Well, where to start...for the first game back from a road trip (which has a cliche as a snoozer where the home team comes out flat) this was certainly an interesting game. Many, many things to cover which always makes these discussions more interesting.
The night started off with mild annoyance...I'd read that the Oilers were having an equipment sale and checked it out in hopes of scoring a brand new stick. They had a bunch of them, many interesting models and at fairly reasonable prices for most. Thing was...despite this being an "Oilers' Store" operation, they wouldn't take my Oilers money. Not impressed.
The game started fairly slowly but soon the home team picked up the pace. Once the Oilers did this and at any time during the game where they put forth a smart and consistent effort, they made the Wings look really really old. This was very refreshing and I would say that for 3/4 of each of the first two periods, this was the case. That's not perfect but if you do it for three periods you'll usually take the game going away with no problems. We didn't do that in the third.
One thing that was really noticeable in the first two periods was the way the Oilers were not going to stand for any of Detroit's usual crap. For the inexperienced, Detroit plays hard in the corners, uses a lot of well placed (and illegal) sticks, picks and other borderline plays that many other squads are penalized for. Usually the Oilers either let this play get to them and take penalties or get worn down by it and essentially pack it in. Tonight was different. For two solid periods the Oilers went into the corners with their elbows up, their sticks drawn and gave Detroit everything the could right back. It was really refreshing and hopefully a model for the type of play we'll see from this team going forward. That was a huge reason they had a two-to-nothing lead that should have probably been four-to-nothing.
Another reason was our attack. The lines that seem to have worked themselves out since Horcoff and Hartikainen got back in the lineup really give this team three lines that can put pressure on and a fourth line that (when it stays focused) can really beat on the other team's defencemen in the opposition's end. Many of us have called for an approach like this for some time and it does indeed work when you don't fiddle with it. Detroit couldn't handle our speed, couldn't match lines and couldn't break up the quick, short passing game that was deployed. This was a beautiful thing.
But that couldn't stay set now could it?
It wasn't the beginning of the end, it just sealed the deal. In the third the Oilers were not quite the same team. They back off too far (some units worse than others) and the fourth line suddenly decided its job was not to punish the opposition puck carrier but to sit back defensively. That line is nowhere near good enough to skate from a laid-back defensive posture. They're sitting ducks. After the game had become a one-goal game, Krueger shrunk his bench exactly the same way he did against the Blackhawks. The result was more of the same only worse. The lines lost any offensive momentum they had and inferior players who had already been having their weakest period were given more prominent roles. Mike Brown took a penalty (whether it was weak or not is irrelevant, he plays a game that can take a penalty like that at any time) in the place of Nail Yakupov, who was having a pretty decent game and had made a truly sublime effort on our second goal. Then a puck is directed into our net by our own defender and there is no lead any longer. Suddenly it is back to what was, you know, working...but it was too late.
This issue actually started in the second after Brown's fight. It is one thing to make interim adjustments and it did result in Hall being out there with Gagner and Yakupov to combine for a goal, but getting back to our regular lines and regular flow of play seemed to take forever. That's on the coach.
In the end I do pin this one on Krueger in a lot of ways. He screwed up at key points in the game, including repeating past mistakes. Were his players perfect? No. That doesn't mean he gets a pass for the decisions he made that were a detriment to the team's efforts.
Detroit IS indeed old and slow. They're dying as a team. They have some truly elite talent but otherwise are beginning to whither. It has helped that they have not been able to attract unrestricted free agents the way they have in the past. The only reason they were in it to even come back tonight was Jimmy Howard's play. He kept this thing close with some excellent stops off of some of our best players. It was very strange to watch the Wings struggle with systems play and overcommitment at times during this game. Can't say I remember much of that in previous games.
The Oilers really had no excuse not to win this game. We say this after every close loss, but those were HUGE points up for grabs tonight and the team gave this one away pretty damn badly. Shame. I don't know whether this team makes the playoffs, but the points that would put them in have certainly been attainable.
- He was only tested for a few brief flurries during this one. Aside from those times the Oilers D did a pretty decent job of keeping the scoring chances to a minimum. He was screened on the Filppula shot, sure, but he probably should have made that save. The Petry goal was obviously strange and Datsyuk's shot beat him well. Pretty solid effort. Definitely enough to win.
- Let's get right to it, shall we? Smid was excellent tonight. He was tough as Souray or Pronger used to be in the corners. He skated several pucks out of very dangerous situations when his forwards had struggled to move the puck out. He was just tremendous and even fired the puck a time or two. I thought Petry was having a strong game through most of the first forty. I've since realized it was likely that Smid was covering for his mistakes and just doing an incredible job of it. Seriously #5 was just all over the ice. Petry's trouble started in the third as he looked lost and made several questionable decisions with the puck. Then of course he scored on himself (which frankly happens to the best of us, just not usually as he did it). Then in OT, after struggling to the finish of the the third, he faced Pavel Datsyuk. The thing is, Petry had position, he was lined up, and moving at a decent enough speed that making a play on the forward should have been completely doable. Causing a turnover was even a pretty decent possibility. At absolute worst, he should have been able to haul down or hold Datsyuk to take a penalty. Instead he hesitated and might as well have been a pylon. A lot of people are on him about the 2nd goal. Even though it is Datsyuk the play I have a massive problem with is the OT goal. Not because it ended the game, but because it continued a trend of Petry getting beat cleanly when in good position and not being able to recover at all. This should be of great concern to all of us. On one hand he is receiving too much responsibility for sure, but there are no good excuses for some of the plays he's made in the defensive end (the Chicago OT loss comes to mind).
- Whitney wasn't great but was better than usual. You could see him being more decisive with the puck, deciding to press forward in instances where he wouldn't have earlier this year, and also playing physically in the corners. He was not as punishing as he's been in the past but he did commit himself a lot more to contact and did not fail on most occasions to get into the play. This was an effective approach for much of the game. I still suspect Fistric would play this style much better. Whitney did play the Filppula goal pretty badly, but he was also dealing with a miscue by his defensive partner and a forward we'll get to later. Justin Schultz was just okay for me tonight. He had some chances to be more physical and only sort of capitalized. While he took some good shots at the net, his passing seemed off and a tad indecisive. He overskated and made the above noted mistake on the Filppula goal. Overall I just expect more from #19 already and to see such a bland game from him is strange.
- Potter's game was even more all over the place than Petry's but just happened to be missing the big blowup. In the first and second he was pretty decent, keeping the puck in and making some good passes and defensive plays. Through part of the second and into the third though, he kept backing away from pucks he should have won the race to, or not making a play he could clearly see was there. Again, he didn't really make any big defensive mistakes so I can't be too hard on him, but every now and again you think you see the Corey Power Potter Play guy returning and then he disappoints you which is sad. Nick Schultz was just okay. Yeah, just okay.
- Certainly an interesting combo and as I noted they were very solid through most of the first and second. Aside from a few sequences spent in the defensive zone (where they are NOT good), they forechecked hard, hit people, made simple plays and generally gave Detroit some trouble. I liked that Mike Brown made solid contact on his hits, controlled the puck okay and beat on Jordan Tootoo again. I did not like that he'd go into the corner the was he did that late in the game and take a penalty though. To be fair to him, he had no business being on the ice, but still. You've got to keep that under control and if Ben Eager could do it (he seemed to have figured it out) then so can Mike Brown. Smyth did some nice things and won more puck battles than I can remember in a while. There was an interesting sequence where he took that stupid slapper of his (which impressed everyone but me), but then he followed up and made a no-look pass attempt to the front of the net. If anyone had been paying attention that could easily have been a goal. As it was, the rest of the crowd saw it as a bad play...crazy people. I liked it. Petrell built on Brown's momentum and laid some hits of his own. He also had a couple nice shooting chances but couldn't convert. Of all the guys whose game changes sometimes, he needs to remember the hard-hitting hard-shooting version of himself, rather than the one who plays too far off his man and gets caught because of it.
- Hell of a luxury having this as the "third line". Though maybe that is the next line...who knows. Anyway, Eberle had a better game than when we saw him at home last. He played his defined role of shooter and playmaker off the drive fairly well for most of the game. He could easily have scored at least one but didn't quite manage it. I know some will remember his attempted no-look to Whitney on the powerplay more than the decisive plays he made at times in the offensive zone, but he's back in the right direction. Made a couple great passes including one to Paajarvi in the third that should have been a goal. Hartikainen didn't do anything too flashy. I liked his (penalized) hit and that he seemed focused on getting the puck past the defender then chasing it down. He's very good at that. He also had a couple chances in front of the net, but continued a trend of what I'd call rushing his shot. It doesn't really get away any quicker and you're never precise when this happens. He needs to bear down and relax, if that makes any sense. Hopkins made some nice things happen in both the offensive and defensive ends but was missing any real 'WOW' in his game tonight. The passes were not as slick and he couldn't get his shots through for whatever reason. Not a bad game by any means but he just wasn't dynamic.
- This is fun line to watch play. They have very different styles, all look very different on the ice and each brings a unique skillset every shift. Magnus was focused on driving the goalie tonight and did so both wide and up the middle with more success than I can recall. His confidence is clearly elevated and he's finally using his size properly on that wide drive. Howard had to make a good stop on him. The one thing I will dog him for a bit is not having the same confidence in his passing. Twice he had a lane to Yakupov in the slot, looked up, saw him, and hesitated rather than making the pass. He shot the puck on net both times but these were much lower percentage plays than Yakupov from the slot. Aside from that I liked what he did a lot. Gagner was about what we'd expect this year. He got a little dirty in front of the goalie to pop one in the net nicely. He challenged multiple Red Wings physically, either in scrums or through hitting. He played a strong support role and got some good shots away. Overall he was really solid. Yakupov put together a nice game. He made two great plays on the Gagner goal, with his drive into the slot, and ability to maintain puck control then put a really nice shot on for the rebound to Gagner. Loved how he jumped in celebration even though it was Gagner who scored. The kid plays with such intensity and joy. That's a winning combo any day of the week. He also made some excellent passes, some mediocre passes and only a couple passes to no one. Half the time it is simply because he's moving too fast for everyone else. I hope they're able to start catching up a bit now that they are becoming more familiar with what his game looks like. Still didn't get #64 the puck on the PP near enough.
- Through two this line was gold. They took on the best Detroit has to offer and were routinely blowing right by like the opposition was not even there. It was a thing of beauty. Hall was great and Hemsky very good for the entire game. Why in hell Krueger wouldn't see the absolute necessity of playing them together in OT after the way they'd played in regulation I have no idea. Hall was a man possessed tonight. He skated straight past, around and through various Detroit defenders. He scored a lovely goal on a nice move in the slot while Hemsky drove hard as a decoy. Hall did a double toe drag and nearly scored. He did all kinds of great things and was unfortunately only rewarded with two points. Hemsky wasn't blowing by as many people, but his passing was excellent, his reads spot on, and his defensive effort strong. He nearly scored the goal of the year when he broke into the Detroit zone, played a perfect bank pass by a Detroit defender to himself, then was robbed by Jimmy Howard's stick. THAT was a play. Hall and Hemsky also set up Horcoff for what should have been an absolute gimme in the third and Horcoff didn't even get a shot away. I was really looking forward to giving the captain a strong grade tonight and through two periods he was indeed strong. He did overskate his check and get caught on the Filppula goal, but his strong support efforts while #s 4 and 83 worked their magic were more than balancing that out. Then the third game. He was all over the place in a terribly bad way. Missed passes, missed checks, turnovers, bad PK work...it was just a mess. He was useless in OT. Sour finish for what started as a sweet night. This trio will be really useful if the Oilers start to make a run. Hall and Hemsky are dominant together and a healthy Horcoff provides comfort and support (which sounds really funny) to both of them. We shall see.
Damn disappointing evening is what it really comes down to.
Also a note - I wouldn't recommend staying up late to wait for the report as I know some of you have mentioned you have done in the past. It is often feeding or changing time for my son during my writing and an extended break could mean a LONG wait for you guys. Enjoy it with the morning coffee (or Rockstar in my case) would be my suggestion.