animal because Petrell played on it. While Hopkins and to a lesser extent Eberle both had opportunities, they were largely individual efforts, not including passes or even using teammates as screens or picks. This meant there wasn't much ice to play with and kept these guys from being really effective tonight. I'm torn on what to say about Lennart. In a sense, he did what he does best in terms of being positionally safe, landing some good hits and getting to the front of the net. Indeed he had a couple of really solid tips that could have gone in...but the thing is that he so messed up the dynamics of the rush attack that the odd-man situations both Eberle and Hopkins thrive on were not created. Lennart isn't good enough to do his own thing, so the Stars could effectively double team both of the other guys. That's not going to end well and it didn't tonight. One really cool thing I noticed Hopkins doing, is that he keeps making really small passes to himself on the rush. It is something I've never really seen from a hockey player and keeps the opposition very off-balance. This appears to be why he's so effective with the puck. I will say though, that he has not been the same player since coming back from his first injury.
After those two groups, it was pretty sad. The mishmash of the remaining six players does not have enough talent to make up a single line capable of putting goals on the board. This won't serve you well over any kind of averaging-out period. When some of the best passes on the night are made by Darcy Hordichuk (credit to him, in the second he was patient, kept his head up and made some truly sound decisions out there), you're not going to succeed. I maintain that without Paajarvi's speed to change the dynamic of the third line, no sustained attack is possible. Opposing checkers can simply play back and wait for the Eager, Smyth, Horcoff (or similar) combo to make a mistake with the puck. They always will if you don't let them get behind you. Horcoff was doing a whole bunch of skating and creating a whole whack of nothing all night. His choices with the puck were weird even for him. Smyth kept thinking he could make a play behind the net and the Stars shut him down easily. Eager didn't have that extra jump he needs. I will give credit to Jones as he did a good job of driving in on Dallas and always made sure to finish his check. I already mentioned Hordichuk's most meaningful contributions to the game. Belanger needs to be sat. He contributed absolutely nothing to this game, and his attempt at checking Dvorak on his goal was absolutely embarrassing. What is wrong with this guy? Seriously?
I have a hard time harping too much on our D tonight. I liked the balanced combinations and the fact that they really didn't let Dallas beat them aside from the odd Trevor Daley rush and the unfortunate run-in Corey Potter had with Khabibulin. For the most part, these guys did their job. If I had to pick one area though, I would criticize their decision-making as they approached their own blue line. Many times tonight, Dallas simply backed off and let the D rush the puck up. For whatever reason, guys like Whitney, Potter, Petry and Schultz especially decided that this meant despite the speed they were carrying, a forced pass would be necessary. I'm quite sure that at least one D man could have generated a goal with a solid rush up the middle tonight as Dallas was standing still. Whitney was especially guilty of pass-forcing, but I was certainly glad he showed initiative with the puck at times. He got set up for a fabulous chance by Hemsky and couldn't finish...odd...two games in a row where Gilbert probably would have scored...
For a guy who is defensively skilled and doesn't show much offensive potential, Schultz sure jumps up in the rush a lot. He actually does it quite smoothly (I'm sure a function of his sound skating) but just can't seem to add any pop to the finishing effort. This is really too bad. One nice thing we have going for us right now, is that both Petry and Smid are playing a mean game on D, dishing out some abuse. I just wish #5 would stop doing that side-block (he's going to get hurt) and maybe drop the gloves from time to time (he's got a nearly unblemished record there).
As for Khabibulin, did it really matter what he did tonight?
I think I had more fun tonight eating dinner, driving home, and writing this report than I did watching the game tonight. Yuck.
Call up 23.