And so, mercifully, it ends.
While it was hard for my fellow fans and I to watch what was going on down on that ice tonight (I dare not call it hockey), we stuck it out and were there pretty much to the bitter end. Many even sat around much longer to wallow in the sadness of another lost season, and dream of what might be come next September. Of course, the thing is that we won't get near as excited as we did this past September, when a young team appeared to be ready to take a large and important step forward, but was left without reinforcements and quickly began taking on water under the assault of the more veteran and experienced squads they were facing. It didn't last and we were again stuck in the mud.
Tonight was sad for another reason. It is customary for the home team to acknowledge the home fans, even if very briefly, at the conclusion of the final game of the year. Our team, whose fans cheered through all the junk games where no effort was given and were loud for every goal that was scored, rarely booing, waltzed to the dressing room without so much as a raised hand or a nod. It doesn't bother me too much, as I believe they'd deserved a hearty booing reserved for those who feel so secure in their jobs that they spend the whole time doing them badly, but many others were quite offended by the fact that the team didn't stay around for even a small encore. Not a smooth move from either the players or the coach, who should have been directing such an effort. The excuse that they were upset after losing is not valid, as then they would have cared during the actual game and put forth a much stronger effort.
I was glad to be there for what may be the last time we see Teemu Selanne in Edmonton. Along with Pavel Bure, he was the guy that shaped in my young mind what a pure goal scorer was, ripping through defences and terrorizing netminders with a blazing shot. He wasn't able to find the scoresheet tonight, which is surprising considering he regularly lit us up like a cheap pinball machine over the years, but he was still there, finding the lanes and firing away. I'll be sad for the people of Winnipeg if he doesn't give it one last go in Manitoba next year, though I will certainly understand if he concludes things and sails off into a long-since-earned sunset. He's always been a fabulous player and by all accounts I'm aware of, a gentlemanly one as well. That I got to see one of the best at putting the puck in the net so many times is something I really appreciate.
There were no such legendary stories to tell about our team tonight. It was obvious from the get-go that this was a team that knew its season was over and didn't feel the need for even friendly competition. You'd think a home team facing another team with nothing to play for could at least put on a show, try some things and maybe entertain. When Eric Belanger came out to take a defensive zone faceoff in the third period with absolutely no relevance to the season, I was utterly bewildered. The lineup decisions and no alterations to any of the game plan were less inexplicable, but still very strange to me.
I'm honestly surprised no one tried to grab the spotlight. Our two goals were interesting but not really when put into context. Both were scored off the rush as we tend to do. One on a recovery from a miss and one by possibly the finest breakaway deker in the game. We were beat on a play which, due to its simplicity and finality, was one of the saddest plays I've had to watch. I can't help but think we may have witnessed the metaphorical end to another career on that play.
I know a lot of this isn't specific to the game that just happened, but you tend to reflect at the end of the season and this is as good a place as any to share those reflections. Please add any if you have them and wish to share.
- Well, I suppose there wasn't much he could have done on the second Ducks' goal. I have a problem with the Bobby Ryan shot, even though Sutton was screening him because Dubnyk went and made himself small again. That should have been a simple, positional save. One thing that Dubnyk will have to learn is how to avoid the deer-in-the-headlights look he has on breakaways like Getzlaf's to close it out. I loved his aggressiveness to stop Bobby Ryan's chance in the first, and he was solid most of the night. Just some small, yet important mistakes. Then again, he would've had to throw up an SO for us to win the game. Not happening.
- The line of the future? At least one of them? Quite possibly. Despite what was a sort of off-night from Eberle and Hopkins, these guys looked like they fit together quite well again. #14 and #93 still need to get more used to passing to #56, but other than that they add up fairly well. Eberle's goal was indeed a beauty, and came after a shift with #83 taking Teemu's place on the wing. They had strong chances earlier that shift and the one after. It's possible THAT is actually the line of the future...though maybe just at crunch time. Eberle almost deked himself out before vanquishing Deslauriers. Amazing. And a good play by Hemsky followed by a great pass by Hopkins. Aside from that, I thought Eberle and Hopkins looked a little too much like guys who know the season's over rather than a couple guys trying to get each other some hardware. While this doesn't mean they played badly, they were missing that little extra step. Hartikainen was one of the few who did in fact play like he wants a job. I hope management is watching because I have a feeling more of them than the coaches will be around next year. Teemu drove the net, hit people, took a couple really good shots and did a very solid job of identifying and picking up his check on the back-check. Very mature plays from a young guy. He has to make this team next year.
- Flawed from the start but they tried to get something done. Jones, aside from driving the net and a couple hits, was a passenger yet again and got caught staring at the play multiple times. I honestly hope he's traded in the offseason. Going forward it is important to have leaders, but they have to be good enough hockey players to be part of a championship squad. He's just not. Similar to when Jones played with the kids, this arrangement allowed the opposition D to key on Hemsky and Gagner. The result was somewhat odd. Despite scoring a solid goal on a follow-up play (I'm surprised Hemsky didn't get an assist as well, as he made a little play near the net to set it up), Sam got boxed in by defenders all night long and often stopped skating. This meant it often fell to Hemsky to go one-on-two and one-on-three all night with no passing options. The result wasn't great but the effort was there. He made a very nifty spin pass in the second to set up a chance, and really flew when he got bumped up to play with #s 14 and 93 as noted.
- I said during the game that I've never seen a line of veterans with decently proven track records who are so incapable of scoring. Sure, Smyth is on a tier above the other two because he's actually gotten a few things done this year and especially 5-on-5, but even he has to be a lot better to remain on this team. I counted a couple tips and a couple chances generated from plays below the red line as positives for him. I could see him not coming back this year though, as the early season fairy tale gave way to sloppy, tired play late in the season. If a coach can figure out how to deploy him and not pay him more than 3 mil, you think about it. Otherwise the story book doesn't end happily. Belanger somehow got out with Gagner and Hemsky, and missed one of the easiest chances I've seen a while. This man is the epitome of how comfort can be a bad thing for some players. We heard before the season about how he was so happy to have security...apparently he needs to be constantly playing for a contract because there were so many nights this year like tonight, where not only was he bad offensively, but he made key mistakes such as on the second Ducks' goal. He and Horcoff both blew that one terribly. I don't think Belanger can bounce back for this team. I'm not sure Horcoff can either. Aside from some small sparks early in the year, the fire was totally put out this year. He had absolutely nothing to give in the offensive zone and tonight was no different. No speed. Constant missed chances. Bad passes and bumbled pucks. It was tough to watch.
- #37 laid some hits and played his position as usual. I don't suspect he'll be back next year as a new coach won't see him in the same way this one did. I hope for his sake that he's able to catch on in the NHL, as there's a balanced player there but not one that we need sadly. Just not quite good enough. Hordichuk did his job I suppose, engaging Parros (who is as we know actually a half-decent player) and having a fight as well as throwing a couple hits. I still hope he's gone. VandeVelde didn't do anything of note.
- Is this the end of Whitney? I've gotten to thinking that it is possible we should deal him for next to nothing and take our chances spending some dollars in the offseason. Watching a guy who was a Norris trophy candidate on a horrid team for a decent part of last year, not even come close to being able to hold off Getzlaf in OT was just sad. I'm not sure he could have played a worse game if he tried. I get that it is hard to bring max intensity, but you'd think he'd want to accomplish SOMETHING. I'm supposing that Schultz got a star for not allowing multiple goals while lugging around a boat anchor. I didn't see a ton from him, but he plays a quiet game. So sad about the state of Whitney. I want to hope, but I'm so damn tired of hoping rather than seeing and knowing.
- Yikes, scary! Sutton was weak on the puck all night, didn't move it effectively and didn't really hit that much. Barker couldn't seem to remember where the opposition blue line was and kept neglecting his duty to hold that line when we needed an offensive chance. I'd really love it if both were gone before the start of next year, but it appears we're stuck with Sutton.
- At this point I realize I'm not sure if Petry played with Teubert...oh well. It is hard to watch D at the moment. I liked the physicality that Teubert was able to bring and really want him to be able to take the next step in terms of using his talent by the fall. We could use a #7 next year like the player he is capable of being (better than Andy Sutton in most ways). Didn't get his shot through, which is too bad because he had chances. Petry was okay. He joined the rush and made some solid defensive plays.
Well, last one for the year. I don't know where we're going from here, to be honest. I thought last year was as low as it gets but maybe I was wrong. This year was horrible to take, because we saw what could be from time to time. There is so much that needs to change around this team right now and those that can't see that should be turfed. The journey from losing to winning is a tough road, and it doesn't seem as though we've even begun. What the future holds? Who knows. I just can't see how this all will be worth the pain without a repeat of the show we saw in the 80s. Those things don't happen anymore. Why is this necessary?
Let's end this on a positive note. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read, comment and otherwise participate in the game reports this year. The readers are what keeps me going during these darkest and loneliest of evenings as a fan of the Oilers. You make this worth doing. Thank you very very much.