LMHF Report Webcast Link

1/31/12

LMHF Report - Game #24

EDMONTON 3

VS.

COLORADO 2
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The Oilers almost lost this game as the result of a play that I maintain NHL linesmen still get wrong a large percentage of the time. The icing with approximately half a minute to go should have been waived off as an intended pass. If you saw Taylor Hall's reaction and were wondering what exactly that was about, that's what was going on. Horrible missed call that could have been very bad for us.

At the start of tonight's game, the team looked quite fresh. Not perfect and not with a ton of crazy get-up-and-go, but very fresh, skating well and making solid decisions. It was interesting to see an Oilers squad start a game out this way because it seems to happen so rarely. Perhaps are players are vitamin D deficient and need to spend more time getting sun or an adequate supplementation (three-quarters joking of course).

Our biggest issue tonight was our defensive group. The forwards pushed the play and applied a decent amount of pressure on a Colorado defence that worked very hard this evening. Our goaltending was of course excellent. We had several long sequences stuck in our own zone and this was mostly due to defencemen not getting to the puck, getting there later than they should have and being out of position, or turning the puck over with very little fight. We need to make better decisions than that. Unacceptable.

Our powerplay showed some signs of practice (which is odd, because we had one, right?) and while certainly not perfect, it seemed to be effective. Some of the defencemen struggled on the point at times but not all.

I honestly thought this one was over when we got up 3-1, but a rather ugly goal turned this into a much tighter game very quickly. We got a little nervous and made some mistakes (including on the bench as our lines got all jumbled up unintentionally down the stretch, but we able to hold on.

Colorado has a really interesting team with a lot of talented players who have a knack for swooping to the middle of the offensive zone and making quick plays in that direction. You can see how their offence could strike quickly in this manner. They also have a ton of guys who can physically punish the other team, meaning they can wear you down. Where they might fall down is their attention to detail as they seem to get out of sorts now and again. Also, their goaltending leaves much to be desired.

The Oilers' first goal was a beauty play by Jordan Eberle, but began due to some excellent corner work by Cornet. Showing a decent amount of poise in his second ever NHL shift, he held the puck along the boards, fought off a Colorado defender and moved into the other corner before getting the puck to Gagner. Gagner went to Eberle who faked skating behind the net then wrapped in the near side and followed up after the first attempt hit pad.

Belanger's goal was certainly a surprise. While the puck movement by our second unit powerplay was certainly improved, you just don't expect #20 to hit his spot like he did. Jones and Smyth were both working in front of the net to create confusion, which certainly helped, but the key was Whitney's half-slap pass to Belanger that forced the Avs to respect the shot. #20 then went roof with that goofy snap shot of his.

Our third goal was a strong fundamental hockey play. Hall and Hemsky worked up the right wing with speed, #83 got himself a shooting lane while #4 headed for the slot, and a low shot off the far pad plus a rebound later the puck was in the net. perfectly done.
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Dubnyk
- Other than the second Avs goal, which was a product of not one but two UGLY rebounds, #40 was excellent. Come to think of it, he misplayed the first goal as well, thinking that he could get the puck to the boards and missing (which is why he reacted so angrily). He made a bunch of fine stops, especially with his glove hand and kept the Avs from scoring long enough for his team to get to 3-1. I mention the glove hand specifically because it is usually a point of weakness for him, but tonight he was capturing the puck nearly every time. Loved the aggressive poke check on the Avs breakaway chance.

Cornet-Gagner-Eberle
- Cornet is an interesting study as a player in that he is young and isn't projecting to make a real impact, but he's done some interesting things in junior/the AHL and he could still become something. His biggest strength appears to be positioning, as he was almost always either open or moving toward the open ice. Also, unlike many AHL players that arrive in Edmonton, he was patient with the puck and generally made decent decisions. He needs to work on his passing, as he does not put enough on them to make connections in the NHL game. The biggest thing he is missing is a strong, fundamental set of skating tools. By this, I don't mean speed but the fundamentals of skating. The nice thing is that he should be able to improve these areas as power skating needs to be part of any developing pro's work and hitting the gym should put some muscle on his legs (he looked a little storkish out there). We could have something here in a couple years if he continues to develop. The instincts are there and that can go a LONG way if you're willing to work. Eberle had a generally strong game but seemed to let frustration seep in at times. He took a penalty not long after his stick had been slashed out of his hands and actually appeared to get benched for a shift. This is unusual for him, and I think this is what we'd actually call an off-night for #14. Thing is, his off-nights are damn solid. As for Gagner, I've marvelled at the strange fact that he above all other Oilers in the past number of years seems to take the longest to trust new players enough to pass them the puck. This trait was on display again tonight, as he often turned away from Cornet or made the less obvious play to another teammate. It is very weird and I don't know what about Sam's psychology causes this, but it has been true regardless of who seems to come up. #89 had strong and weak moments, showing some nice stickhandling work but also losing the puck a few times. He didn't beat anyone clean tonight, but certainly held his own.

Hall-Horcoff-Hemsky
- Really solid night for this trio and it was good to see them rewarded with a goal. They had a number of other chances (highlighted by Hemsky's dangle into the slot and then ripping a shot off the post) and seemed to be just off the mark on a number of occasions. Horcoff struggled a little in the offensive zone, including doing seemingly everything he could to miss a great chance in the slot in the second period, but was solid everywhere else. Hemsky and Hall managed the rush very well, continuing to show an ability to read off of each other at high speed. They struggled at times on the powerplay, but also looked very good at other times. If anything I'd like to see Hall go to his office at the side of the net a little more than he did tonight as Hemsky certainly knows how to get the puck to that area. I'd also like to see Horcoff cycle in on the left wing during the breakout so that they can use Hall's speed and Horcoff's own zone ability a little more effectively. These guys (Hall and Hemsky mainly, but also Horcoff at times) have been fighting the big battles for us lately and winning, which is making a huge difference. If you ask me to pinpoint a difference in Hemsky's game that indicates to me he's feeling healthier, look at his skating compared to a few weeks ago. You will see a full body skating stride right now, whereas before it appeared he was having to push with his legs exclusively. This is making a huge difference in his explosiveness and elusiveness. I suspect the ice will open up even more for these two once Hopkins and Gilbert return. (Hopkins for an additional threat on another line and Gilbert for the transition game)

Smyth-Belanger-Jones
- This was certainly Eric Belanger's best game in some time. The goal is one thing, but what I noticed most is that he was down low in his own zone making plays (including hits) to get the puck, then either making a pass or finding skating speed to get past the opposition. He skated past a number of Avalanche defenders tonight in a way we haven't seen from him much at all this year. I will never understand why the man apparently believes the wrist shot is the mark of Satan (seriously, he refuses to take one in even the most obvious of circumstances) and it certainly does cost him in the offensive zone, but less so tonight. Belanger's strong effort allowed Smyth and Jones to concentrate on playing a simple north-south game and generally this is when they're most effective. I didn't see anything spectacular out of either of them, but they did their jobs. All three of these guys played well on the PK.

Petrell-Lander-Eager
- I loved the way #37 responded to multiple early big hits on him by the Avs...not only did he not back off the puck or the dirty areas of the ice, but he gave a couple hits right back and continued a strong effort. I liked his game a fair bit tonight and he was nearly rewarded with a goal. Speaking of nearly rewarded, Anton Lander burst into open ice and made a great move, only to be robbed by a combination of glove and post. He didn't have a lot of flash other than this, but tonight was generally a strong effort from him. Eager did a fair bit less than the other two, and I didn't have a good enough view of his penalty to see whether he was the victim of a sneaky defenceman's play (I know how to make that play to draw that penalty, it is a nice trick) or whether he just pulled a stupid, but he nearly took another one late in the game. I don't understand why he's not hitting more people as well; he's certainly getting the chances.

Potter-Whitney
- As a pair, they struggled more than we are used to seeing due to what appeared to be some positional confusion. They got crossed up on a number of occasions and this led to scoring chances and turnovers. Potter especially didn't have a great game as he contributed to the offence in a minimal way and struggled with his checks at times. He made up for it with a key shot block and some sound physical play, but he can be better than this. As for Whitney, this is the first time this year I've seen him skate aggressively into the offensive zone, not be afraid to stay there, control the puck patiently and make deft passes such as the one to Belanger. If this Whitney is here to stay until the end of the year and gets a little bit of the hitting in his own zone back, it will be HUGE for this team showing progress.

Smid-Petry
- Aside from one extended stay in the offensive zone where he controlled the puck quite nicely, I didn't notice a lot from Smid tonight. I suspect this means he was doing his job defensively, but again I've seen him be better at moving the puck up to the forwards. It always amuses me when commentators say negative things about his puck moving ability; makes me think they don't watch games anymore as #5 is an excellent puck transporter. Petry had a very common game for him, some excellent passes and generally decent defence intermingled with some brain cramps.

Peckham-Sutton
- While the result was okay for these two, the process was at times ugly. Sutton missed more pucks that were within his reach than I can remember in any other game, and made a hideous pinch late in the third that could have cost the team. He also gave the puck away a number of times in his own zone due to either poor or lazy passing. It didn't really hurt us for some reason, but it certainly could have. It impacted us most in the transition game. Positionally, he was decent. Peckham had a mixed game in that he was more aggressive physically than usual and made a few good defensive stops, but he also got crossed up at times and had to chase his man rather than be ready for him.
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Is this a team ready to rip off 30 in a row? Of course not, but it sure is better than the junk we've been seeing. We could get a real boost as we add Hopkins, Gilbert and to a lesser extent Barker back into the lineup, but only time will tell.

1/23/12

LMHF Report - Game #23

EDMONTON 2

VS.

SAN JOSE 1

In a freaking shootout....
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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)

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Dubnyk
- 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.

Potter
- 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.

Sutton
- 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.

Petry
- 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.

Chorney
- 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.

Peckham
- 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.

Smid
- 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.

Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- 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.

Hartikainen-Horcoff-Hemsky
- 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.

Smyth-Lander-Paajarvi
- 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.

Petrell-Belanger-Jones
- 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.
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The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game! The Isotopes win a game!

What now?

Something that keeps coming up as I try to follow the Edmonton Oilers hockey team on a day-to-day basis is that no one is telling the important story or telling it correctly. All we ever hear is that "there is a plan", that whatever that is continues and can justify almost anything in terms of game results, that to deviate would be some kind of utter disaster and that success will come (just ask any of the GMs whose teams walk in and pound the crap out of us).

Now, if sports media guys view their job as to simply report what is said and what's going on, then I suppose that would be okay. The themes above certainly match the official line of management and others associated with the organization. I've never understood the job of a sports columnist this way. They are columnists and as such are supposed to ask questions (both directly and of themselves), then provide insight based on their experience, skill and thoughts. This is not happening. What we are receiving as fans is access journalism. This seeks to maintain an open flow of information from the team at nearly all costs by only going so far when it pertains to supplying information to readers. For somewhat interested fans this would be fine, and is already done admirably by team employees as well as the post-game type reports from each city's correspondent. There is no point to having a gaggle of writers and radio personalities out there saying the same thing. They serve no purpose for the more interested fans out there. The "hard news" will come out without wasting resources by duplicating it 19 times and shying away from what actually needs to be said.

So what if there is a plan? So what if our leadership buys into it? This plan, which went unquestioned from its accidental beginning and flawed premise to the intentional losing we've experienced in order to exploit the NHL's flawed and anti-sport draft lottery system, is showing no signs of leading to only rational goal of winning games, playoff series and the Stanley Cup. If a plan is driving your ship towards the rocks, you do not stick with the plan just because it is the plan. You have to justify yourself and constantly evaluate what is actually happening, whether you were making progress, and whether your premises were right from the very beginning. The answers are quite clearly that the Oilers are adrift as a team, and the starting premises may very well have been wrong. You won't see any of this in the local media. Instead you will see the news that our GM will be getting an extension portrayed as some kind of huge story (rather than being footnoted and then either loudly protested or supported) and justified by a simple and dismissive "why are you surprised? It is the plan."

It is not about being surprised...it is about the fact that everyone seems to know this decision would be wrong except the organization and those tasked with following them in the media. Maybe the media does know it is a bad decision and just won't say, but that is actually worse. If Steve Tambellini, Tom Renney and anyone else has been asked to lose hockey games and didn't turn down the job and walk away, they should be deeply ashamed of themselves as men. I don't know whether that reality is the case or not, but no one is telling me and no one with any supposed sway is asking the question.

No one has been pushed to explain why changing course now would be a disaster. Many (including the media who covers this team) can come up with all kinds of reasons that this is "hard" or, on a lot of days "impossible". That's really pathetic. If you've watched any professional sports with even a modicum of attention you know that this is not true. The excuses that are made for the Oilers not acquiring those they need or those that could possibly help are so numerous it is mind-boggling. You'd think making a trade or signing a third rate free agent were rocket surgery according to these people. If you get them on that point, they move onto the next talking point, which is "one player won't make a difference". What a complete load. The difference is made one player at a time every time and you can improve at any time. How anyone thinking with the least bit of logic can make such a statement is crazy and dismissive.

So, we can't adapt, can't add players because it is hard, and oh by the way, they won't make a difference anyway. We should all just give up and go home then right? Nope, because of "the plan" there is hope! Because of "the plan", we will have unprecedented success that no one has seen in years! It will be long term, but happen overnight (because one guy can't make a difference and there's no point), we know exactly what it looks like already because we've got "the plan" and it will work no matter what. We are guaranteed to win six cups and be the greatest dynasty ever with the same management team that has led us to two straight and possible three straight last place finishes!

I obviously drifted into some supreme hyperbole at the end there, but you get the point I'm trying to make. For dedicated fans who want results and know what a progressing hockey team looks like, this is all a sick fantasy. Even if we wind up having some relative success in the modern NHL, what is that, one or two cups? Maybe? With an extremely narrow window, salary cap restraints and the hope that everyone's healthy and peaks at the right time?

No. That isn't how you do this. That isn't how you plan in sports. You need kicks at the can and as many as you can get. Things can be changed, tweaked, torn down and rebuilt again quickly, players can learn how to win by winning and competing with good teams in a room with a good attitude, strong support and a hell of a lot of dignity and respect for the jersey and what it means.

We are doing this wrong, and odds are it is going to waste around 400 NHL games of times that could have been spent developing something really special. We want a freight train, not an Alfa Romeo. Even if we have success...where will our dignity be then? After THIS. When is this management group going to be forced to show it can do something right, rather than place itself in circumstances where it can't screw up and that is interpreted as success?

This is pretty rambling and I don't do it much anymore, but I needed to get it out there. I just can't believe the static surrounding this team won't stop.

1/21/12

LMHF Report - Game #22

EDMONTON 2

VS.

CALGARY 6
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I'm not even sure how much it's worth talking about tonight's game but I'm gonna do so anyway. We've all seen this movie before; I can't believe I am writing about it twice in three games but that's where we are.

I'd like to start by talking about the coaching tonight which, even though the players played very badly, is central to why we lost the game tonight. Tom Renney is either trying to lose hockey games or has no idea how to deploy players he has. Starting the game with the line he had Eberle on was a joke. The fact that he plays the fourth line after nearly every goal is a joke. And finally pulling the goalie when his team had absolutely no chance to come back and win is a joke. I don't know what this man thinks he's doing. Either way he should not be the coach of this hockey team any longer. He has simply not shown enough skill at the job. I also heard his explanation of the play at the end of the first period...brutal. How can you not know how much time is left on the clock?

To lose to Calgary in this way on Hockey Night in Canada is nothing short of embarrassing. None of the lines put forward a strong effort but I think the first line still had the best game of a sad lot. The thing is, this line gets broken up on the power play and the key elements, that being 83 and 4 get broken up. This disrupts any flow they might have and leads to a whole lot of nothing.

It is not as if Calgary played an exceptionally strong game. They took a very small amount of shots they did not pressure us very hard. The generally struggled to establish a flow just like us. It was almost as if their players were kind of laughing at the success they were having tonight.

Where we go from here I really don't know. Our defense is so bad and allowed so many five-star chances tonight even though Calgary did not really play all that well, they could have very well scored 10. Our goaltending is horrible and I don't believe either of these men should be trusted to keep net for us in the future. Please trade 35 while he still has some value from the strong numbers he put up early.

This game was never really a contest. We weren't ready to play and by the time anyone cared or was organized enough to do anything, we were already well behind. Momentum seemed to be changing, not enough to win but enough to make it respectable in the third period. Then of course Hordichuk went and took a bonehead penalty as he does (he also hid like a damn coward behind the refs rather than confront the CGY defenders. Pathetic). I am really sick of our fourth line acting like they're superstars with guaranteed jobs. These boneheads go out, don't hit anyone and try to play the game like they have the skill that our young stars have. What a joke. If they did anything at all maybe there'd be some excuse for the way they're playing the game but they are contributing negatively every single night and if at all possible should be shipped out immediately. There's one thing worse than no toughness and that is stupid, useless toughness. I honestly can't believe any coaching method that would see these players come out after goals for or against has any chance of succeeding. I have never seen a good or even bad team do it. Why are we doing it?

The thing about the atmosphere in the building is that people don't know how to react anymore. I found myself getting angry at my fellow fans for cheering the first and second goals that we scored tonight as the team on the ice did not deserve to be cheered at all at any point during the game. I was upset that they were cheered when they returned to the ice in a second. In the third, they did not receive a cheer as they took the ice which was telling. They were also roundly booed as they left the ice. This squad had better get used to that kind of reaction from the crowd if they intend to put out efforts like the one we saw. We are not a great team it is certainly true but that is no excuse for being unprepared unready and playing such a sloppy game.

Belanger should find himself in the press box next game. Just because he's back from injury does not guarantee him ice time. He is the black hole where scoring chances, good passes, and any good hockey play go to die. I don't know what is wrong with him this year, but I don't see him fixing it or putting in any effort to fix it. He has played the same game, every game since he came to this team and that game is unacceptable. There are more worthy players playing on the third line in Oklahoma City.

I cannot believe that Jordan Eberle had to put up with those linemates. The one shift he got on a decent line he set up a goal. Other than that, he was completely on his own. How a good coach doesn't recognize this I have no idea, and to reach the NHL, our coach should be good.

What I keep coming back to is how horrible an experience this was as an Oilers fan. I'm really sick of this garbage. There needs to be some improvement; any improvement even as the game goes on if the team can improve it would be helpful. Instead it just gets worse. The frustration level must be high, but that is no excuse for the sloppy disgusting passes, skating, and everything else that is on display in our old old barn on a given night. I'm really sick of trying to retell the narrative after these games which seemed to make up about half of those I'm attending right now. Where do we go from here as fans?

You want to see his team succeed, you believe in some of the players and you believe in the idea of the organization but that is really all you have left.

I find it disgusting that before these games the journalists covering the Oilers mock the Flames, when as of tonight I believe they are in a playoff spot. Just because you don't finish first overall does not mean you're a failure doomed to lose out of the playoffs. How these guys continue to justify the approach that management has taken and believe (if they even really do) that success is the inevitable result I have no idea. Their eyes should tell them differently. Their brains should also tell them differently after watching the injuries and generally freak occurrences the Oilers have experienced for the past number of years. I don't know what else to really do as a fan; I mean I could yell until I'm blue in the face, I can boo, I can have a complete hope that things will be alright, but I don't know if there's anything that will bring any satisfaction or joy right now. This team is simply not improving.

When it comes to the players again I really don't think it isn't any value to highlight the individual efforts tonight. They were mostly bad save for a very select group. The defense specifically was horrendous. Is there really any point in spending any more energy on it than to say that? We could have acquired depth when the team was playing well early in the year to backstop injuries and prevent THIS. We didn't

I hope maybe some of you are a able to provide some answers as to where we all go from here, but I don't know if you're going to be able to. This team is just so bad and has sacrificed such a promising start (even if it were based on some crazy percentages). Doesn't mean that you can't change the game as you go forward. I truly cannot believe that wasting 400 games, which is what five seasons adds up to, will be worth it at this stage. There are no signs that is the case and that things will work out perfectly. If anything we've come to understand that things can go horribly horribly wrong.

Lastly, these guys need to cease pumping the tires of Taylor Hall. He's excellent and he's putting out an effort, but the attempt to gloss over horrible performances by talking about one good player (while totally ignoring our best player, #14) and continuing to make excuse after excuse after excuse for management is disgusting. Lumping Taylor into that narrative does him a disservice.

So, that's that. Another horrible loss to Calgary. Another wasted Saturday night. Another national embarrassment.

1/15/12

LMHF Report - Game #21

EDMONTON 2

VS.

LOS ANGELES 1
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Well, we were grinding away at an outstanding goaltender all night and were finally rewarded with a win. That they bring the effort to play games like that even with a crummy lineup is why I was so angry after last game. They weren't amazing tonight...but they were pretty decent and paid attention to the details. The lazy giveaways, allowing players in behind the defence and other inexcusable acts were absent from the game tonight. We still pretty much relied on one line to generate the offensive chances, but the other lines minimized mistakes, the D controlled the puck to some extent, and we actually got decent (though only decent in my estimation) goaltending.

I feel bad for Mr. Quick if that's the way the Kings have played in front of him all year. That squad is talented enough to have no excuses, yet showed hardly any ability to be dynamic in the offensive zone. Quick on the other hand was stellar all night long. He was beaten on a screened tip and a no chance outmanned play in front of his net. He was busy committing highway robbery the rest of the evening, including stopping Hemsky's nice little deke and a decent number of high quality shots with varying levels of execution. Great goalie they have there.

Both of goals came off of some nice puck movement, good shooting decisions and well-placed traffic in front of the net using active sticks. Magnus had been having a decent PP shift before the goal and looked much more comfortable than he did earlier this year. It is worth noting that I'm about 90% sure he's changed to a different model and slightly shorter stick, which is helping him control the puck. He made the play to Petry, who wisely chose to shoot through an open lane with Green in front, who managed to get a piece of the puck and it went in. I feel good for #12 even though I still don't think he should be here, but he made the right play there.

The OT goal was excellent. I was skeptical about not sending Potter out there (instead of Gagner), but it worked out. Though many will focus on the shot-pass-shot, I'd also like to note that Hall made an excellent read to pass across the triangle to Hemsky instead of the easier-looking pass to Gagner. A Gagner pass could have been tipped out of the zone and would have left him with little time and room, instead Hall saw that he could find Hemsky with lots of time because it was an against-the-flow pass. Ales took his time, steadied the puck and instead of forcing back to Hall, shot the puck hard at Quick's right foot, forcing a rebound to Horcoff (who was in perfect position and the place he operates best on the PP), Horcoff then knew that he should be able to find Hall in his office and passed quickly rather than flipping the puck on net. Hall thankfully hesitated a bit (he was actually going behind the net with Horcoff having to move to reach the puck) and was ready to finish was the pass arrived. He should never leave that spot on the PP. Beautiful goal.

As for what's wrong with the Kings? It must simply be underperforming forwards. Where exactly were Brown, Kopitar and Richards tonight? They didn't do anything particularly exceptional and they really should be able to. I didn't mind the games that Stoll and Penner (PANCAKES!!!) played. I'd gladly have both back next season at reasonable dollars. Voynov played a very interesting game. I found him a little hard to concentrate on, but he appears to move quite well at the opposition blue line, got a couple very nice shots (including the assist) on net with a nice quick slapper release and also laid a really nice hit (I believe on Smyth) in the third period. He would fill a need, but I'd still sign #83 rather than deal him if at all possible.

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Dubnyk
- He obviously played a decent game tonight considering he was only beaten once by a shot he didn't have much chance on, but I think he should take his defencemen out for steak sometime soon. He allowed a number of large rebounds that could have been very very good chances, but the D kept the LA players from getting to them. He needs to be better when it comes to that as on many nights it will cost you and it has indeed cost him before.

Teubert
- I wanted to talk about #33's game early in this report because I really liked it. It is not new for a guy to step up and play really well against his former team, but it is not guaranteed. All night tonight, Teubert was physical, aggressive, well positioned and made good choices with the puck. I really loved the play in the first where he intercepted an LA turnover, carried speed and rumbled into the offensive zone, running right over Drew Doughty as he attempted a hit. The play wound up whistled down but it was a great little sequence and really showed the power this guy has. He's interesting for me in that he's got both the physical tools and the talent. If it ever clicks in for him (and I'm not saying it will...but it might), we will have something pretty nice on our hands.

Peckham
- Certainly one of his best games in some time. The most obvious difference from many of the games he's played this year was that he was quite patient with the puck a lot of the night and made some decent passes. He also positioned himself well and didn't get beat by the high quality LA forward group. Much better.

Sutton
- He did two of the things tonight that make me absolutely hate him. First, he refused to fight after an honest invitation from a much smaller player. I hate that a guy that big acts like a wimp when he's running around trying to bruise people with hits. Secondly, he looked totally lost several times tonight and simply froze during the play. It didn't hurt him in this one, but it sure was scary at times.

Petry
- I thought he was pretty medium tonight. He did some good things to generate offence and was okay in his own zone, but there was a lot of awkwardness to his game that would have been taken advantage of on other nights.

Potter
- He had a pretty quiet game. A turnover in the second on the powerplay (not a horrible one, just a tough one) that could have led to a goal was prevented by some hard skating and a great move to get inside position then check the guy rather than having to reach in with a stick. Very few dmen seem to be able to make the play he did without taking a penalty.

Smid
- There's no doubt he's carrying the mail back there right now. He was excellent defensively all night and moved the puck very well. He's raised his game while Gilbert has been out and tonight was no exception. Even I'm surprised how well he's playing and I've always been a fan.

Eager-Green-Hordichuk
- This line worked tonight because they all knew their job and play a fairly similar style. It is straightforward, hard skating and simple puck plays. They did a good job of making physical contact and very few mistakes. That is still no reason for Renney to put them out on own zone faceoffs or with 5 minutes to go so that they nearly cost us the game, but at least they stayed above water.

Lander-Horcoff-Jones
- These guys didn't show a lot offensively which is probably due to who they had to play against. LA's gifted forwards pose a distinct challenge for a line like this because none of these individual guys can create a mismatch. The try was there...but Horcoff missing extra step meant that Jones and Lander had to try to beat defenders which is something that neither is particularly good at. With all that said, they didn't screw up and looked better than some of the lines we've been running out there recently.

Smyth-O'Marra-Paajarvi
- A curious choice at 'C" here, but I suppose it worked out as they put forth a pretty decent effort. This is the first game in quite some time where for at least some of the game, Magnus was skating to the open ice in order to receive passes in the flow of the play rather than trying to skate the wings all night. It made a difference at the puck got deep into the opposition zone and scoring chances were generated. I suspect if they had a better center, they would have scored (likely Magnus). #91 also used his shot a little bit, which was a positive. Smyth is still looking pretty iffy to me. He was certainly better than the ANA game, but there are too many giveaways and he's letting himself get hit along the boards. He made passes tonight that were almost totally in the wrong direction. It was weird. O'Marra did what he could and you certainly can't fault him for what is out of his control. He didn't really create anything, but didn't cost the team either.

Hall-Hemsky-Gagner
- There's a little something missing from the play of this line right now, and that is the prime shooting chances aren't going to Hall and Hemsky as much as they need to. For whatever reason, many of the passing plays end on Gagner's stick and while he's never been the greatest shooter, he's having some exceptional struggles finishing right now. Several times tonight he was set for either one-times or quick-release plays that he either couldn't get away cleanly or just didn't apply much precision to. I hope he's working on that right now because he's getting many chances. To be fair, he's playing a very positive game and indeed helping to generate those chances as well as providing solid support to #s 83 and 4. I'd just like to see him be able to react a little more quickly and score on shots other than when he drops to one leg. Hemsky should have scored tonight as well. He was robbed by Quick a couple times and missed on a couple of other very nice chances. He made some lovely passes, backchecked hard to get the puck away from LA attackers and showed a ton of patience breaking into the offensive zone. He needs to relax and focus on his scoring chances...I think he'd gotten less used to having as many. Obviously I've already went through the OT goal for both Hemsky and Hall, great play. Hall had another really solid game even though he was battling Doughty a bunch. He came down 1-on-1 with a chance to win the game and nearly got away a pretty decent shot. He's really reading Hemsky's skating and passing choices well. These two need to stay together if at all possible when #14 and #93 return, as that automatically gives us 2 scoring lines. I'm wondering most if Renney can figure out that he needs to play them on the PP though. Running out 4-93-14-83-44 for at least a decent part of the 5-on-4 seems like a no-brainer.
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I didn't even realize Belanger didn't play until the drive home...shows you how important he's been this year. I can't help but think he's still due to burst out...but who knows.

Anyway, on a day this chilly, a loss would have made the walk to the car pretty horrible. Thankfully, I didn't need to worry about that.

1/13/12

LMHF Report - Game #20

This will be an attempt to register my disgust without blowing up the internet.

Who cares what the score was. We lost and it wasn't close.

The team we played is currently behind in the standings. I don't think that will last very long as we appear to have singlehandedly kickstarted just about every slumping player on the their squad.

I'm even angrier than usual because I had nearly perfect seats for this one (bottom of the second deck, center ice) and was ready to really watch some competitive hockey and pick up on the interesting things that happen. Even a game like the last against the Devils had so much to it...this one had nearly nothing.

When your coach has the attitude that you need to play exceptionally well, and get lucky in order to win, you're not going to win too much. It's not THE problem, it's just one of them but there's no reason to add that to the mix. "Hi boys, we've got to be perfect tonight and still get lucky or we're probably gonna lose! Let's GO!". UGH.

It is true that we stink right now. Moreso than usual. A lot of that is on the players but a lot is on management as well. There are no reinforcements available to this team. We've got two lines worth of players who WILL NOT score on almost every night...then one line is expected to carry an entire game and another is just way too damn tired.

I guess the first line gave an effort at least. There were shots and some iffy chances. They had a lot of trouble but at least it took them until the third to get really pissed and frustrated. You weren't worried about whether they were trying, but they were still bad as a unit. Every shot was visible for Hiller and no rebounds were grabbed.

That was a key thing tonight...none of the Oilers shots were particularly good and Hiller could see all of them. ANA did an interesting thing...after they'd realized the Oilers weakness at the blue and in terms of some of the shooters, they backed their defensive positioning off to about the top of the faceoff circle and let the Oilers miss and/or throw weak, unscreened shots on the net all night. Because the team wasn't rebounding, this meant that a turnover to ANA and subsequent chance to move up ice was virtually guaranteed. This pretty much went on all night.

I know we're understaffed on D with what was already a below par core of guys...but that means you get beat by good plays that good teams make...it doesn't mean you spend the game making mistakes, giving the puck away, and getting caught up ice. I'm not sure I've ever seen a stupider game from the Oilers defence...and I've seen some BAD hockey in that rink. This was among the worst stinkers.

Our goaltending certainly didn't help any as both of our tenders were horrible. Any night when the puck is going directly through your keeper on a clear shot that isn't an absolute rocket is going to be a bad night. The thing is, this game would have been just as bad if we'd lost 2-0. I must say I think I'm at the point where I'd cast aside Dubnyk. I was never his biggest fan to be sure, but he is showing little to no ability to step up and improve his game. The first goal he allowed, awkwardly waving his glove and giving up a gift rebound was utterly embarassing. Khabibulin has obviously peaked for the season...even though he was getting more help from the D before as chances weren't very good, he's still playing back at the subpar level we know.

Coming back to the riddle of our forwards...I guess it is not that complicated. Josh Green won't score...we know that. He's not good enough to be here and is proving that each night he's in the lineup. Tonight was certainly no exception. Ben Eager apparently can't be bothered to hit anyone or contribute in any meaningful way. Why he can't go out and get under people's skin suddenly I have no idea. He absolutely refuses to do much of anything. While I appreciate that Anton Lander had an okay game...he's in over his head. He should be in OKC learning more about the game. Mr O'Marra is great at missing the net. I suppose he at least went hard to the crease a couple times...but again, it is all about execution in this league and he had none. Blind try is useless. Magnus might be on the comeback trail as there were at least signs tonight...but he cannot put a team on his back at this stage. The fact that he's playing with an old guy who suddenly forgot how to score and now shoots every single thing into the goalie's pads is probably not helping. I can't believe some of the decisions Belanger makes...there was a pass in the third that got him booed pretty harshly...you could tell he had no thought of being able to score whatsoever despite being wide open, carrying speed and ready to fire.

Our second line could make or break a lot of games for us. If they're effective, they can plug up the other team's scoring and really make it tough. They're not going to do that when Ryan Jones is the best player on the line and #s 10 and 94 absolutely stink the joint out. Both accomplished absolutely nothing tonight. It was sad to watch their shifts really. I wonder very strongly if Horcoff is injured. He's got no speed. Smyth is dead tired already and has started to play dumb chase hockey that he's not capable of.

So what do you do with a squad that can't compete with the 29th place team in the league? I'm not sure. Well, that's not entirely true. I would blow out the coaching and management staffs (save for the AM scouts) and start fresh. Then I'd blow out a bunch of the bottom line talent and if I couldn't find replacements right now, I'd run goons for the rest of the year and make other teams HATE coming to Edmonton. At least then we'd accomplish something.

It makes me sick to have to write this way. There's no reason this has to happen, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will work out in the end. If it doesn't...we'll be begging for the days of finishing 6th-8th. Some of us already are. Dynasties and perennial contenders aren't built by multiple years of nights like this. You had to see how frustrated the players were tonight...that can't go on for anybody. You lose your passion for what you do and then bad bad BAD things start to happen. What kind of irreparable damage are we doing right now?

This didn't even have to happen within the context of this year. When we went on our run at the beginning, it should have been obvious that we had an opportunity if there were reinforcements acquired for when some players came back to earth. This doesn't compromise any process or set us back or any of that other stuff. It just would have made it so THIS wouldn't be such a familiar feeling.

I'm going to go try to forget about this one so that Sunday doesn't seem like a disaster waiting to happen. I thought we were done with this crap. Get it together guys.

1/11/12

LMHF Report - Game #19

EDMONTON 1

VS.

NEW JERSEY 2
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While tonight's game wasn't particularly exciting, it was very interesting as there were many little things to look at and watch during the 60 minutes of play. I don't know if I'll capture them all, but there were certainly more stories than usual.

The deciding feature of tonight's game was New Jersey's ability to get sticks on the puck and break up scoring chances. Many players, and especially Parise and Kovalchuk did this very well all night long and it kept the Oilers from scoring despite the fact that they were getting the puck in good shooting areas and generally carrying the play. This was somewhat surprising considering the Oilers lineup, but the Devils don't appear to be very good at much else outside of their top line.

The Oilers had their chances to win this game. They controlled the first period (especially the first ten minutes) and also got two consecutive powerplay chances to start the second. That should normally be more than enough for a team to build a substantial lead against a weak opponent and take it home. I am in fact quite confident that if even only Mr. Eberle was added to this lineup, that would have occurred. Understaffed as the team was, they were not able to take advantage and despite a strong push in the third, they wound up on the losing end of things tonight.

The way Renney used his lines tonight was rather interesting. The first period and specifically early saw more use of the fourth line than usual. I was quite surprised by this, especially considering Milan Kytnar may have still been digesting his airline snack mix and working the kinks out of his plane/taxi legs. They played okay but it seemed strange to use them in this manner. After a somewhat lacklustre PP (mainly because his linemates stood still and were not open), Renney benched Hemsky for a PP shift. This only lasted one shift and when he came back he had the same level of jump he was showing 5-on-5. In the third period, Renney played the Hall-Gagner-Hemsky line more often, reading just as he should have that they were really the only line going. Overall it was a better coached game than others of late. The only thing late that baffled me was Ben Eager's shift with very little time to go, that nearly resulted in 2 slashing penalties.

It is tough for a team to win when it really only has one line that can score. I'll get into it more in the individual breakdown, but lines 2-4 didn't have much of a hope tonight. 3 and 4 were put together this way with what scrap parts we had lying around, and 2 had an off game both 5-on-5 and on the PP to some extent. They didn't necessarily put forth a bad effort, they just didn't have any real offensive jump tonight.

Defensively, both teams put forth a fairly solid effort using very different styles. I'm not sure what style the Oilers are deploying exactly, but aside from a couple of flurries the Devils didn't really get much. The Oilers got the chances, but as noted above, the Devils stick-play shut them down pretty effectively and they didn't have the personnel to wear down the opposition.
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Khabibulin
- Can't complain. He made some excellent saves on Devils chances that seem to come in from much closer on average than other teams. The Devils set up little pass plays very close to the net (almost too close) and #35 had to be quick. Not much to be done on the Kovalchuk goal...he showed how a breakaway king does it right there. I suppose he could have pulled an NHL 12 style diving poke-check, but Kovalchuk is probably quick enough to dodge that.

Hordichuk-Kytnar-Eager
- I'm guessing these will be five and change of the most memorable moments of #64's life. He certainly didn't shame himself out there, only giving the puck away a couple times and nearly scoring a goal from the side of the net in the second period. He was certainly rushing the puck out there, and often passing back to his defencemen who were safer targets, but for a guy who leapt off a plane and sped to the rink? Decent enough. Hordichuk landed some hits but also let up on a couple others. He seems far too cosy in his roster spot right now and is not going out of his way to make a difference. On nights like tonight he simply skates around, hits a couple people, and returns to the bench. Eager was okay I suppose but mostly invisible. I would've liked to see him play with Lander and Paajarvi to be honest, as he tends to jump at offensive chances well, but there weren't many of those tonight. He is also neglecting his duty to play the physical game even more so than Hordichuk.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Lander
- Ahh, the line built to...I'm not sure what. Everyone was of course interested and glad to see Magnus back in town. Aside from one relatively decent scoring chance he had a pretty quiet night. I know people wanted to see him crash the net...though probably not his own net as he did in the second period. He was okay in terms of getting into the play and working for the puck, but there was nothing really new to his game, he didn't get much chance to shoot or pass, and he did not use his speed to get open in dangerous areas. It is just game one, but I hope there's more to his return than this. Lander got hit a bunch tonight. He usually takes the beating pretty well, but by the third tonight he looked quite shaky and tired. It is good that he plays a physical game and indeed laid a couple very nice hits, but he should also protect himself a little better. No real offensive action from him tonight. Eric Belanger got two very solid shooting chances. One went right into Hedberg's midsection and another went into the pad for no rebound. While the shot choice on the second was good (credit to Hedberg for controlling it), the first was horrible and was a better chance. I don't know why he doesn't have a wrist shot he can use. He was also on the powerplay and nothing new was going on there...PK was solid as per usual. Frustrating that #20 wasn't winning races to pucks tonight though. Might have had something to do with the way he had to position himself I suppose.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- This line might have under performed most when compared to expectations. Horcoff had a really tough night. You could see the effort was there, but for some reason the body wasn't willing and he lost or quit on several races for the puck tonight. He made an awkward weakly-shot mess of a chance that Smyth set him up for, and didn't have much else to give in the offensive zone. On the PP he was okay, but drifted out of position and got lost a couple times. People tend to forget that #10 is actually a very good goalie screener and he's gotten away from that lately. Smyth obviously played a huge part in our only goal by providing a perfect screen (it looked like he was virtually sitting on Hedberg's right shoulder), but aside from that had a weak game. He missed several pucks that were directed towards him in front of the net, didn't win as many corner battles as usual, took a stupid penalty and also made a bunch of errant passes to absolutely no one. He had Horcoff open and all the time in the world on one play in the first and didn't even come close from behind the net. It was ugly at times. He looks so tired. Jones didn't have a lot of jump despite the promotion. I expected less of him than the others so I'm not going to judge him too harshly. He at least hit a couple people and pushed the puck forward in limited icetime.

Hall-Gagner-Hemsky
- Excellent effort from this line tonight. Hall and Hemsky a step above Gagner, but all-around they were very good. You could see Hemsky was going very early on, and save for a couple crossed wires and the fact that the Devils could focus all their defensive energy on these guys, they win the game going away in the first. Hall unfortunately whiffed on a couple passes in that period with his linemates open that were setting up as truly great scoring chances. He also made a mistake when Petry jumped into the play, made a brilliant fake-shot-to-pass move and Hall missed it because he'd stopped skating. Then he missed a Hemsky pass to Hall's office because he slacked for a second behind the net. I'm not ragging on the guy, just pointing out how much could have happened. I noted Hemsky's shift off earlier; he'd been great 5-on-5 prior to that, and was very good on the PP afterwards. He really controlled the flow of the play and set up both Gagner and Hall numerous times while having at least 3 scoring chances he generated on his own either stopped by Hedberg or deftly deflected by some of the Devils' best efforts of the night. As for his goal, I find it very revealing that so many people don't understand what happened there. It was not that Hemsky just shot because; he saw Smyth screening and the Devils forward had backed off of him, giving him a shooting lane. As well, there were not any good passing options because Potter had to make such an awkward play at the blue line. It was an excellent read by a guy who knows what he's doing, not just "firing it". I still believe he's supremely miscast playing that old MacTavish-style half board position, but that appears to be what we're stuck with. Gagner had a good game in that he played an excellent support role, stayed out to finish shifts and make sure there were no bad changes, fought hard for the puck and went to all the right areas for shots. It was disappointing that he misfired on several occasions and didn't dish the puck as good as he can, but was still very solid effort.

Potter-Peckham
- I was fairly impressed these guys survived the night. Potter I expected to play well but the pairing is a mismatch brought on by necessity. Potter was his usual self, jumping in a few times, making a key play to set up our goal, and making several hits that ended plays and got the Oilers the puck. I have to say that the penalty at the end of the third was pretty weak...especially after the way this game was reffed in the first period. If I were a player I'd have no idea what to expect most nights. It was a very clutchy-grabby New Jersey game in the first...and there was nothing. The Devils play a style that can often lead to penalties in the modern game (active sticks are frowned upon), but the first indicated it was a passive referee night...not so. Peckham did alright for himself, but he just can't contribute enough to the transition game to be useful when we need a boost. I'm still wondering where the big hits are as well...another game goes by without one.

Petry-Smid
- Kind of an all over the place game from these two. Petry made some utterly brilliant offensive reads including the set up to Hall and a couple of slap-passes that completely froze the Devils defenders. He also made shooting miscues and blew his defensive coverage a couple times. I"m going to chalk that up to growing pains and too much responsibility tonight. Loved the offensive passing from him, truly. Smid was having a very solid defensive game, but made a mistake that led to the winning goal. You cannot sell out flat like that on a 4-on-3 PP. It just won't work if the other team has any skill, and the goal by that shoulda-been-Oiler showed you why.

Sutton-Teubert
- They did quite well. Sutton made a horrendous giveaway in his own zone...only to make a brilliant set up pass on the very same shift. Aside from that 30 seconds, he kept it pretty quiet and didn't take any dumb penalties or jump badly into any rushes. Teubert played a solid, simple, physical game. He's passed Peckham (aside from maybe PK) and tonight's game was another example of that.
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Tough one. In a playoff season I'd be happy with the point on a night when we're that understaffed, but it is just disappointing at this stage. Need wins to feel good...at least it was an interesting game.