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2/29/12

LMHF Report - Game #31

EDMONTON 2

VS.

ST. LOUIS 5
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I felt pretty good headed to the game tonight to be honest. This seemed like the kind of night where we might really storm out of the gate. I was actually surprised when that didn't happen. Silly me.

We had a whole lot of nothing going on in the first period. I'm sure some of this can be credited to the fact that STL is a good hockey team. but in the first period you also saw the Eager-Horcoff-Jones line get an absolute ton of shifts. There's no reason for this. The line isn't great defensively, has very little offensive capability, and despite the fact that all the players on it are "quick", can't keep up. This combo was a mistake by Renney that I'm sure was somewhat aided by management sending Paajarvi down (which we can debate the merits of separately) and hurt our team tonight. The lines that need to be out there in the first getting us the lead did not get enough icetime to impose their will on the Blues and break them out of their system (which is a good one).

The Blues seemed to enjoy a bunch of success pushing our breakout to the left wing with strong pressure. This ability waned as the game went on but in the first period it appeared to be quite obvious. One thing I've noticed over the course of the year is that our team always lags behind in terms of adapting its breakout. Often times, it will take until the second or third period for us to change when another squad has us shut down. That's unacceptable. Tonight it was obvious that the boards were effectively closed off and it took forever for us to try a passing game geared more towards the middle of the ice. Once we did that we were much better for a time.

This one got away from us for a lot of reasons. There were several occasions where the momentum seemed to be headed our way only to be stifled.

Smyth's major was an obvious one. It looked very clearly from the live POV that Smyth's stick got caught which pushed Polak off balance, then Smyth let up quite a bit but still managed to take his man into the boards. I can't see why this should have been a major outside of local minor hockey and there certainly shouldn't be a suspension. The thing that bothers me most though, is the way the refs refuse to make a call, and instead stand around staring at the injured player as if they're taking their cue from that. That is no way to officiate a sport.

Then we had the Hall/Hemsky collision. The game may already have been done due to the fourth goal, but this shift was really buzzing when Eberle left to be replaced by Hemsky. Ales saw Hall with the puck and read that he'd probably loop back and tried to hit a lane to the net with speed where Hall could get him the puck. Obviously this didn't work out, the puck went the other way and a penalty shot resulted. Pretty crummy turn of a events and a mistake (though one based in trying to make the right play) from Hemsky. The thing is. Renney's understanding of this was different...and completely incorrect. He seemed to blame Hall for being out on the ice too long and said something to the effect of "he should have dumped it". What idiocy. The guy has the puck on a string all shift and you're losing...you have to try to create there and the best way to do that is for your best players to have the puck on their stick.

There were many other little things that didn't go our way, including multiple chances for defencemen to score. Between Whitney (3), Barker (2), Schultz (2) and Potter (1) at the very least, all of these guys could have been on the scoreboard. I don't know why they were jumping in so much, but the pucks came to them and they couldn't finish. It doesn't surprise me from Schultz (other than that he jumped in), but it does from the other three.

St. Louis' finest efforts were reserved for the front of their own net. They made several pokes, stick lifts and positional plays at just the right times to squelch the scoring chances of guys like Eberle, Hall and Eager. Pietrangelo and Colaiacovo led the way in this department (Carlo especially).
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Dubnyk
- You know #40 is going to have a bad night when he's not coming out of his crease. Tonight he played well back in the net and got burned repeatedly because of it. More than this, he didn't look into the game at all. No focus, very slow and unreactive (at least three other pucks hit him without him even looking in their general direction), and just bad positionally as well. One of his poorer efforts and he should have been pulled after the second goal. Renney is bad for leaving his goalies in. The Nichol slapper was completely embarrassing and if that isn't an obvious sign that a goalie is off, I don't know what is. The MacDonald wrister was nothing to write home about either. He had clear looks at both. Brutal.

Danis
- I suppose this was part of the reason Renney didn't use the hook earlier. Danis made a couple decent stops but also played like you'd expect an AHL goaltender to. This is no Martin Gerber. Both goals scored against him were moving quite slowly and went past the left pad. I'm not saying I expected him to stop them (especially the penalty shot), but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in the quality of goals he allowed.

There is almost no point to going on. If you get goaltending that bad, you probably shouldn't win. Still, we had moments...and OTHER moments.

Barker
- I feel as though I should start with the positive no matter how limited it may be. I remember one solid pinch up the boards, a couple strong drives to the net that could have resulted in goals, and a lot of unpenalized crosschecks that surely wore on the Blues backs and patience. Aside from that, he was horrible and the major reason outside of shoddy goaltending that we lost this game. Perhaps tied for that honor in fact. He pinched horribly on multiple occasions (some of which led to goals), took a bad penalty that led to another, and generally made more work for his poor defensive partner all night. There is no way #13 should see the ice next game and I'm still perplexed as to why he played tonight.

Potter
- Made the best of a bad situation. He fumbled the puck a couple of times at the opposition blue line, but tried to play physically and did his best to cover for Barker's defensive gaffes. He did okay at this. The thing is, when you play Potter with a guy like Barker, he can't use the strengths of his game such as skating with the puck, jumping in, making plays and making some daring passes. He still managed to get to the net a time or two, but his effectiveness was limited in his role tonight. Great shot on the goal. He picks corners well.

Whitney
- Made some interesting things happen, especially offensively. The slap-pass he made to Hall in third, though likely too late, was sublime. It seems to be the one play he has in the repertoire that has not been impacted since he was at his best. He also drove the net, sometimes at strange points (such as a rush with Hemsky and Hall where he overtook Hopkins...why?) but he was unable to get a strong puck at the net to capitalize. Defensively, he was just okay as he missed his check on a few occasions and didn't really impose his will physically.

Schultz
- Very interesting first game from our new recruit. I wasn't expecting him to go to the net aggressively and get a couple chances but he did, which was nice to see. I don't see a lot of close-in shooting or finishing ability though as he kinda flubbed both. Defensively he relies mainly on skating it would appear. In 50/50 races, his quick start and smooth stride serve him very well and he won just about every one of these that I recall. I can only remember one "pass to no one" up the boards as someone had mentioned might be a problem. and even this one was likely due to miscommunication. He doesn't really look for the hit, but that also means he's in good position a lot of the time. I look forward to seeing more from him...though I think his ideal partner may have been Gilbert...crap.

Smid
- One of #5's weaker games in a while. He missed his check on a few occasions, including the fourth St. Louis goal. I also didn't see a lot of work on the opposition blue line, much physical play or skating strongly with the puck. I'm sure he'll rebound.

Petry
- He was also a little off tonight, but not as much as Smid. There weren't a lot of times where he skated the puck up, but there were still a couple. He hammered a shot off Halak's mask after making a nice little play that was very impressive. He also maintained his hitting for puck separation style of play, and used his size well in tonight's game. This guy's certainly improved a bunch this year.

Petrell-Belanger-Hordichuk
- I sometimes wonder if Hordichuk doesn't fall on purpose when he goes for the first punch in a fight and misses. He fell after such an effort tonight and it looked a little too easy. He landed a couple of hits but didn't really do too much. That assist he got was, I suppose a solid hockey play anyway. The shift that resulted in that goal was a good one for the team, as was a shift near the same time that drew a penalty, so they were effective in this way. Petrell did a bunch of solid work on the PK, got in well on the forecheck and made an effort but couldn't get a decent shot off. Belanger wandered around the lineup as the game went on, never really doing much of anything other than very very slowly getting a shot or two on net. Blah.

Eager-Horcoff-Jones
- I noted some complaints about this line above. Eager was probably the best of the three, as not only did he give a good effort in the offensive and neutral zones, he broke up a couple dangerous looking St. Louis rushes including one where he was the last man back. Impressive stuff from a player like him. He couldn't get any offence going tonight, but I'm mostly going to lay that at the feet of Jones and Horcoff. Jones hit a couple people, but had the chances to do more of that and backed down. He couldn't provide a spark and couldn't use his speed to get in behind the St. Louis D. Because he was not pushing for offence and Magnus is no longer on the line, this group looked like it was playing in mud half the time. Horcoff once again struggled mightily with the puck, overskated his check more often than usual, and just didn't make a lot happen. This line was boring and not particularly great and getting the puck headed the other direction.

Smyth-Gagner-Eberle
- Smyth was struggling from the get-go tonight, as he was not winning any races and was forced to rely on an outstretched stick to try to make plays. As those of you who play or have played hockey know, this rarely works. He also wasn't passing the puck in a particularly effective manner. Gagner was a little better but not much. He wasn't getting the puck as much as he usually does and seemed to be out of position for some reason. There was just no pop to his offensive game. Because of this, Eberle essentially had to get the puck and get himself to scoring position rather than go to that position and get it from Gagner or Smyth. This is hard work and the Blues took advantage by impeding him well and often taking the puck. Eberle still could have scored, and probably should have at the end of the second. This would have tied the game and I'd guess we would have had a very different third period. Twas not to be tonight. Good to see Eberle on the PK as well.

Hall-Hopkins-Hemsky
- This line was oh so close to having an amazing night. There were too many dynamic little efforts to count by all three of these guys and for whatever reason the finish wasn't there. Hall missed a half-empty net in the first after great passes from the other two. Hopkins was making little flick saucer passes to himself and the others all night long as well as getting shots of his own on. Hemsky was cruising the open lanes and filtering the puck to the front of the net for both his linemates and the defence. The only thing they got to show for these efforts was pretty but not enough. Hopkins skated to an open spot at the Blues blue line and just missed a solid pass effort from Schultz. He didn't peel off but instead headed to the net. Hemsky was first in, and knowing Hall was directly behind, lifted the STL defender's stick and kept him going out of the play, Hall then swooped in for the puck and fed a wide open Hopkins who made no mistake on the roof job. Beauty goal. I'm going to say here that you cannot play Potter and Barker (emphasis on the Barker) with these guys. I've never understood why coaches match 3rd pairing D with first pairing forwards and tonight was a perfect example. They had zero support on the opposition blue line and that meant the three forwards had a much larger area to control. It just didn't work out. The line broke up for a short time after the Hall/Hemsky mix-up, but got back together and looked good. I would strongly consider Gagner with these guys, or the crazy part of me would recall Paajarvi and try Hall at C. Try and keep up with those freaks. So, despite the minus-2, I think they were right on the cusp.
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Disappointing but understandable loss. Inconsistent goaltending, shoddy D and missed chances will get you every time.

2/23/12

LMHF Report - Game #30

EDMONTON 2

VS.

PHILADELPHIA 0
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Ya know, I should really be happy after a win like that. We went out and pretty much shut down the highest scoring team in the league through a combo of great goaltending and some really nice play in all aspects of the game, but I'm just angry right now.

Part is that because I've had an angry day for some reason. Seems like just about everything that came up today was positively rage-inducing. If the Oilers had lost I don't know how I would have made it home without screaming or breaking something (not valuable and my property rather than anyone else's).

But we did, and if this had been a game during a playoff race and we'd put forth that effort I would have been absolutely overjoyed. From top to bottom tonight that crew knew they could win and went out and did it. That was plain great.

I am really angry at the lack of reaction to the Scott Hartnell play though. That damn coward ran and hid on multiple occasions, dodged shifts and evaded any kind of justice for the cheapest of cheap plays. Let there be no doubt that knee was in response to a hard hit earlier by an Oilers player (Potter I believe). Where were the Oilers when #91 got hit? Where were they when he left the penalty box and never should have made it to his own bench? Why did Ryan Whitney let the refs intervene? Why did the coach clearly keep Hordichuk off the ice? Talk about a horrendous reaction to a horrible play that could cost a young man who was really getting his game going, significant time and possibly serious damage. You do not let that go unanswered and if you don't want to go after Hartnell, you go slam Voracek or Schenn or someone else. You take a shot. You don't take that garbage sitting down. We are not marching to the playoffs here and to let that go because you're scared of taking a penalty is complete and utter BS.

Most of the rest of the net the Oilers actually handed the Flyers playing style quite well. They gave Simmonds the business even as he tried to hide behind that jaw guard and wouldn't shut his yap. They defended against the speed players, push the defence and managed to score on our old pal Ilya despite the fact that he appeared to be on tonight.

It is obvious that if we're able to run multiple effective lines out there, and get a decent effort from the defence, we're probably going to do well. The recent changes that we've seen in Calgary and that stayed in place tonight (until Magnus got cheapshotted) appear to be working. We're able to attack routinely with two effective offensive units and are getting strong efforts from most of the support players below them. That third line could be better, but we'll see who they call on to replace Magnus. I suspect it will be Jones in which case we'll be back to having an ineffective third line as the dynamic just doesn't seem to work there.

Lastly, and almost as rage-inducing as the Hartnell situation was the officiating. What an absolute joke. I'm surprised Taylor Hall didn't skewer a linesman and get himself suspended. He was abused more than I've seen just about any player get in that building in a long time. There were hacks, slashes, tackles and plenty of other BS all night. Nothing. Our goalie got whacked in the head and crosschecked in the back. Nothing. Multiple players tripped, blocked, held, everything you could thing of. Nothing. Blown icings (which are totally inexcusable). Blown offsides. Total and utter BS. That crew should be fined for that effort, and our coach should've gotten himself fined talking about them (he didn't).

I was distracted by some personal stuff a couple times during the game tonight, so I apologize if I miss something (predominantly in the second period) and please fill in any crucial stuff you noticed.
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Dubnyk
- Fabulous effort. His positioning was great, he didn't wander and he never overplayed the shooter. His reflexes were good and rebound control was much stronger than usual. The only time I saw him waver a little was at the end of the game when he appeared a little distracted and missed a couple easy to retrieve pucks. One of his best efforts.

Petry-Smid
- These guys were tough, skated the puck well, passed well, held their positions and got just a little bit of retribution on the Philly players tonight. I'm still not sure exactly why this pair is working (though it might be because Smid has become the kind of guy who can play with anyone) but it certainly seems to. They did a great job of tilting the ice in their team's favor pretty much all night. My favorite thing about Petry lately are his confident rushes and that continued tonight. He protects the puck quite well when he makes these plays. I only wish Smid had dummied Hartnell by the end of this. Seemed like a job for #5 if the coach wouldn't let #16 off the bench (though I'd have had no problem with Hordichuk taking a 10-game at the end when Hartnell couldn't get away).

Gilbert-Sutton
- If one pair struggled for the Oilers tonight, it was these guys. Sutton struggled with the puck some, lost track of his position and added absolutely no toughness whatsoever. You'd think he'd drip into the rage stash tonight but then I remember that's not who he is. I'm wondering if he comes out for Peckham one of these nights...but I don't know they seem to really like him there. Gilbert was better than Sutton but also got caught wandering and wasn't as effective with the puck as he can be.

Potter-Whitney
- Something observers might not notice about #44 is that he can be mean. When he gets angry, the hitting steps up, the sticks slash across people and the gloves go into the face. This is when he's in many ways his most effective and we saw that tonight through hits, toughness in front of the net, several scrums and other sequences as well. He wasn't perfect with the puck, nor did he create as much offence as he could've, but it was a good effort. Seeing this play from Whitney is a much more common sight. Aside from his under-reaction to Hartnell, he played really tough, stuck it to the Flyers and chipped in with solid offence from the opposition blue line. He was commanding the puck, which is something you haven't seen from him as much since his return. Another positive night for #6 is always a good story.

Hordichuk-Lander-Petrell
- I didn't see much at all from #s 57 and 37...they were quite invisible to me to be honest. I remember a Petrell hit or two and a PK shift or two from Lander but maybe I missed something. Hordichuk did what he could with the limited time he had. The effort against Shelley was a decent one and I can only imagine his frustration at being plastered to the bench in a game like that.

Eager-Belanger-Paajarvi
- These guys seemed to be going along pretty well until the BS play on Magnus. #91 used his speed well on both the forecheck and several backchecks, Eager was getting open in attack lanes and getting scoring chances (unfortunately he didn't cash on two that were pretty simple-looking), and Belanger was moving solidly in a support role without getting in his linemates' way. Things didn't look near as smooth after #91 left because of the loss in speed, but the efforts of the other two were still pretty solid.

Hall-Horcoff-Hemsky
- There's no question in my mind that Hemsky's game has come around in a big way. Once again tonight he was moving quickly with the puck, dangling, making plays and going to the net. The only thing I find alarming is that he doesn't seem to be finishing the plays he usually does; specifically the play where he drives the net and backhands around the goalie. Perhaps he's just being defended well but for whatever reason he couldn't score tonight. Hall's speed and better than normal reading of the play as the Oilers headed into the attacking zone resulted in some chances from some rather mundane-looking sequences which is always impressive. It was also impressive that despite take the abuse I noted above, Hall didn't get frustrated to a large degree, kept after the game and didn't give an inch until the final siren. He showed the competitor that he is tonight and I just wish he could have got an empty-netter or whistled a puck by a ref's ear to let him know he's there. On the goal he did score, I'd been bemoaning the fact that Hall was stuck at the point and the dangerous passes kept winding up on Horcoff's stick, then Hall slides down and buries one from the office. Classic. Horcoff was decent in a supporting role 5-on-5, but missed out on a ton of chances due to iffy puckhandling and bad shooting decisions. To his credit, he did actually have Ilya moving on the penalty shot attempt, I just wish that he and Hall would abandon that damn move that sacrifices all the strength and advantage you have on a goalie. It almost looked like he changed his mind half-way into the penalty shot. He's got to bear down and finish some of the chances he's getting as a result of the plays by #83 and #4. To his credit, the positioning and work are there, but he's just horrible with the puck right now.

Smyth-Gagner-Eberle
- I've pretty much run out of superlatives to describe Eberle, who had another night where he showed you that he is the best Oilers forward. He was excellent in all areas, scored the second goal and led the absolute domination that is the Oilers PP. With this guy on the ice the game is just under control and if not for superb Philly efforts to stop him, he gets three or four tonight. Smyth was strong-ish. More okay than good. He did a lot of hustling, but was making some plays quite slowly (the pass to Potter at the side of the net after the brilliant Eberle feed springs to mind) and didn't get a lot of effective pucks to the net. He also didn't really make mistakes though. Gagner couldn't seem to get much going but the good news I suppose is that he didn't need to. There were shots directed at the net and a few nice passes, but not the hyper-dynamic game we've seen from him lately. Nothing wrong with these guys tonight, just didn't pop your eyes out. Gagner was pretty good on the PP though.
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Unfortunately I have to face the reality that tonight's game may have been the last time I see Ales Hemsky at Rexall in an Oilers uniform. I will be missing the PHX game and thus tonight was it. I was hoping for magic, but I also believe it would be a massive mistake to let him go when the asking price in terms of a contract seems so reasonable compared to the open market. I truly hope my next piece of writing won't be a tribute to the guy who inspired my name, and that I can just continue writing about him in these game reports, but I guess only time will tell. I just hope that sanity, which has been so lacking with regard to this team for many years when it comes to their best players, prevails in the end. We've had too many good ones ripped or thrown away. Let it end here.

Hope you all enjoyed tonight's game. Imagine it was part of a playoff race or us chasing the division crown. Would have been an utterly amazing night. I'll take good...but amazing beckons.

2/19/12

LMHF Report - Game #29

EDMONTON 2

Vs.

VANCOUVER 5
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Well, I think I was cautiously optimistic heading into the game tonight and LMHF#2 was thinking win...but we found out pretty damn fast that wasn't going to happen.

I think this homestand was for whatever reason contingent on that Toronto game. They fought off a lot of things and should have been able to get a win that night. In the two games since we've pretty much been listless.

I still don't understand why 4-89-14 don't get the starting shift at home. I apologize for those who listened to the radio on the way home and already heard Rob Brown go on about this (I think it is one of the first times we've agreed about anything), but we were talking about this in the first period. We were losing before that line even saw the ice. It might not have mattered with the effort they put forward tonight, but on a given night I can't see how starting that unit is a losing proposition. If you're going to lose at least do it with your guns blazing a bit.

I'm starting to question Krueger's ability somewhat. Last year he appeared to have some interesting ideas, but these games he's had responsibility for seem kind of iffy and he has trouble making adjustments. It was blatantly obvious that the Canucks were being left open in the high offensive zone and nothing was done to adjust to this reality, so it cost us the game. I think I actually saw a couple players checking their watches before remembering it was time to shoot from the point. When it wasn't the point, it was guys left totally alone in the slot. Combine this from tonight with what he was saying in the media, and he certainly doesn't strike me as the kind of guy who should be sticking around after this year is done.

Vancouver played okay. They were strong in terms of standing up defensively and got enough offensive chances to win. They certainly were off their game in the early second and combined with a stronger and more disciplined Oilers effort, this was a time when the tide could have turned but the Oilers were not up for taking advantage of this shift in momentum, so the game eventually turned back on them. You never got the feeling tonight that the team was going to get rolling. Not once.

A lot of the lack of flow to our game was on the defence once again. Not one pairing were making consistent passes. All blew defensive coverages. Once again I'd say that Smid-Petry were the strongest followed distantly by GIlbert-Whitney and Sutton-Barker. We're not going to win games where that is the case.

Up front, when you've got one line including a center who should be in Oklahoma City leading the charge, you're not going to outscore the Canucks. This didn't have to be the case, but it was.

Throw on top of all that some seriously mediocre goaltending and you've got the recipe for a lopsided loss. Those don't smell very good coming out of the oven. It was a generally crappy sports day as I watched Phil lose in a playoff on a day when no putts would drop, then watch the Oilers embarrass themselves and all of their fans against the Canucks. If you haven't been to the games or encountered them in person, you have no idea how much it stinks to watch your team make it that easy for Canucks fans to cheer. Talk about a crummy long weekend Sunday night.
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Khabibulin
- Left with an injury but didn't look to be on his game. I'm not saying he is responsible for what happened but he certainly wasn't locked-on tonight.

Dubnyk
- For a big goalie, he sure doesn't do a very good job of making himself big. He gets beat clean on shots that have no business getting right past him and tonight was no exception. You never got the sense that he was in control. If I ran the Oilers, I'd trade both goalies away and never look back. Neither seems capable of elevating to be the kind of guy who consistently gives the team a chance to win.

Barker-Sutton
- Seriously disgusting. I didn't know Barker could get worse than he has the past couple games but he managed it tonight. There was a sequence in the second period on the Canucks fourth goal I believe, where he made at least three mistakes going into the corner with an edge on the Canucks attacker and basically generated a goal himself. When he wasn't busy passing to the guys in white, he was getting out of position or getting passed with minimal effort on his was back into his own zone. With Sutton, aside from the obvious mistake on the fourth goal by Barker, you could pretty much say the exact same things and add in the stupid slashing penalty he took against Lapierre. Talk about pointless. I guess #25 at least landed a pretty big (and clean) hit in the second period, but that's the kind of thing he needs to do all night against this opposition.

Gilbert-Whitney
- This pairing doesn't work. Seriously. Separate them. Now. Gilbert turned the puck over at least 5 times in the first half of the game, with most of those being totally unforced plays where he just made a horrible pass. You don't usually see that kind of play from him. He was also over-chasing Canucks attackers and didn't hit as much as he has in other games this season where the club has needed a boost. Whitney did a whole lot of nothing in all zones all night. This was certainly the most blah game I've seen from him since his return.

Smid-Petry
- These guys were the best of a bad bunch as I noted. Smid made some nice physical plays and actually passed the puck well from time to time, but also hit some rough patches where he was beat clean but Canucks players, bobbled the puck, didn't keep the puck in the offensive zone (thinking of a specific, easy play in the second) and generally looked a little bit off his game. I liked that Petry stepped up physically and was decent in terms of his positioning, but he wasn't as effective with the puck as he has been lately.

Eager-Belanger-Petrell
- The thing about Belanger that has me absolutely rattled is his offensive positioning. He simply does not know where to skate. On several occasions tonight he had the opportunity to get set up for plays created by the work of his linemates and instead looped off into some completely useless space on the ice. The few chances he did get with the puck were wasted as he slowed down and took way too much time to get that stupid snap-shot off or missed the net with his backhand. The coaching staff needs to sit down with some old game tape from his previous seasons and figure something out here. Petrell skated hard on some shifts but didn't really accomplish much. Eager took a stupid penalty and wasn't really hitting people. In a game like this, you need the Canucks to be intimidated by #55 and they were not in the least.

Smyth-Horcoff-Jones
- Despite the goal they generated, this was a pretty bad night for this line. Smyth was sort of off and on all night. He'd have a strong shift where he'd get speed through the neutral zone and drive in deep, or make the nifty play with which he set up Horcoff, but he'd follow that up with a horrid pass to no one, getting beat to a puck badly, or getting totally out of position to create a situation where all three Oilers forwards were on one side of the ice. Not good. I know he's tired from being overplayed, but they need to figure out some method to maintain his effectiveness. This was one of the worst games I've seen Horcoff play in a long time despite the fact that he scored. He gave the puck away in the defensive zone and routinely was out of position which are two things you just don't see from him normally. Horcoff also backed away from several opportunities to hit people, and was having to chase the puck around a bunch tonight. Yuck. Jones at least made an effort and took a bit of a beating, but he should really be hitting more people and even fighting on nights like tonight. This line was bullied around by the Canucks and nothing at all was done in response even though all three of these guys should be able to take care of themselves.

Paajarvi-Lander-Hemsky
- Certainly our best forward line tonight. I was skeptical of playing Lander here and I still think they'd have been better with a different C supporting strong efforts from both Paajarvi and Hemsky, but the problem is the guy they need might be Jarret Stoll or Kyle Brodziak and they no longer play for this team. Lander stepped up decently, staying mostly as a support player either playing high or driving the net. Paajarvi made a strong effort on most shifts including jumping ahead of the play more often and of course getting open in the slot for his goal in the second period. He very rarely goes to the slot so that was good to see and also good that he was rewarded with a goal on a strong shot and screen by Lander. Hemsky and Paajarvi had actually switched sides on this rush and that should be a formula that works. Hemsky nudged Paajarvi with the best performance on this line tonight, as he was routinely able to skate through and around the Canucks D, mostly passing as they were actually respecting his shot in their positioning for most of the night.

Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- Well, if it wasn't time to break them up when they started allowing goals in Toronto, it certainly is now. This group had a whole lot of nothing tonight and in fact seemed to get frustrated very early. Hall, who was having a decent game but not finding any results, starting attempting (badly) to hit people (which isn't so bad) and flicking the puck all over the place (which is) when he had open men. It wasn't pretty. I'm not trying to jump all over the guy and be angry, but he has to take a rough night in a different way than that. Trying to do it all yourself or having a physical fit aren't going to turn anything around. Gagner seems to have lost the magic as he was not getting through Canucks defenders, couldn't get his shot away quickly, and routinely made bad passing decisions. He was hesitating with the puck on many occasions tonight when he wasn't a few games ago and this gave all the time the Canucks defenders needed. Eberle was probably the best of the three, but couldn't get open with the puck in the slot or drive wide around anyone. Just nothing doing for these guys.
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I will give the Canucks defenders credit for excellent stickwork in front of their own net. Many times tonight when a dangerous pass or shot came through, it was tipped or a stick was lifted at just the right time to stifle a would-be scoring chance. Not a good night for our crew. Hoping it is better against the Flyers.

2/18/12

LMHF Report - Game #28

EDMONTON 1

VS.

COLORADO 3
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I had to let this one marinate for a while after the game before sitting down to write. Lately there's been a lot of inspiring things happening on Rexall Place ice and tonight was sadly devoid of them. So, I enjoyed a post-game cigar (originally intended as a 'victory dance' for all you ID4 watchers out there) with a friend, had a chat and then set out for home. Now, here we are and I think it is pretty clear what happened to the Oilers tonight.

First of all, we just weren't very good. Passes were not connecting in any zone really and rushes were very hard to come by. This team thrives when it is able to generate a rush and either score directly off that rush, or force the opposition to make a mistake as the result of the rush. Tonight none of that was happening and we were unable to improvise anything else. In reality, we probably shouldn't have even got the one we did.

Major credit to Colorado tonight. They were standing up very well at their own blue line and forcing the Oilers to slow down upon entry, and when the home squad gained the zone, they forced the play to the outside and were very disciplined about keeping it there. The Oilers are not a team with a lot of strong perimeter attack players, so when you take away the play to the slot, you take away most capacity to generate offence unless our defencemen are having a good night getting the puck on net. They were not getting shots through tonight at all and thus there were no rebounds to pounce on. That's the book on how to play the Oilers right now.

It didn't help that our powerplay looked shaky and defensive efforts were not resulting puck possession. We were simply beaten tonight, no more, no less really.
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Dubnyk
- He wasn't great and it appeared that he made a rather massive blunder on the Johnson goal that changed what would have been an even first period into an excuse to lose one. If you're going to wander, you have to be able to reset yourself and it appeared he never did. The defensive coverage wasn't great on that play, but it still shouldn't have resulted in a goal. There was not much he could have done on the Olver and Landeskog goals, but we needed him to make at least one of those saves if there was a hope of victory tonight. While Colorado played a strong defensive game, they weren't offensive dynamos by any stretch.

Sutton-Barker
- Once again, the effort of this pair was pretty bad. Neither used their size effectively throughout the game and turnovers were the order of the evening. I'm still trying to figure out where Barker was shooting in the second on the powerplay when he fired what appeared to be a pitching wedge way up high into the netting. I've hit lower flop shots. He is eager to shoot the puck, but on a night like tonight when Colorado is clogging the shooting lanes so well, his attempts are nothing but glorified turnovers. Defensively he was weak. As for Sutton, he was also weak defensively, couldn't move the puck to save his life, didn't have any effective offensive sojourns and also didn't stand up for Hall when he was crosschecked in the back. Leaving that job to Horcoff when #25 is on the ice is pretty sad.

Gilbert-Whitney
- This pair struggled mightily tonight and I'd put most of the blame at the foot of #6. While the goal scoring plays appeared to feature #77 in the vicinity of the puck, Whitney spent his night lunging for pucks and getting beat without taking the man or the puck (at the opposition blue especially) which was creating all kinds of havoc for Gilbert and whichever forward (most notably Paajarvi and Hemsky on a number of occasions) to deal with. This is no way for a guy who can be our best defenceman to play. He also had absolutely nothing to contribute offensively tonight. Gilbert was just okay, but as I said, that appeared to be mainly because he was busy covering up for Whitney. One interesting thing was that the Paajarvi-Hemsky-Whitney trio rushed in again and Magnus did indeed go back to Whitney again, but this time they got the shot off and there was a much tighter gap between the group.

Petry-Smid
- These guys were easily the best of the three defensive pairs tonight. The eyes and the stats showed that quite clearly. Both were on their games defensively and did what they could to gain possession. They moved the puck okay and did some nice things at the opposition blue. I'm not sure why Petry isn't getting powerplay time with #s 13, 77 and 6 struggling as they as, because he certainly deserves it at this point. I'm not sure enough could be said about what Smid does for this team right now. He's been a rock back there all season and is even improving his offensive reads and shooting decisions. Lock that man up.

Petrell-Lander-Eager
- 2/3 of this line really didn't see much ice at all. I can recall one quasi scoring chance for Lander and not much at all from Petrell. Eager had another positive game aside from the penalty he took. He was jumped up to the third line on a number of occasions and made the most of it, getting in on the rush, making a few passes and actually beating Varlamov on a couple of shots (but missing). This is probably the most effective way to use Eager. I would have liked to see him take more shots at both Wilson and Winnik, who each tried to cheapshot our guys in addition to their previous indiscretions, but I guess there's only so much you can ask.

Smyth-Belanger-Jones
- This was a better game from Jones as he showed a decent amount of jump, drove the net well and actually managed to corral some passes from time to time. Smyth was pretty mediocre and seemed to have an issue with falling to the ice at times during the game. I think he may have been trying a tad too hard to draw a penalty. Belanger was nearly comatose in the offensive zone. I don't know why they don't have him simply stay as the high guy in the zone all the time, because he never does anything when he gets a puck down low. It is pretty ugly.

Paajarvi-Horcoff-Hemsky
- Not near as good of a night from this group as against the Leafs. I'd still say #s 91 and 83 were a decent bit better than #10, but they weren't able to generate the kind of pressure, rushes or chances that their speed allowed last game. I will give all of them credit for defensive efforts as they were forced to backcheck hard on several occasions, but this line has to produce offensive pressure at the very least. Magnus wasn't the driving force he was last game and didn't really get away any great shots, but he was moving with some authority. Ales struggled to find open men and forced the shooting situation a little too much tonight. There seemed to be something in the neutral zone shutting down the natural flow that existed for Paajarvi and Hemsky last game. I'm guessing they'll find it again against Vancouver. Horcoff is having a real tough time right now when the puck comes to him and he's standing still. For whatever reason, he isn't able to pass the puck quickly at the moment and it is causing him to turn it over and get caught out of position. He's also gotten away from screens and a supporting role in the offensive zone, which is causing him some difficulty. On a semi-interesting note, I finally got to check out a couple of Hemsky's sticks tonight at the Oilers' store to see what Renney and #83 are busy bickering about...I too can't see how he's able to use the thing. The blade is incredibly short, with very little curve and the stick is also extremely short and somewhat weak-feeling. If I leaned into a slapper with this thing I'm pretty sure I'd snap it in half. Weird. It is very different from the stick that Ales started with, which I quite liked and featured a strong curve and longer blade.

Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- This is as shut down as I've seen this crew at home this year. Aside from some chances for Eberle that were largely self-generated in the first period, they didn't have much of anything at all. Hall wasn't beating people on the wide drives, Gagner was getting the puck taken away from him, and Eberle couldn't get to the slot for a shot. Gagner looked like he had his first 'off' game in quite some time, getting frustrated at the lack of shooting lanes, passing badly and peeling away from plays too early. Hall didn't have any real passing game, which is always what shows in his strongest efforts. Eberle was probably the most consistent Oilers forward tonight, but wasn't able to will goals tonight.
---------

A pretty simple loss where we were simply outclassed. It is frustrating because you know the team is better than that, but hat tip to Colorado, they wanted it more tonight.

2/15/12

LMHF Report - Game #27

We lost. To Toronto and this strange team in stripey uniforms.

Odd to face two opponents at once, no?
--------------

This is not one of those losses that will just go away. There were so many reasons we should have won. There were so many reasons we needed to win. There were so many things that went against us and we overcame them. Then, as things reached what seemed like the inevitable and glorious conclusion, it all went wrong again. I'm having a really difficult time with this one.

First off, I'd forgotten how bad Leafs fans are to deal with. It goes beyond booing the home team, shrieking like girls at every half decent play and celebrating like you've won a playoff series after the game. A friend of mine who was at the game even witness a Leaf fan on the concourse mocking a young Oilers fan who was getting sick at the intermission. How no one beat the tar out of that guy for acting that way towards a kid I have no idea. Stand up for yourselves in that rink people. No one deserves to walk in and act like those jerks did. Sure, there were some good ones who were respectful, but I'd put that number at about 5%.

Strange look of the night: the Oilers have apparently taken a cue from other teams around the league and colored the dividers between pieces of glass. They are now blue. It isn't sharp-looking.

We started this game out less than perfectly, but that shouldn't really have mattered too much. Having the other team burst out with two quick shifts might put you back on your heels a bit, but it usually doesn't turn out like that. I'm going to get one of the player reviews out of the way right now:

Khabibulin
- He stunk. He was horrible on the first two Toronto goals and then actively battled to make even the simplest save subsequently. He should have been pulled after 2 goals or at least after the first period for that reason alone. It was horrible. Any time Toronto actually got a clear-ish chance he was dead to rights and hoping for a miracle. Absolutely brutal performance and he's lucky he only allowed 4.

The Leafs will get crushed if they somehow make the playoffs. The Oilers adjusted early on to the Leafs cherry-pick centric offence and started intercepting passes, which is when the table started to turn. Once this happened, our top two lines began charging into the Leafs zone with some real fury. Those 6 guys all wanted this game really really badly and showed it big time. They weren't all perfect but boy did they ever put the hammer down, skating through checks, holds and grabs while forcing offence and getting physical with Toronto for much of the game. It was great to see and if they'd had better support in a couple areas it certainly would have won them the game.

I know that many people are going to be ranting and raving about the officiating tonight. Those people would be correct. In the last two games against Toronto, it is unbelievable how few penalties have been called against the Leafs even as we skate like crazy and take the play to them. The picks, hooks, grabs and trips were just unbelievable out there. Hall and Eberle especially were absolutely molested on several shifts and couldn't buy a call out there. That's pretty sickening when they're working that hard. It is bad enough that so much of the subtle stuff gets missed and that so many simple calls get blown, but when it is the blatant penalties where players actually go down, that's just sad. The play that turned this game ultimately, which to my mind happened before the Leafs third goal was a perfect example. Several calls could have and should have gone against the Leafs in the sequence leading up to Jones putting the puck out of play, the worst of which was Jones himself getting a headshot. Just sickening. But we responded properly and fought ridiculously hard to get it to 3-3 and then by some utter miracle have a powerplay chance to win it at the end. We didn't capitalize, but it never should have gotten that far.

In OT we looked like the team that was actually ready to take it. We were really revved up and I'm surprised more didn't happen in that period. We all know how it ended. More on that in the reports.
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Barker-Sutton
- Andy Sutton made a good pass to set up the Hall goal and intimidated the Leafs on several occasions into dumping the puck rather than rushing it in. Cam Barker was mean. That is the entirety of the positives comments I can make about these guys tonight. They were horrible. I'm not sure I've ever seen two guys combine for such awful giveaways so many times in a single game. It is bad enough when Sutton's off his game and making passes to Leafs players at the Oilers blue line, but then you add Barker, who has totally lost any and all that he had going on last homestand and you have utter disaster on your hands. #13 couldn't handle the puck to save his life. One of the poorest efforts I've seen from a supposedly half-decent defensive pair in a LONG LONG time. Most damning was their inability to adjust to Toronto's constantly passes from behind the red line into the slot. This opens them up for serious physical punishment and is easy to defend, but they both failed miserably.

Petry-Smid
- First off, this pairing is wrong. Smid needs to play with Gilbert. Even though they're mismatched, both of these guys gave strong efforts tonight. Both were physical and aggressive while maintaining defensive positioning and doing some really nice things with the puck. Petry especially stepped his game up, showing once again that he is capable of skating seamlessly into a rush and making a nice little tip. I have to criticize Smid a little though...even though the powerplay never should have happened, there's no way he should be trying to block Gardiner's shot in the way he did. That was not a good choice.

Gilbert-Whitney
- I'm not a huge fan of the way they play together at the moment but they seemed to have a pretty solid night. Neither was as physical as they're capable of, which is a little perplexing in such an intense game. Gilbert made a pretty bad play on the OT goal. The puck carrier was cut off enough that he could have either played him aggressively or hit the ice and made the block (as there was pressure from behind so Lupul couldn't stop and out wait him) but instead he made some sort of odd stick play. This was all the result of a good decision followed by a bad decision by Ryan Whitney. Good decision to join the rush in OT to make it a 3-on-1. Always go for that. Horrible decision to call for the puck (that puck has to go to Hemsky or at the very least on net and Whitney is in the best position to see that) coupled with the absolutely baffling decision to wind up for the giant slapper. That's just asking to turn the puck over and give up a winning goal. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Other than that they were pretty fine including both filtering shots, passes and slap-passes towards the net from the second onward, but man you cannot make those mistakes in OT like that.

Petrell-Lander-Eager
- Certainly one of their better games with Lander and Eager a decent bit above Petrell in terms of performance. Petrell certainly made a nice read and slot pass (that could have gone to either Lander or Eager which is often the mark of the best slot plays), but he eased up a bit as the game went on and didn't play as physically as he could have. Lander got a couple really nice scoring chances, was choosing great skating lanes and really had a nice game. He could have won it for us in the third but wasn't able to pull the trigger. Eager did about the best he could. The goal was a nifty little slot pick up followed by an excellent shot at a time when we really needed it badly. His fight with Brown was a "not taking no for an answer" kind of fight and he bashed Brown pretty decently. From then on, he landed some nice hits and took the puck to the net on several occasions. There is one thing he needs to change though; he engages with the guy closest to the puck way too early and rather than beat him to the puck (Eager's usually got more speed), he slows up and tries to battle him for it. This is inefficient. Eager is a skilled enough guy to retain the puck after he wins a race and needs to start doing that more often.

Smyth-Belanger-Jones
- If there was a line that let the team down somewhat, I would say it was this group. They are clearly not designed for offence, but still have guys that should be able to do something when they get the chances. I'd put #94 a fair bit above the other two in terms of performance tonight. He carried them by winning battles in the corners, keeping pucks alive and putting passes into areas where he teammates either received them or should have received them. I will dog he along with Horcoff for horrible positioning on the 3rd Toronto goal as you cannot go chasing like that on a PK. Jones really struggled to maintain his speed and receive the puck tonight. There were several occasions where he was set up for breaks either by the defencemen or Smyth and he either missed the puck entirely or bobbled it. Not good. Belanger was decent enough defensively and battled for the puck but was so brutally inept when he actually got the puck that it didn't really matter. There were several occasions where he had opportunity in a dangerous offensive area and didn't even make an attempt. Looking forward to #93 returning so that these guys get broken up, though what should really happen is a recall of Omark to spill Jones to line 4 where belongs and can reinvigorate himself.

Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- I'd rank them Eberle - Hall - Gagner tonight. This was the first time in a while that I've seen Sam try to force some plays rather than just making them happen and being patient with the puck. I can think specifically of a play where he came around behind the net and instead of waiting for an open man or getting the puck on net he whipped it through the slot way too hard and simply hoped someone would find it. He was still good, but he needs to remain in the zone. The best thing about Sam right now? He's remembered how to skate through people and is doing so when they pressure him because the puck is away from #s 4 and 14. It takes a solid player to handle that additional pressure. Hall did a good job of forechecking, skating hard, laid a couple very impressive hits and never ever quit on this game. His goal wasn't exactly a thing of beauty but it was a very good read and predicated on hard work. You could feel it coming. Once again though, he carried the puck wide without looking for (or looking off) his passing options as he came into the zone. Eberle was open an absolute ton tonight and Hall especially did not take advantage of the chances he had to find him. When the clock had about five minutes left, I said "it's Eberle time" and implored the guys to get him the puck whatever it took. Sure enough, he gets the puck, fights off a Leaf defender with a terrific effort involving strength and dexterity of his feet, then has the presence of mind to settle himself and unleash one of the most hellish wristers you will ever see. Amazing goal. Truly an elite play. He also made a very nice move to stay onside on the Hall goal. He was going all night and really made a positive difference for the team.

Paajarvi-Horcoff-Hemsky
- Oh, what could have been for this crew. I'm going to put Horcoff lowest on the totem pole as even though I liked his positioning, desire, the hit he threw near the end of the game after getting skewered by two Leafs and a bunch of other plays, he really struggled with the puck tonight and gave it away or bobbled it under little to no pressure after solid plays by #s 83 and 91. If #10 could have been any kind of triggerman tonight, he'd have had at least 2. Magnus really played well for all three periods. I've hardly ever seen him moving so fast and with such authority. He did just about everything we could ask of him, firing two laser beams at the net (one robbed by Reimer and the other hitting the bar), drove hard with the puck, made nice passes and was generally excellent. I loved what I saw for sixty minutes from Magnus. This was also one of Ales Hemsky's best games of the year. From the word go he was after it. He took hits, skated though people, deked several leafs out of their shorts, hit a cross bar and a post and was all-world for most shifts during this game. If you can watch that game and say that #83 wasn't driven (and I know there are some that will) then I'll submit you should cease watching the sport. Shame he wasn't rewarded.

The OT Play
- I separated this out because I thought it deserved it and I wanted to note that I really loved the way Magnus played during regulation. As this play broke into the offensive zone, Magnus is flying along and the Toronto defenceman cheats towards him because he thinks #91 is going straight to the net. At this stage, Hemsky, who as I noted was flying and is due, is flying down the right wing and suddenly has a totally open path to the front of the net, where he'll no doubt go forehand-backhand around Reimer and probably score (he converts those a lot). The pass to #83 is an absolute no-brainer hockey play in this position. The defenceman will be totally discombobulated. Ryan Whitney should be yelling for Magnus to pass to Hemsky at this stage (clearly he wasn't). If you make the pass to #83 and something goes wrong, the option to #6 will still be there so long and he can hang onto the puck. You may also get a PP as Phaneuf would have to think about hooking/tripping Whitney if he's got to play body rather than puck. That 3-on-1 should be GAME OVER just about all the time. Instead, Magnus makes the worst decision he could. A weak shot would have been better. A forced late pass to #83 would have been better because you could have recovered. Even the totally unadvisable opposite corner shot would have been better because Tom Gilbert probably would have got the puck at center ice. Instead, the pass goes to Whitney and the rest is history. Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid STUPID play Magnus. Dammit.
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Well, that's about all the rage I can muster at this point. I think the sadness is creeping in. Can't believe we didn't walk out of there the winners on a goal by #83 in OT assisted by a flying Magnus Paajarvi after another clutch effort from the superhero in the #14 jersey. Dammit.

2/5/12

LMHF Report - Game #26

EDMONTON 5

VS.

DETROIT 4

In a freaking shootout...
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Playing Detroit is always both a joy and a horridly painful experience. A joy because at Rexall it is almost always a hard fought hockey game with lots of plays made off the rush. Most of the games just flow along to a drawn out conclusion and you at least feel like you got your money's worth. Tonight was no different as we saw probably the longest non-playoff game I can remember played for the Saturday night audience. A glass issue, several scrums and a goal review added up to a monster first period and then of course we had OT and a five round SO. I can remember games like this before some of the rule changes made to speed up games, but not since.

These games are also painful though. Why? Because Detroit gets away with so many non-call plays that our team has to work twice as hard as they would have to against any other team and usually still comes up short. The amount of clutching, hooking and grabbing from nearly the entire DET roster is staggering and the referees make a habit out of never calling the Wings on this stuff. It is unlike any other team we see in a given year. I really wished the Wings would head east so we don't have to put up with this crap so much. It is the only way an older, slower team like the Wings can halt our attack. Never mind the missed calls on more severe plays; the holding done by Henrik and "Danny" (make up your mind on a name you damn bum) alone should have had us on constant powerplays. It is shameful that this goes on, but is a reality against DET.

I'm also going to go ahead and say that I haven't watched the replay of the Kronwall hit other than at the game, but if that is Andy Sutton, he gets 5+ a game and is suspended. The double standard on those hits is putrid. I, like many of you long for a game where that hit is once again borderline rather than illegal (I'd have called charging as Kronwall took far too many steps), but the inconsistency right now is appalling. Then Smid hammers a guy with his stick a little high, Henrik barely goes into the boards and we're killing? BS. Complete BS.

Why did the game shift so much in the third? Two things: in the first couple periods we'd responded to Detroit's gameplan by staying aggressive, travelling with speed and hitting people. We apparently outhit DET 9-2 in the second. In the third we slowed down, backed off, and got lulled into playing the positional game that Detroit is so good at. You can't beat them playing that game and they nearly took this one from us. Our coach also didn't make the obviously needed adjustment of breaking up 4-89-14 for a shift or two. They were getting owned by the Wings and something needed to change there. I also object to our OT line combos and our SO choices, but you've probably all heard that rant already.

In the end though, the boys fought really really hard for this one. It wasn't a perfect game; far from it, but we fought til the end and earned a full value two points. If you bring that effort even 7 games of every 10, you're going to do very well in this league and blow a large number of teams out of the water with our skill up front.

The only thing that saddens me is thinking back to our run at the beginning of the year. If you recall the report after beating Washington, you will remember that I immediately called for this team to acquire depth defencemen. Why? So that the darkness we experienced for several months would have much less so, and these games we're playing so well now would mean the playoffs were in sight. Acquiring these types of dmen is cheap and could have been done without sacrificing any of the "future". The mistake of standing pat will only become more glaring if we go on a serious run and challenge for a spot. I'm so glad we can actually see some light peaking in and maybe, just maybe this team does have a big, nasty winning streak in them yet, but these games could have meant so much more. You hear the players mentioning how much the transition game and team play have improved...it never had to be as bad as it was. I just hope that as we go forward we see a lot more of what we've seen over the last 5 games. Not only are we winning, but we are playing a brand of hockey that is VERY difficult for opposing teams to shut down. We're the track stars and we should play like it more often.
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Dubnyk
- Certainly not his best night, but he did make some solid saves. His mistake is almost always the same and DET took advantage of it on several occasions including Bertuzzi's regulation and SO goals specifically. When Dubnyk isn't feeling particularly confident, he stays back in his net and goes down way too early. The only SO shooter he didn't aggressively skate towards was Bertuzzi. I think it is probably time to give him a night off and for him to hit the video room. 8 goals against in 2 games, firewagon hockey or not, isn't very good.

Barker
- Cam has a little bit of a Sheldon Souray approach to things sometimes and I really like how he manages this without getting penalties. LMHF#2 thinks Barker throws more crosschecks without getting a penalty than anyone he's ever seen. He also responded post-Kronwall with several hard hits, some tough play in scrums, and clearly annoying the Wings enough that one guy simply decided to put him in a headlock. I like that kind of game from a depth defenceman. Once he's able to return to his proper role after Gilbert returns, I think he'll do well. He was good in the offensive zone at the blue line tonight and made some really nice moves skating over the line, but struggled some in his own zone as well.

Sutton
- Incredibly stupid play going for the big hit on Bertuzzi's goal. Are you kidding me with that Andy? He'll own you every single time. Aside from a couple offensive forays (including a dangle and shot in the second that rival anything our forwards can do), he had one of his weaker games, often getting out of position in the defensive zone and giving the Wings attack a chance to work.

Smid
- He played quite tough and was at his shot-blocking best on several key occasions (including one in the arm that obviously hurt a ton). Not a lot of puck play other than an adventure into the Detroit zone and behind the net. Big props to him for coming back strong after that shotblock though.

Petry
- I thought he was pretty mediocre tonight and is maybe showing some signs that he isn't ready for full-time duty. Too many times he rushed the puck off of his stick when he had time and space. The easiest example to remember was the play in OT where he got into the offensive zone and passed to no one. He laid a nice hit on Bertuzzi which was lovely, but needed to be more confident out there tonight.

Potter
- He started terribly, missing several pucks, getting his skates caught together and getting out of position in the defensive zone. Credit to Whitney for bailing him out. As the game wore on he got stronger and to his credit he stayed aggressive and confident, separating the puck carrier from the puck with hits in the defensive zone and pushing the offensive play in the Detroit zone. He had at least two chances to win it in OT, including the best chance where he received a feed from Hopkins and whiffed on a shot at the empty net. If he hadn't been angry and lost focus, he could have followed the puck up and scored anyway, but normally he cashes that one. I like that he bounced back from a rough start and stuck to his game.

Whitney
- Strong game from Ryan. He was solid on the opposition blue and bailed out Potter as noted above. He wasn't as aggressive as I'd like to see, but hopefully the coaches remind him that he can push the play before next game. He got several chances to shoot tonight and I'm surprised he didn't score on the one-time chances. He looks good shooting these last few games.

Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- It looked early on like these guys would just continue tearing the opposition apart as everything that #89 touched continued to turn to gold and they racked up 3 in the first period. LMHF#2 pointed out that Gagner was only on pace for six and how disappointed he was, but I noted there were still ten seconds remaining and sure enough, strong play from Smyth and Hemsky led to Gagner scoring from the perfect spot in front of the net. He was also in the perfect spot on his first goal, and had it not been for Smyth's leg getting in the way on a second period powerplay chance, would have scored yet another goal from in close and had back to back tricks. The play drifted away from him a bit as the game wore on, which was disappointing to see because he appeared to be going strong and finding the seams just the same as last night. Eberle did what he always does. He scored a brilliant first goal, putting the puck on net and then whipping around behind the net to tap it in from the other side before Gagner knocked the net off, then he got set up beside the net and let the puck come to him with the goalie pulled. It has been a long time since we scored with an EN at home, but it should be no shock that it was #14 doing the scoring. So what de-railed the scoring machine tonight? Taylor Hall. I'm not saying he had a bad game, but for whatever reason, he completely ditched the playbook from last night and instead of attacking with speed, looping and finding Sam or Jordan, he reverted to the north-south wing rush game and tried to do it himself. Big mistake. If he'd played the game he did on Thursday, this one is a laugher. Again, I hope the coaches or Taylor watch some tape and note the difference between the method against Chicago as opposed to the method in this one. Could've been another crazy point night for all three.

Horcoff-Hopkins-Hemsky
- It took a while for #93 to settle in, and there was some positional confusion for all of the members of this line for some time tonight. Once Hopkins got his legs under him and gained control of the puck (he was way off in period 1), he was solid defensively and made some really nice things happen in the offensive zone including making Nick Lidstrom look like a disheveled old man in the second period. This was actually the first time I've seen the Oilers deliberately attack Lidstrom and beat him on several occasions in the offensive zone. Some of that was done by Hemsky. If you can't appreciate the effort he put in tonight, I don't believe that you enjoy or appreciate hockey. He busted it all night and especially after the hit he took. It appeared as though he wanted to return to play and was forced to head to the "quiet room" despite the fact that he popped up and skated hard to the bench while Corey Potter did a solid job of standing up for his teammate. Beauty shift and pass to Whitney before the rebound goal, a strong effort to help set up Gagner's late first period goal, and another strong effort, this time beating Kronwall I believe, to set up Eberle's game tying goal. Really strong effort among a bunch of strong efforts from forwards tonight. Horcoff was a tad off the mark. He struggled more than I thought he would to generate speed and attack off the wing. Often, Hemsky and Hopkins would have something cooking and Horcoff would miss his positioning and the play would break down as Detroit is very disciplined positionally. He made up for most of this with a strong defensive effort, but I'm surprised he wasn't a better attacker tonight.

Smyth-Belanger-Jones
- Definitely one of Smyth's finer efforts in some time. He got shots away, chased the puck quite hard, passed decently and had two strong efforts that resulted in assist. The shot/pass to Gagner at the end of the first was perfect, and his work behind the net at the end of the game was quintessential Smyth. He also checked the Detroit attack quite well. Jones had one of his better games in some time, but wasn't quite close enough to the net on his shooting chances to score. He's not a good enough perimeter shooter, but at least he was getting the puck and sending it in the right direction. Belanger was also a solid checker, but did not have a strong night offensively. Getting put in the SO is not his fault, but Brian Rolston he is not. Make a move.

Eager-Lander-Petrell
- Quiet game from Lander which is okay. Petrell took and laid some hits as is common for him and played the support role fairly well. Eager did some things tonight that I wish he'd do more often. He was cocky, got in the fight with Commodore and landed some nice shots, angered the wings enough to make them lose their focus for a time and stayed disciplined himself. I can certainly appreciate the type of game he played. These guys got most of the their time in the first, and did okay. I still wouldn't give them an offensive or defensive zone draw if at all possible.
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Someone asked the other day whether I take notes and I forgot to respond. I don't take any notes, but watch the game in such a way that things tend to stand out in my mind. I learned to watch the game this way very early on and it is how I would watch regardless of whether I was writing or not. It is fun for me to try and understand what's going on and why; what play and what decision made the result possible. I sometimes consult the stat sheet or a replay if I'm making sure someone was on the ice or something general, but this report has always been intended to be as pure as possible a reaction to my experience of the game rather than any other sort of review. That's what keeps it interesting I believe and it will remain that way.

So there you have it; an HNIC win against Detroit. I love attending Saturday games for the atmosphere and the extra bit of spectacle that it seems to have. The crowd was more into it than they have been lately, and if we'd run away with this one it would have been pandemonium in that rink tonight. Let's hope when the team returns, we can resume cheering like crazy people for our winning squad. A guy can hope.

2/2/12

LMHF Report - Game #25

EDMONTON 8

VS.

CHICAGO 4
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I think to some extent we all live for glimpses of human greatness. I know I do. So often these moments are shown to us through athletic competition as it is simply the appropriate stage and opportunity. My dad witness Wayne score 5 against the Flyers to hit 50 in 39 and I sure wish I'd been alive to see that. I get choked up every time I watch a video of Secretariat at the Belmont (even though that was also equine greatness) and it would have been amazing to see that. Tonight, a fortunate few of us were able to experience a truly exceptional and great performance by a 22-year-old athlete. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life live. It wasn't in the playoffs and it didn't break entirely new ground, but to watch a young athlete take flight in such an awe-inspiring way is something else.

Here's the thing about tonight; very few of these were iffy plays. The things Sam did as part of the EIGHT points he put up were great little plays on their own and that he made all of these plays in one night rather than over the course of a couple weeks says something. He commented during the post game interviews that it is important not to set limits on yourself and that is a fantastic way of putting it. Golfers often encounter something like this when shooting an exceptionally low score...you just stay focused and keep playing rather than worry about how well you are doing. That's what #89 did tonight.

You could see the focus and the fire from the very beginning of this one. It is worth noting that Sam and the rest of his teammates didn't even get on the scoreboard until the second period. He put up 8 points in under 2 periods. He, Hall and Eberle put up SIXTEEN in under two periods. That is simply astounding. Once Gagner got going, there was absolutely no stopping him. Most guys take their foot off the gas at some point but he didn't for one second. After his goals his face had the look of sheer determination, and he just kept driving to the open areas, making plays and knowing that so long as he touched the puck, good things would happen. Let's go through the goals:

Hall from Gagner
- Hall spots open ice in the neutral zone and a teammate headed for an open puck so he drives the Hawks D back. Even if he doesn't get the pass, he's forced them out of position and his teammates should be able to take advantage. Gagner delivers a picture perfect pass that Hall somehow receives onside. Hall protects the puck, then absorbs the push from the Hawks defender and in fact uses it to change the angle on his shot which beats Crawford. We were stunned when this puck went in. It looked like there was no chance to score from there.

Gagner from Eberle and Sutton
- Sutton makes a stretch pass to Eberle who makes a beautiful spinning play to receive the puck, remain onside and feed Gagner who is driving through an open lane. Seeing he has Smyth in front alone, Gagner tries to pass through the Hawk defender (a correct decision) and is unfortunate (or so it seemed) to have the pass blocked. Instead of skating past the play or whacking at the puck, Gagner gains control, stays with it and whips around the net for a wraparound. Smyth meanwhile has himself parked in the crease and holds off one Hawks defender by strongly planting his foot in the ice, then Crawford gets stuck as well and the puck is in the net. Gagner wanted this one bad and wouldn't be denied. Great play by Smyth that goes unrewarded.

Whitney from Gagner
- By this time the Oilers powerplay had started to move the puck around the Hawks' zone with impunity. Despite some mistakes on the break-in and a couple unfortunate bounces, they looked phenomenal. This backed the Hawks pk box off of its earlier position which was taking away the high game and keeping the Oilers from being effective. Now that they'd established a flow, the Hawks backed off and when Gagner drove the middle and the puck squirted to Whitney, they had to respect the pass (which Gagner gave an option for on the far side of the ice) and let Whitney rip into one that got by a heavily screened Crawford. Beauty decision, beauty shooting lane and a great example of why puck control on the powerplay to make the opponent respect your space is so important.

Gagner from Whitney and Eberle
- At this point you sort of knew something special was happening. The Oilers had been controlling the puck again and Whitney managed to get a puck towards the net that missed. Seeing this, a lurking Sam Gagner drove towards the rebound like a man possessed and finished what was an open net but far from an easy shot as he was in tight and on the wrong wing to be scoring such a goal. Again, after he'd gotten this goal, the fire in his eyes was just amazing to see, you knew he had more.

Barker from Sutton and Gagner
- While #89 didn't have as much to do with this one, it might have been the most important goal of the whole night. Sutton had pinched in to create some offensive and made a great little read coming up the wall to get the puck to Barker, who then took probably the hardest one-knee snapshot from the blue line I've ever seen and nailed the top shelf. What an effing shot. No doubt Crawford should have made a better effort, but wow. You had to see that thing live. It was on his stick then it was in the net before you could even think. Looked way better live than on TV for whatever reason.

Gagner from Hall and Potter
- This was probably Sam's nicest goal of the night. Hall took a pass and drove wide into the offensive zone as Sam cut across the zone at an angle and into an open lane. Instead of an empty drive at the net, Hall somehow knew where Gagner would be, looped and hit him with a perfect pass. Two Hawks were on him at the time. Two Hawks were in the vicinity of Gagner. It didn't matter. He had no discernable advantage on the goalie other than that he was moving with speed. It didn't matter. He just put that puck where there was no chance a goalie could stop it. It appeared there was so much confidence running through him at that point that there was no way that puck wasn't going in the net. At this point the building erupted and got pretty emotional. People who never say anything were screaming about what #89 was doing.

Gagner from Eberle and Hall
- In the top class of any play you'll see anyone make in this league. Once again this trio came over the blue line with an absolute ton of speed and Taylor Hall, who may have discovered his calling as a rush-passer at the NHL level, looped slightly and found Jordan Eberle at the side of the net. With speed and precision, Eberle calmed the puck down, suggested subtly that a shot was coming, and found Gagner with an open net staring him straight in the face. On so many nights, Gagner has this chance and doesn't do anything or scores an ugly one...not tonight. BAM it was in the back of the net and he had 7. The screaming continued. Some of us looked at the clock and realized that he still had time left. Others realized he'd done all of this in less than 2 periods. It was simply mind-boggling.

Eberle from Gagner and Hall
- Over the line again with speed. The Hawks back up, Taylor Hall swerves and makes another great play. Sam Gagner, having just scored number four and point number seven, has the puck on his stick in a shooting area with Ray Emery pleading for mercy. There would be none. With everyone in the building (except LMHF#2 who at this point is screaming PASS IT TO EBERLE!!!) thinking that Sam will shoot for #5 (including most importantly Ray Emery who has totally sold out to the shot), Eberle slips into shooting position and the still completely locked in #89 puts a perfect pass onto his stick to set up the goal. Again, you won't see it done any finer than that. WOW.
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It was an interesting game tonight coming in for so many reasons before any of the spectacle which took place actually happened. The Hawks had "vowed revenge" or something (though I seem to remember the same thing before the last game we played against them) and yet I had a good feeling about this one heading in. We'd played reasonably well lately, and for whatever reason this team seems to play better with Cam Barker in the lineup. I still don't get it myself and should he stay healthy I'm going to try to watch specifically for the rest of the season what exactly he does (because often it isn't pretty, like falling on your butt to create a breakaway not pretty as it happened tonight) but for whatever reason he's been effective.

I'm going to give credit to Tom Renney tonight in a big way. He saw the Hawks were winning the matchup battle in the first and made the adjustment to have the veterans (94-10-83) take on Toews and Sharp while turning the younger set loose to do their thing. The game changed almost completely after this decision. Aside from a couple iffy goals against and a bad break on the PP, they had the Hawks top guys locked up decently well and got some timely saves when they didn't.

On a night like tonight teammates often get caught up in what their exceptional teammate is doing. There were some strong efforts made in the offensive zone and on the PP especially by many others and they simply didn't have the magic touch that Gagner did tonight. They all wanted it just as bad though, and were so happy for Sam when he got it. Smyth and Hemsky especially gave him the biggest kudos/glovetoface at the end of the game and were clearly so happy for a guy they've spent a lot of time alongside. That's great to see.

The Hawks aren't used to having a team that can skate with and past them. We are, even in our current damaged state, that team. We carried so much speed through the neutral zone that the Devils and Wings at the height of the trap era wouldn't have had a hope. As the puck got moving north-south, we simply sprinted away with it and stretched the game. Once we're in on you, you're dead. We often have trouble getting there, but tonight we certainly didn't.

I don't know how the Hawks must feel after this one. Part of me simply thinks they'd have to laugh. It is truly incomprehensible that they've had 17 goals hung on them in Rexall Place this year. Perhaps the Oilers are in their heads...or perhaps the Hawks are just ahead of the curve in a very negative sort of way.
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Hall-Gagner-Eberle
- I've already gone through most of their play above, and save for noting that Sam and Jordan each probably could have had another goal or two (Sam had absolutely nothing going for him on a play in the third and still got away one of the best backhands you will see only to hit Emery in the face, and Eberle got absolutely robbed twice including on a great backhand) I'll pretty much leave it at that. What I'm most interested in is determining what we actually saw here tonight. Did we simply see the performance of a lifetime or a really fun sequence of occurences? Or did we witness a guy who has been languishing for a couple years remember that he's only 22 and that he came to this league to be an offensive force? Did we see Sam Gagner remember the player that he is and take flight before our eyes in a rocket-fire blaze of magnificence that will propel him to the heights of an outstanding career over the coming seasons? The fire in his eyes tonight would seem to suggest that he knew he could do this and was finally out there doing it. Combined with two of the finest young talents ever to wear an Oilers uniform who were themselves having an excellent night displaying that talents we've come to know from them, Sam Gagner may have changed the course of his career and the course of a team in some ways tonight. What a show. What a show.

Smyth-Horcoff-Hemsky
- Let's not forget the contribution of these guys tonight. Renney gave them a job and they did it. Smyth and Horcoff also did some great work in front of the net on the powerplay and Hemsky contributed to a lot of the puck control that gave others room to work. They were not perfect, but they helped to win this hockey game by giving the kids the room to play.

Jones-Belanger-Petrell-Eager-Cornet-Lander
- These guys too put in some solid support efforts. The fourth line especially had some great chances and before it became obvious that Sam Gagner touching the puck was the only way to get a goal tonight, I was sure they'd get one too. Loved the intensity of Lander and Petrell. Jones came close to scoring a couple times and had a stronger effort than lately. Belanger actually took some wrist shots and looked dangerous a couple times before hurting what appeared to be his ankle. Cornet still couldn't get any passes from his teammates, and I'm guessing that will be his last hurrah for this season...but what a fun night it must have been to be part of.

Barker
- Seriously, he falls down and causes a breakaway, blows his coverages, gives away the puck a few times...then scores a goal, moves the puck successfully up the ice a bunch of times and steadies the back line just enough to make a clear positive difference? I don't get it. The stats guys hate this guy, a lot of fans don't like him and I'm inclined to think he's playing so far below his potential but it is starting to seem like he's some sort of freakish "just-gets-it-done" guy. It is weird!!

Sutton
- Really solid forays into the offensive zone. If we have a roster issue coming up and don't want to send Peckham down, dress 7 D and play him some shifts at forward, he'll probably score goals. Decent enough D from him tonight as well.

Smid
- Stuck in the game after being hurt and did enough good things to get out alive. He made a couple more mistakes than usual tonight but I'm going to chalk that up to Chicago's talent level.

Potter
- He was firing bombs on the powerplay and moving the puck around very well. He did make a couple mistakes, but nothing lethal. On the Chicago SH 2-on-1 (I believe it was he that was back?) he needed to take the shooter as he's committed to that shot too early and Potter should have read that. Always be aggressive on 2-on-1's like that as a defender.

Whitney
- Really nice game from #6. He did many things right and especially so at the opposition blue line. The goal was just gravy...great heavy shot.

Petry
- Made some nice passes and skated a little bit with it but also got caught out of position. Needs to stay disciplined.

Dubnyk
- I'm torn. There were times he was Fuhr-esque, but allowing that Mayers goal and that final Chicago goal where he once again forgot how to catch a puck properly are pretty unforgivable and meant his defensive players had to walk a tight rope. I hope he's turned a corner and that the problems won't get worse next game, but we've seen this movie before. Still...43 saves and a lot of the kick-save or other highlight variety...so well done in getting the win.



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My hands are still swollen from the clapping, cheering and high-fives.

I truly hope that every Oilers fan gets the chance to experience something like that live in their lifetime. That is why we keep going. That is why I keep capturing games so that there will be a memory down the road. That is why they play the game. That was truly amazing to see and I feel so fortunate to have been there tonight. I hope this rather epic post conveys even just a little bit of the feeling in that building tonight. We're all dedicated to this thing and to be through what we have and then have nights like this is so very special. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

More thoughts to come I'm sure. What a night.