To be honest, we were better against Detroit. I am certainly a results man as any of you who have read for a significant period know, so I'm much happier with a number of things tonight. Nashville certainly isn't as good of a team as Detroit though and that's a big part of why we got the win. The two points are what matters in the end and we did some nice things in terms of execution during tonight's game.
The first ten minutes were an absolute no effort, no organization snooze fest. It really felt like an early game for everyone in the building. The Oilers were sluggish, behind the play and couldn't complete a pass to save their lives. The Predators had no jump whatever and were sloppy. The fans were silent. It was about the farthest thing from riveting.
The good news was that after that we picked up the play significantly. Our lines started producing some chances and we just sort of plodded along from there. Nothing electrifying but certainly the prospect of a victory.
It is no mystery that Nashville is about as exciting as drying paint. They play a system honed to allow a mediocre team with a solid goalie and a franchise defenceman to compete. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, but it doesn't so much lead to entertainment. The scoring was exactly the same in the last two games but this was much less interesting.
Krueger did okay for himself tonight against another pretty strong coach. For most of the game things were kept organized. I still hate that Mike Brown was asked to PK and that he and Jones were out there for a disastrous sequence that resulted in Shea Weber's goal. I also hate that he chopped the bench at the end of the game and sat Yakupov again. That didn't help us win - it made us more vulnerable. It also sends the wrong message to a top rookie who was having a solid period.
- Quite good through most of the game and especially the sequence late in the third where things got scrambly in front of him and he made several very nice saves. I would like to point out though that on both the goals he allowed he got caught reaching out an arm rather than moving his body to stop the puck. This is a bad habit that he displays fairly regularly and results in a lot of the "one bad goal" commentary on #40 (along with going down WAY too soon). You'd hope the goalie coach would catch this and be working on it, but who knows with the guy who was 4th string behind Red Light Racicot and JC Bergeron as the man with the plan.
- Smid was a mean presence in the corners and net once again. After more than one whistle he drove guys out of the crease and was warned by the refs (but never penalized which is the key of course). Just like last game he skated the puck out of trouble on numerous occasions. He even had a nice little foray into the offensive zone but forgot the key to any Ladislav Smid rush - move the puck before the faceoff dot. He always loses the puck once he's beyond the faceoff dot. I was very meh on Petry's game tonight. A couple nice carries but generally was running around in the defensive zone and requiring Smid to cover for him again. It didn't lead to the type of chances that occurred last game but it wasn't pretty either. Needs to work on his positioning and using his skating effectively from that positioning rather than leaning on it as a crutch.
- Why can't Schultz play odd man situations properly? You'd think an NHL veteran of this long would know what to do by now. He's had a number this year, but the 3-on-1 that he encountered tonight was just awful. He did absolutely nothing to prevent the scoring chance. You have to either attack aggressive and early or take away the highest percentage pass. Two on ones he doesn't seem to come out very well either. Just don't get it. Aside from that play he was pretty average. Good to see Fistric back in as an upgrade on Peckham or Potter. He threw his weight around a bit and was generally very good on the PK. Had a little bit of trouble with the puck, especially in the neutral and offensive zones but it happens. Hopefully he improves next game.
- I think this is the first game where I'm going to say Schultz was really off. That's quite an accomplishment for a rookie but we're not going to take it easy on him. The delay of game penalty was a loss in focus combined with likely trying to miss the referee which is no good. He made a couple horrible pinches including one in the third that could really have been decisive. No really strong offensive chances and both his positioning and passing left something to be desired. I'm sure he'll bounce back fine. Whitney mostly had a solid game. He wouldn't go into corners and punish people even when he had them lined up which frustrates the hell out of me, but he did play very well in the offensive zone and put some strong pucks toward the net including one that resulted in Paajarvi's goal. Good to have that reliable presence back and will likely increase his trade value as we approach the deadline.
One thing to the defence as a unit - take some shot blocking lessons from Smid. This sideways-one-knee crap is going to get you hurt.
- This line annoyed me on a number of fronts tonight. For one, if you watch they will always overskate their checks on the forecheck. A line that isn't going gangbusters for goals and succeeding cannot attempt this sort of play. It leads to what happened tonight, which was a bunch of slower than average skaters chasing the other team back down the ice. That doesn't help anyone. Brown was not particularly physical other than a couple of sequences where he tried to hold the puck in the corner. His PK effort was terrible, but then again he has no business being there. Smyth was slow and useless most of the night. He gave the puck away a ton of times including a real stinker in his own end. I will credit him for faking that stupid slap shot and passing to Eberle for a great scoring chance though. Petrell was the best of this group. He was moderately physical and of course made no mistake on his SH scoring chance. Lennart has a really nice shot but unfortunately is not talented enough to set it up very often. When he gets a chance like that he'll convert more often than not. PK'ed well.
- Ryan Jones made a good play in the first period to win a battle with a Nashville defender and send Jordan Eberle in alone. I state this off the top because that was pretty much all he did. He was all over the place, overskating his man on the penalty kill and it could have cost us more than the one goal that it did. He has no business playing like that. He also left the offensive zone early on nearly every breakout and slowed the play down if he got the puck. You cannot be doing that on a line with Eberle and Hopkins. In the offensive zone, he kept backing away to the point where one of the defencemen would then have to pinch in reply (rather than a forward covering for a previously pinched defenceman). This completely screws up the offensive flow for his other forwards and made Hopkins and Eberle have to go into the corners far more often than you'd like to see. Thankfully, Eberle brought one of his best games in a while and evened out most of that performance. It is true that he missed two chances that should have been goals. The turnover Jones created left Eberle to walk in completely alone. I submit to you that last year and the previous year, Eberle makes one move and fires it by Rinne. Tonight he tried to outweight a giant goalie with a bunch of deke moves. He actually had the five hole briefly but waited past that too. Strange. I also submit he would've buried Smyth's pass last year. Got caught second guessing himself on that one. The thing was, he was moving and bouncing around, hitting, deking and making plays tonight. He'd gotten back to the game he plays well. This led to a great quick little pass to a WIDE open Paajarvi for a PP goal, then even more importantly, he took the puck from Taylor Hall (in past games he would have backed off), walked in and decisively fired one past the goalie. THAT was an Eberle play. Very well done. Hopkins was just average. I don't say this to criticize it is just that I did not see what I look for from a good Hopkins game: some excellent passing through small gaps, a nifty shot or two and big defensive break ups. He didn't really do any of that but also didn't make mistakes and moved the puck forward. Not bad, just not great.
-I liked what these guys did again tonight. They struggled on a couple of shifts in their own end but I suppose that is to be expected as they're not the greatest defensive unit. Magnus made some really nice backchecking plays during the game though and Gagner moved the puck out better than he usually does. Gagner also had a really nice night on the penalty kill, including the play to set up the second Oilers goal. First he outworked Kostitsyn and probably should generated a delayed penalty, then after Kostitsyn completely bailed on the play (I figure he thought that a defender could jump from one end of the bench and do better than an offensive forward could. Horrible judgement but I think there was actually thought at work there) he had Weber dead and took his sweet time to make a play. It is a really neat thing to watch the thought process of a gifted offensive player when he has time like that. It looked like Sam actually wanted to get Rinne to cheat towards to the pass and then let go that half-slapper thing he loves so much. I'm sure he would've scored too. Instead Rinne forced the pass and good ol Lenny made no mistake. Great little pass it was too. #89 made some other nice things happen too and I enjoyed that. Yakupov was a little quiet but got two very nice shots in on Rinne that required toe saves. He just needed to be a little closer to the net. His positioning was better but he oddly seemed to get caught a little flat footed at times. No real mistakes in terms of giveaways or anything. Magnus had another solid game both positionally and effort wise. He's settling in (in a good way).
- Relatively quiet night for this crew but they still looked quiet good for me. The best scoring chances for Hall and Hemsky actually came on a shift where Gagner jumped in as C. They also had another phenomenal shift where Horcoff just wasn't sure what to do in the offensive end as #s 83 and 4 dummied the opposition. Not a lot to add to that really. They did their job mostly and while they didn't put up a goal as a unit, they certainly had a part in winning this game. Credit to Horcoff for his PKing.
A win is a win is win. We'll take it.
I would however like you to imagine what this forward roster could do for a moment:
Hall-(Better version of Horcoff-Hemsky
(Big scoring winger)-Hopkins-Eberle
Hartikainen-(Better Petrell)-(Younger, Faster version of old man Smyth)
That's what we need to shoot for if we want to make the dance. I'm not optimistic of the top line happening this year, but the rest could if there was any desire at all to make it happen.