SAN JOSE 3
You could tell very early on in this one that unless the Oilers got some exceptional individual efforts, this one would be a loss. It looked so much like so many of the games this team has lost this year from the very beginning that I was not exactly optimistic.
I hear Tom Renney went off the situation in the dressing room after this game. That's a BS cop out there coach. A bunch of this is YOUR fault.
Two things doomed the Oilers from the get-go tonight: their pathetic, PeeWee style breakout scheme, and the fact that once in the offensive zone, their attack from the beginning of games is geared toward the perimeter and rarely ever changes other than when rush chances create something else. Any coach worth his salt can see when these schemes isn't working and either has an alternate scheme to run that his players know, or asks for the leaders to show some creativity and lets the horses run so-to-speak. Renney only knows how to keep banging his head against the wall.
It would have taken very little to throw the Sharks off in terms of the breakout. If on just a couple of occasions the defenceman would have skated up the middle and the forwards would have changed their skating lines to accomodate, or try a breakout where the wingers skate different paths and the center is the one looping outside or across the zone...any of these little nuanced changes could have opened up the boards so that our somewhat challenged defence core would be able to make passes up the wings again...no changes came and the playbook in our own end stayed the same from the beginning to the final buzzer. Absolutely brutal.
On the offensive front, the Oilers have been utterly stymied by every single team they have faced this year that puts all five defenders in a collapsed pentagon on the inside portion of the ice. They absoutely refuse to skate through this grouping, and change nothing to make it shift to another side. Because our defencemen have not proven to be capable offensive weapons at 5-on-5, they are not a concern. Suddenly we're trying to score from behind the damn net. That's very easy to defend against. The teams that own us do it in this manner. It is absolutely brutal to watch because you see it from the very first shift. The only line that had any success against it was the Omark-Gagner-Hemsky line, who didn't score tonight because their primary triggerman (Gagner) had a pretty rough game. Then they get broken apart for playing the coach's system and have the pleasure of Belanger joining #s 83 and 89 for the shifts during the most important part of a game where you're down 1 goal...absolutely unacceptable. The kids haven't figured out how to break down this D set up on their own yet, and have to rely on powerplay chances or rush offence in order to contribute. Their supposedly experienced coach should be able to help them get Eberle open in the middle of that grouping and either force SJ to shift or allow capable passers Hopkins and Hall to find #14...but he doesn't have anything. Perhaps I'm being too harsh on a guy that has Kelly Buchberger running his forward group...NAH, he's got Krueger if he wants and could always take it over himself. That's his job.
Can the excuses Renney. You've got a ton of weapons up front and the fact that you can't help scheme them scoring chances is a shameful mark on your coaching ability.
Back to other topics...
The crowd was pretty blah in this one. I think the subpar play at home lately has finally taken the wind out of those who were still cheering this season and because of that it was very quiet (even for a Monday game against a non-rival). Really sad but at least it wasn't the Dallas game.
The goals we scored were both on turnovers and didn't really reflect any control of the game. I don't think there was any lack of try from the lineup tonight though. San Jose is a decent team that didn't exactly come in and dominate, but it still takes more than effort to break through and beat them.
- Aside from that one stellar save in the second period, he was pretty bad. It is one thing to have an iffy defence in front of you playing an inferior system, but you cannot be giving up obscene rebounds at every turn and unable to use you glove hand. That catcher is going to cost him the chance at being a #1 goalie in the NHL. The fact that he couldn't even come close to getting it on Thornton's shot was shameful. He had time and Thornton telegraphed. The first goal was horrible in that Dubnyk lost the puck despite 3 separate chances to cover up. When your goalie's idea of defending the net involves making himself small and spinning in a circle, then complaining to the ref, you don't have much hope. The third goal was another classic example of Dubnyk playing too far back and not facing the shooter aggressively. In short, I thought he was horrible tonight and the good saves he made were largely only possible due to his own poor rebound control (the 'ol save percentage boosting "Roloson Special"). Yuck. If we'd had a capable goalie, I would've pulled him after the first one. Not ready to play.
- The bright spot of the game for me. You might as well start coming up with a nickname involving bodychecking and punishment for these guys, as they dropped bombs on the Sharks forwards all night. You expect it from Smid, and he was at his best in terms of the hitting tonight, but Petry had himself locked on and with Smid defending from strong positions, decided to take runs at various Sharks. Absolutely wonderful display of making the opposition pay. Where I will dock Smid a bit is that he didn't exactly move the puck as well as he usually does and I didn't see any productive sojourns into the offensive zone. Petry on the other hand was excellent in the first and early second in terms of moving the puck, and jumping into shooting lanes in order to hammer the puck. He needs to keep doing this. In the third, he took a little too much on himself and actually messed up the forwards on a few occasions...oops. Play of note was a nice little recovery Petry made in the second on the rush where Smyth batted the puck into the netting...he made a nice defensive play there. Little things showing big improvement.
- I didn't notice Nick Schultz at all tonight. This can be a good thing for a defensive player...but why do I get the feeling that it was he who was feeding a bunch of those pucks up the wings to no one or a covered winger? I can't confirm so if anyone noticed that please post. Whitney scored a really nice goal by joining the rush, deciding to shoot, then changing his angle in Eberle-esque fashion and letting a ripper go. It was a beauty that some of our forwards could really learn from. Defensively, I didn't think he had nearly as good a game and didn't play the physical game he needs to in order to succeed against San Jose.
- Rough game for these guys. My favorite sequence of Sutton's was his adventure into the offensive zone where he rightly held the puck in a position where his linemates should have been able to get open and receive a pass...the thing was that they never really did. Too bad as it could've been very pretty. That was one of the few times all night when an Oiler was in a threatening position with the puck in the Sharks' zone. Potter probably had the worst moment of the night, with a horrible giveaway after a bit of a desperation play in the third period. Not good and at a time when he needed to be making offensive moves with the puck. In the defensive zone these guys were pretty bad all night and Sutton had a ton of chances to hit people but backed off. From a guy with a limited skillset who really needs to be physical to contribute, this is horrible.
- Eager made an excellent play on a high pass to glove the puck and generate a rush for himself in the first; only to miss the net. He simply didn't have any room and didn't make a angle-change that would have given that room to him. Disappointing that he couldn't convert on that as it looked like a great chance and he was moving with speed. Aside from that I didn't see a lot from him during the course of the game. There was a little bit of physical play but not much and he didn't get under anyone's skin that I could see. Jones had a couple solid hits, but did not get in behind the SJ defence at any point and didn't contribute to the attack. Belanger as has become usual did a whole lot of nothing. His promotion to a scoring line was a slap in the face to the other members of the team.
- This combo didn't really work for anything by making it a little bit harder for SJ to score. I know in many ways this is their primary purpose, but we cannot afford to spend so much of the game with very little chance for offence. Unfortunately, Smyth was moving slowly again tonight (aside from some hits and general meanness) and Horcoff is unable to deploy his speed at present because he is so bad with the puck. He singlehandedly screwed up several chances in the third, and it is embarrassing that he is out there when we've got 6 skaters going for the tying goal. I know this isn't his fault, but he could at least get out of the way and let the talented guys perform. His job in that situation is to win draws and get to the net. He did neither. I didn't notice Lennart except for a couple of hits and it should be noted that the bottom six combos fluctuated somewhat throughout the game.
- As I noted above, this crew had most of the few effective offensive sequences in terms of actually getting to the front of the net. Hemsky and Omark worked the boards and the offensive side of the neutral zone very efficiently in the first period and this probably should have generated a goal or two. Unfortunately for whatever reason, #89 didn't have much go tonight. It almost appeared as though he was sick or just a bit off, because he wasn't in the right spot on many occasions and made some utterly perplexing plays with the puck. Aside from a big slapper on Niemi, he was pretty ineffectual. Hemsky and Omark both tailed off somewhat after the first, and when that was combined with the breakout strategy (which doesn't play into the style of this line AT ALL), it led to a pretty weak offensive push. They did have moments and Hemsky certainly could have scored on a couple of occasions, but in the end you need results. Still, not having these guys (at least two of them) out at the end is a mistake. There is no argument for 10 and 94 over any of these 3 outside of faceoffs. I'm not sure this is the right combo, but it can work if another line is pushing hard and wearing down the D. These guys will control the puck and people will get open...but you have to convert.
- Honestly, probably one of the poorer efforts I've seen from these guys. If any group was going to break free of Renney's idiocy and take over the game, it would be these guys who could then open the door for line two, but they did not. They seemed content to stay on the perimeter and hope for a rush chance. Hall got his and made no mistake. I sure hope he learns the power of his shooting ability and stops doing that stupid backhand-fivehole garbage soon. Eberle couldn't seem to find an opening with the puck or contribute in his own zone all that much which is unusual. I still see Hopkins as being off of his peak earlier this year, but he was more dynamic in the center of the ice tonight and that is a positive sign. He also got shots away from some places that none of his teammates were able to, which is a plus.
So, another disappointment. And to top it all off, I have to miss the next three games for a work trip and when I came home I stepped on an inch long pin that was sticking out of the floor for some reason...talk about stabbing you when you're already down for the count. Oh well...hopefully this leads to massive firings of Oilers coaches and management...a guy can hope.