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1/29/13

2013 LMHF Game Report #3


EDMONTON 4

VS.

COLORADO 1
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I know people love the dramatic victories and games with crazy endings or bizarre incidents. I get it. It also inspires some of the more interesting Game Reports. The thing is, I much prefer a game like tonight. I'm the kind of guy who wants to win the Cup in 4 games, not 7, and have a 6-0 lead going into the third period. I like to watch my hockey team win, win well, and win going away. I like to see players do what they're supposed to do. I like to see a team exhibit control of the pace and the puck. This type of hockey removes a lot of drama from the game...but I'm not there to see a play...I'm there to see hockey. Tonight we played hockey.

I accept that the crowds that attend these games are not full of hockey nuts who pride themselves on analyzing a game. This is one of the only reasons I'm able to have even the limited amount of tolerance I do for the people yelling SHOOT all the damn time. I'll spare you guys the annual rant for now. I will say however that it is very unsettling to hear people getting all agitated when we're busy dummying the Avs on the powerplay. These hockey players know you only need one shot to score. They know you're looking for a great chance. I'm very thankful that they remained patient almost the whole game tonight. It is a big reason why we came out on top.

We were also patient 5-on-5. I know this is a point of concern for a lot of people right now. The thing is, at least for tonight, we controlled the puck and dictated the pace save for about five shifts. The chances were there and we put good pucks to the net all night long. Constrast that with the Avs having to shoot from weak angles and the outside of the ice. There was a reason they looked impotent and were not drawing penalties as we were. When we play in this manner, we'll win games whether we score all our goals 5-on-5, or on the powerplay. The first line alone could probably have scored at least 5 tonight. While the fact that they didn't is not great, the thing is that they were controlling the puck, keeping it a LONG way from Dubnyk, and not getting frustrated.

When it came to how we scored the goale, they were beautiful plays to watch:

1. After a beautifully controlled powerplay, the Oilers get two forwards near the net (including Hemsky who I've always said should play down low and close to the net). A well executed, low and tippable shot comes in through a lane, a screen turns into a little bit of digging for the puck and then #83 pops his stick on a loose puck and we're in business. Good all-around goal.

2. Hall takes a nifty little pass from Whitney, makes another nifty play to Eberle who cuts in and rifles it home like only he knows how to do. They even bang in the rebound for good measure after the shot whips back out of the net. Perfect rush play made at that same angle we see so often from that line. They're just tremendous at making that forward play off the wall as opposed to the more common completely lateral play.

3. After another controlled series of plays. Hopkins makes a lovely read through the seam on a half-shot/half-pass to Hall, who tips it off Horcoff and in. Again we had patience, puck control, created a lane, got two guys towards then net including one down low and to the side, and they score. It isn't rocket surgery. That positioning + that skill equals goals all day long.

4. Brilliant effort by Sam Gagner to get to a loose puck and battle the Colorado defenceman to the ground. Yakupov flies in out of nowhere and makes absolutely no mistake on the empty net so that he comes out of an iffy night in the black. Well done.

Colorado was certainly lacking some players tonight and they did well on the shot clock, but aside from a few shifts they were not threatening and did not push us too hard. After the Avs scored their only goal we almost immediately responding by generating strong scoring chances. That's exactly what good teams do. If we continue the efforts we saw tonight for the most part, we're in the money most nights.
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Dubnyk
- The goal he allowed was itself weak. He got caught defending his post badly and couldn't recover from an initial shot. Aside from that and a couple ugly rebounds, he was excellent. Definitely a bounce-back performance after the Calgary game. I just wish he could find a way to stop all the bouncing in the first place.

Whitney-Potter
- They were on for the only goal against and certainly guilty on that play. Whitney got caught a step away from the play and Potter got lost in the corner. It wasn't all on them and the play was a little awkward but they definitely could have handled it better. Whitney made a stronger effort tonight. He still struggled to get into position at times, but the nice play to Hall and a couple solid shots at the net served him well. He's not the dominator out there anymore, sadly, as tonight would've been the kind of night where he'd dish out a couple nasty hits in the past, but he did enough. Potter made some passes and generally had a quiet game. They don't really need him to jump in this year so on nights like this he certainly fades into the background. He did use his size fairly well to keep the Avs to the outside though.

Smid-Petry
- Plenty of physicality from Smid tonight and I'm noticing that he's improved the way he uses his size to separate guys from the puck when he can't land a big hit. There were a couple of specific plays in the third where he did this. For the most part he just kept things quiet which is pretty much his job. Petry got caught out of position a couple times and made an ill-advised pinch or two (including an awkward attempt to keep the puck in during the third period that nearly resulted in a dangerous rush) but aside from that it was a normal game from him. Lots of skating, solid positioning, good passes. This pair is pretty boring in a pretty great way when they play well.

N. Schultz-J. Schultz
- Justin didn't light up the scoreboard tonight, but was a steady presence on the powerplay once again. I've seen few guys able to go side to side and stop the puck so calmly as Schultz does. He also doesn't force shots or telegraph his passes. This is key as the Avs tried to be aggressive up top at times and were fooled by Schultz + the forwards most of the time. He managed to get in his usual couple drives to the net (which are so fluid and effortless they might as well be poetry) and unfortunately couldn't finish a really great chance he had, but if that's a fairly normal night for a rookie Schultz, we've done enormously well. Nick wasn't so smooth but didn't make any mistakes that cost the team. He threw a few errant passes and got caught out of position at times. He also left himself vulnerable to hits which is something you really have to watch against Colorado. They aren't the greatest forechecking team in the world tactically, but they do love to go for the big bomb every now and again. You have to watch your head. Same warning to Hemsky, Paajarvi and some others as well. Get an elbow up.

Paajarvi-Belanger-Hartikainen
- This line was a vast improvement over previous units and did some really nice things as a group. They drew penalties, protected the puck and forced the Avs to work hard in the defensive zone. Teemu needed a good game tonight and he delivered. His domain was the wall of the opposition's end, where he either controlled the puck or forced 2 additional Avs to come get it from him. Absolutely the way he needs to play the game and that was great to see. The crowd appreciated it too. Magnus drew a penalty with a nice little rush up the boards and cut to the net in the second. It was a shame Belanger couldn't score on this and a couple of other plays Magnus generated. He also managed to dodge a nasty hit that was headed his way and improve his board work as well. The only thing he was guilty of again was getting a little out of position at times and trying to skate too much. It will come with some line stability. I can't help but feel the Belanger we thought we were getting would have scored at least one tonight. He always seemed to be good for a greasy one on nights where his line played like this against us. Not so tonight despite a couple really nice chances. With that said, he skated hard and provided solid positioning support to his young linemates. Good enough. The 4th did their job tonight.

Smyth-Horcoff-Petrell
- These guys were better than they have been in that they were gaining the zone and directing some pucks toward the goalie while playing a fairly solid defensive game. In a sense that's all you need but they should be capable of more, especially after the competition they got from line 4 tonight. Smyth wasn't as far behind the play or away from his checks as last game, and he didn't make any goofy mistakes or take bad penalties. Error free is okay I suppose. I could do without the bad shooting and weak wraparound attempt when you have open teammates in the third period trying to close out a game though. Horcoff was okay. I do recall seeing him skating away from the puck as it headed toward the net, which was incredibly odd but I think that was on the PP. He just kind of ho-hum did his job 5-on-5. The thing is, he seems to have slowed down some and is not really getting in on the forecheck effectively. We need that from him. He might be more suited to playing with Paajarvi and Hartikainen actually, as they are puck retrieval and zone-gaining kind of guys while he could provide positioning support. We'll see how things shake out. Petrell was pretty silent and got pushed around a bit out there. I'm surprised he hasn't been tougher this year.

Yakupov-Gagner-Hemsky
- Both Sam and Ales were on and going tonight. It is unfortunate that they didn't generate more goals. I really liked how they bounced back from that unfortunate miss at the side of the net that Hemsky should have cashed (and has to cash) in the third by pressing really hard and getting another first rate chance where Hemsky completely dummied a Colorado defender and fed Gagner who had an open net and missed by half a step. That, thankfully, was one of the only times #89 was behind the play all night. He was really moving while at the same time staying in strong, supportive positions. He made good shooting/passing decisions and that was reflected in generating scoring chances. His extra effort to secure the empty net goal was the cherry on a very nice night for him. Hemsky scored a nice, fundamental goal, made some nice passes and went around a bunch of Avalanche defenders. If Yakupov would have had a better night, Hemsky sets him up for multiple goals with the moves he completed. Does this mean he didn't turn the puck over? Of course not. There is inherent risk in trying to beat a defender with a move at the top of the offensive zone. The thing is, if it works (and it did numerous times) your likelihood of a scoring chance is really high. Your team also has no excuse for not being in a supportive position at that stage and it should be fairly easy either for the trailing forward to scoop the puck (something the Oilers have never been good at but seem to be learning) or the defence ready to defend (as they haven't needed to join the rush yet). #83 worked hard and didn't get frustrated or impatient which is very important. Nail had a bit of an off night, losing his position at times and making a couple errant passes. He also did some nice things and unfortunately didn't get the puck enough in the offensive zone. But, Krueger sat him down then unleashed him when he had a chance to succeed and the kid did. Love #64.

Hall-Hopkins-Eberle
- Their best game of the season so far. They controlled the play really well, drove Colorado backwards and generated a ton of chances. Hall did what he always does on his best nights: rather than blindly drive wide and fail in getting to the net, he started cutting in high in the zone and looking to pass. The man is a much better passer than he gives himself credit for. He also did well for himself when he got stick at the point on the powerplay. Sometimes this is a really awkward spot for Hall but tonight he made it look pretty easy. He drove the play and also played well positionally in terms of choosing when to drive the net, when to peel off and when to float looking for a chance. These aren't things he always does well but on the nights he does, we win. Eberle was just magic. Great shot for a lovely goal, several more chances and a beautiful passing display. You can't do it much better than he did and to only come out with one point was certainly a shame. Hopkins almost seemed to be outsmarting himself tonight. In the third a puck came towards his stick and his foot lept out at it. He had time to take his deadly wrister and instead backhanded the puck. He over-read a couple of the offensive zone plays that should have resulted in great scoring chances. He's so damn close to busting out with a five-point game where he looks completely unstoppable...I just hope I'm there to see it. Great decision on the Horcoff goal as previously noted. As a line, the thing I noticed most was how many touch plays these guys tried for tonight. You could tell they were feeling it when the little flick passes and timing plays started to show up. It was a pleasure to watch. They're going to do something ridiculous in short order.

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I'm guessing there will be some who aren't as positive as I am about tonight's game. That's fine. I think what we saw though, was what we're used to having good teams do to us. We played well, didn't quite get the execution right, and allowed a bunch of bad shots. How many games do you remember going like that where were beaten by such teams? I remember a lot of nights seeing nothing but wristers into the chest from the goal line...I'm sick of them. This is so much better.

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