If you've read these for a decent while you will know that I often wind up slightly to the other side of the commonly held opinion about the game we all just witnessed. A lot of nights that means I am a tad more positive than many others. This is usually due to little things that I saw in the game and impressed me. Tonight I suspect I'll come off a tad more negative than the prevailing opinion, which seems to be that the Oilers played pretty well and simply got unlucky/ran into a "hot goalie". You will know if you are a regular reader that these two cliches don't hold water for me.
Tonight the Oilers did indeed do a bunch of very good things. They started out with a solid set of powerplays that should have resulted in a goal or two. The main difference tonight was the urgency with which the players drove (either themselves or the puck) towards the shooting lanes and quickly took advantage. They slowed down a little later in the game unfortunately and also the coaches did not realize that we had our best powerplay when the line led by #83 took the first shift.
The Oilers were physical tonight. Many players hit in areas and on plays I have not seen them finish off in some time. It was impressive but they were not able to back the Stars off of the puck or create turnovers to the extent you'd like to see. This is after all the main point of playing a hitting game. The other result can be that the opposition wears down and collapses near the end of the game. Unfortunately it was the Oilers that did this after a night of grinding away and coming up with nothing.
I liked that our powerplay was using a variety of break-ins, including dumping it along the boards with a winger speeding along the other side. Hemsky is especially good at this and Hall did it too.
I commend Ralph Krueger for sitting Smyth and Whitney. It was absolutely the right thing to do. I'd hope he keeps both out next game, or Smyth at the very least. Team-wide accountability demands it. The unfortunate thing for Ralph is he simply does not have enough to work with at the bottom of the order. Thinking about it tonight, we have become too used to bad players being in our lineup and are seeing some positives or assets where there really aren't any. Eric Belanger, while certainly improved over last year is nowhere near the player we thought we were getting. Chris Vandevelde is not an NHLer. Neither is Lennart Petrell despite his best efforts. Ben Eager should be an optional accessory rather than a necessity and nearly a given. In T.O. David Steckel can't get into the lineup. In New York, Brian Boyle finds himself in a similar position. We don't have these kind of players to move in and out of the lineup.
Dallas is not a great team. They seem to have a ton of confidence rolling into Edmonton and that makes sense given their past results I suppose. Lehtonen was very good tonight, but we made him look like the best goalie in the league. We had some minor breakdowns but make no mistake, when Dallas scores the goals that meant anything by playing some weird sort of hockey-racquetball hybrid and bouncing the puck off everything but the cheerleaders' rear ends, they don't exactly get much credit.
But the thing is, we shouldn't either. The thing that matters in this game is finishing. You must close. This is not horseshoes or hand grenades. This is hockey. You need to score more than one goal. It is nice that we suddenly seem to be able to pop the first one...but the second one appears incredibly elusive. There is no good reason for that to continue.
Crazy thought - in a game like this where one line is clearly in high gear but seems to be cursed, I think you spread them around for a couple shifts and hope their game rubs off on some other guys or they find a match. Can't help but think that might have worked out tonight.
- So, straight to the heart of the matter. These guys were both amazing and disappointing tonight. The way they drove the play was stupendous. They shredded the Dallas neutral zone defenders like they were not even there. High in the offensive zone their work was beautiful. Behind the net they controlled the play. The thing was, they did not get to the middle of the ice as much as they needed to, and when they did, things somehow went horribly wrong. They took a lot of good shots on net but also rushed at times. Hall's goal was a smart decision - 1-on-3 he takes a hard wrister, down low to the corner of the net rather than his usual five-hole. It goes in. Good. Nothing profound but might get the ball rolling. He did many other more impressive things throughout the game. Hall showed how he can lead the team tonight. He didn't pass the puck as much as he could have on a night when the rush was cruising. I loved the way this line responded to the first Dallas goal. Their next two shifts were brilliant and could have each resulted in a goal. For me, the game turned on Eberle's chance at the very end of the second period. He'd had a great chance in the slot and fanned earlier in the second, and also received a great feed at the side of the net in the first, but this was IT. Hopkins made an absolutely wonderful pass as Eberle grabbed a lane and then cut in his direction, opening up on the backhand and leaving Lehtonen dead...then Eberle did not roof his backhander. I still can't figure out why he went low. With the way he's shooting right now I suspect he may have half-whiffed even if he said he didn't later. Last year that's under the bar every time. #14 needs to bear down and finish there. The game is ours if he scores that goal. He had more chances later but they didn't work out either. I can't believe he can't shoot smoothly this year. Back to the old lumber. Hopkins had the best chance in the third. He got a great chance to tie the game at the right side of the net. Again, he didn't go upstairs. I wonder if he might be overthinking it because he is missing the net high so much at this point but I don't know. These guys were everything we need them to be in terms of appearances tonight, but could not close the deal. I'm amazed they didn't score 3 or 4, but they have to bear down in close and they aren't.
- Nail was all over the place, both figuratively and literally at times. He got some excellent looks in front of the net and didn't pop one somehow. I really thought he'd beaten Lehtonen on the backhand in the first after taking a nice pass (from Petry?) and making a great move. It didn't find the corner. He also took a nice wrister in the third that didn't go. Couple outstanding plays in the neutral zone and even a really solid effort on the backcheck. Hemsky was strong in the defensive zone. He won a bunch of battles after iffy passes came up the boards to him. He outmuscled some guys that are much bigger than he. Several solid backchecking plays and lots of puck support plays. You could tell the whole line and especially #83 was trying to support Yakupov by utilizing a more flowing breakout and criss-crossing from time to time. It kind of worked and kind of didn't. Yakupov was out there for Jagr's goal. He'd actually make a nice little breakup play, but was chasing too hard and then Smid dove to block a pass that never made it through and we were cooked. Very unfortunate. I think we have two options with #63 - keep him where he is and tell him to play a simple positional game OR give him a line to run on his own. He could do either job. Gagner was kind of in the background tonight. He had some really good chances including one at the left side of the net in the second but every time the puck came to him he couldn't seem to pull the trigger as fast or effectively as he has been lately. His passing game was not as solid as it has been recently. Certainly not a bad game and laid one of the best hits I've seen in a long time, but he can do better.
- As I noted above, Belanger is better than last year but still struggling. He is at least taking and making passes solidly. Tonight he did some nice things in that area and also in terms of his position. The thing is, he can't get a good shot away and is not getting anything done either in front of the net or in the corners. This is a necessity for a third line C and we're not getting it. This also creates a giant hole where offence goes to die and #s 56 and 91 suffer for it. They carried speed into the offensive zone but if the puck went through Belanger we were done. His faceoff work was brilliant but it does not appear to have resulted in goals. Magnus and Teemu continued to do the things they need to do, with a little less success than in some previous games. The one thing I'd like to see is this group generating some plays to the slot...but again, if that player is Belanger it isn't going to work.
- Meh. Eager had one of his better games in that he got in on the forecheck, forced some plays, hit some people and didn't do anything too stupid. I'd like to see him get to the slot a little more though as he can fire it. Twice he was caught out on long shifts. When #55 takes a long shift, he takes a hand off his stick and starts grabbing/shoving. When this happens he takes penalties. Someone drag him to the bench next time. Vandevelde was okay. He hit some people and didn't get caught badly or anything. He isn't an NHLer though. Lennart was okay and good on the penalty kill.
- Odd pairing that wound up working out okay. Petry had another mixed bag of a night but certainly better than some of his recent efforts. He'd made two horrible plays within the first two shifts, then made a brilliant pass and started to turn his game around. He was part in drawing a key powerplay that could have helped greatly. He still got caught out of position a couple times and certainly could have been better, but maybe we're on the way up. Fistric did his job in that he hit people, drew a crowd and a couple penalties, and also got a couple shots toward the net. Really helps out the PK.
- Another odd unit. Smid played a whale of a game for much of the night, even inspiring a SMMIIIIIIDDDD! chant at one brief point. He blocked shots and broke up plays like crazy. Not the greatest effort on Jagr's goal as I noted before, though it should not have even mattered at that point. He also got caught on the same side as Potter at times which nearly resulted in a couple of disasters. I'll chalk this up to being a new pair. Brilliant pinches by Smid though. Just wonderful. Potter was just okay. He didn't make too many defensive mistakes, but I'm still waiting for the passing and the self confidence to come back. They were not there tonight.
J. Schultz - N. Schultz
- A relatively quiet game from this pair. Aside from a couple brilliant pinches and follow-ups by Justin, there wasn't really much to write home about aside from some solid defensive play.
- Should have been a good enough effort for the win. I get why the first goal went in, but not putting his hand up to catch the second one was really strange. I know it was deflected but still. He made some great saves in the second and early third.
One theme I didn't really find a place to hit on was that the Oilers were overskating the play far too much tonight. They'd blow by players and have to work even harder to get back in the play. They almost worked too hard tonight. Back to basics. Solid positioning and finishing those scoring chances. That's where we need to go.
Well, that and acquiring the center and defenceman we should have months ago of course...