We're going to break from the regular format and go to what was the most important thing that can be extracted from the game tonight. The first line is done. They've shut it down and are going home for the summer. To watch that line go through the motions and simply show up rather than even try to win was really upsetting and completely disheartening. I know the team was going to miss the playoffs heading into tonight's game, but you have to beat Calgary on Saturday on HNIC. You have to at least give all you've got. I've never understood how people just quit on the game myself, but that was exactly what we saw from 4, 14 and 93 tonight. Not one step in their usual extra gear. No push toward the net in the third period. No extra effort anywhere on the ice. No jump. No excited or even frustrated faces. Just blank stares...going through the motions...letting an AHL school them in their own zone then hopping back on the bench to wait for their next turn. How completely and utterly pathetic. If we had the roster space to sit them next game I'd strongly consider it after THAT. Watching Taylor Hall lay on his butt after getting hit...or Jordan Eberle skate slowly back to the bench with no purpose after a play was ended...or Hopkins not even trying to beat defenders...just brutal. Completely brutal.
BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE! If Ryan Smyth is the man most people seem to think he is, he should watch the tape of his performance tonight and ask the coaching staff to sit him down for the rest of the year. He should spend that time strongly considering either hanging them up for good and preserving his legacy, or immediately begin the kind of offseason regimen that let guys like Chelios and Roberts keep playing for as long as they did. He should truly commit to this team and actually make the effort, rather than whining about his role on the team, not playing during the lockout, then showing up to do THIS in the regular season. I've never seen a veteran player lose that many races to the puck where they had a one, two or even three step head start. He couldn't even be bothered to make it to the boards on most of these plays tonight. He'd simply glide in one direction, then extend his stick weakly and move on. He made one of the most rookie-mistake plays I've seen all year to set up a Calgary goal, poking a puck in desperation right to a waiting Calgary player in the middle of the damn ice when there was nothing but space and time along the boards. How does he respond? Why he rushes into the CGY zone at 3mph and uncorks the 3-three-hour wind up 4mph slapper. This is a guy who has never been my favorite but at least had my respect for his effort on the ice. This year and especially tonight have really impacted my view of him. It'd be one thing if he was leaving it all out there, blocking shots left and right and simply couldn't do it because the body is no longer willing...but he's not putting forth the effort and then I see he's apparently yukking it up on the bench while we're down 3-1 to CGY on HNIC. 20-something Ryan Smyth would punch the current #94 in the face.
I know it was an exceptional night, but it is really crummy when you realize that MAYBE one guy (Horcoff, depending on the moves made in the offseason) is the only guy in the bottom six with any business on this roster. I know that Jones and Petrell at least played a little bit like they were trying to earn jobs tonight...but the fact that this performance and that effort was so noticable is a great indication that they just are not good enough to be here. Smithson hits exactly like J.F. Jacques used to, meaning that because of his weak skating fundamentals he doesn't make near the impact he should and winds up completely out of position. He also spent half the night falling on his butt. It was terrible. Mike Brown landed one decent hit and spent the rest of the night skating around trying to look like he was doing something. I liked Petrell's goal, and his tip attempt later in the game, and that he went out of his way to play physically. Doesn't change my conclusion that he needs to be gone. Jones made a solid play to set up Lennart, then went back to overskating and being out of position as usual. At least he hit some people. Horcoff wasn't great but also had absolutely ZERO to work with out there really. I don't expect miracles from the guy. He wasn't good in the defensive zone though...and made a number of PK mistakes despite the fact that the unit was largely successful.
The only forward unit that did anything right for a decent part of the night was the Gagner line. The Yakupov non-goal was an absolutely magnificent sequence. Magnus skates in to land a hit he never would have thrown a couple years ago...this leads to a lose puck heading to centre ice. From the second Yakupov saw that puck, the lane ahead and started moving, you knew it was headed into the net. Yakupov pounces, Gagner makes a good read and gets the puck, Yakupov drives to the perfect spot, Gagner finds him and damn if Mr. Handeye can't get his stick on the puck. Not our night I guess, but still, what a transition play. Just amazing. All three forwards doing exactly what we needed them to. Yakupov and Paajarvi both landed multiple hits during the game. All these hits came while maintaining position and making a positive impact on the play. The line attacked with speed and was responsible for most of the good chances we had. Yakupov made a brilliant laser pass that should have found Gagner but he missed it by a step. Magnus drove the puck and did pretty much everything we've been asking him to. Sam could have been better, but at least was a step above the rest of the forwards along with his line. I won't excuse their defensive play though, as aside from a couple gems from #s 91 and 64, they did indeed get pinned in the defensive zone and make some mistakes that led to Calgary chances. I do blame the D for some of that, but the unit needed to be better. Gagner also completely blew by the front of the net on the PK leading to a CGY goal (Petrell was also completely out to lunch there I believe).
When it comes to the D tonight I'm not even sure it is worth discussing them. Remember how we spoke about the Calgary D standing around waiting for the game to be over? The Oilers D didn't check anyone tonight. They stood around and let Calgary score. They gave the puck away. They didn't pass well to their forwards or skate the puck out of our zone. A perfect example was the first goal, where Smid sent the puck around the boards, Petry was within a couple steps and couldn't be bothered, and there was no forward there to get the puck. Suddenly Calgary is in on us and scores. Ugly, unacceptable way to start a game. It is one thing to allow a good goal early...it happens, but not that way.
Khabibulin? Yeah he was terrible. Just horrendous. He stopped some tough ones but almost all of these stops generated huge rebounds. He got beat four times by a whole lot of nobodies. It wouldn't have mattered of course...but still you have to note that he wasn't any good.
So yeah, I'm pissed. I saw this coming but not this bad and not with this much quit.
The thing is, we have had several chances during this season to make a statement about taking a step forward. 75% of the conversation at the deadline was about "sending the wrong message" by...well...doing anything to this team...I wonder what the message was when essentially nothing was done. Make no mistake, adding Smithson was a waste of a fourth round pick. Couldn't you have helped this team and given it a playoff push boost by grabbing a player or two that could actually contribute? It was evident from the other trades that the cost was minimal. Instead we have paralysis as usual.
It is evident at this point that the entire conversation around the Oilers - from management to the media to a wide majority of the fans is completely wrong. They think we simply need to "add size". They think this is all part of the process. They think you can magically wake up one day, acquire everyone you need and be a Stanley Cup contender for a decade with the same people and ideas you had before...it simply does not work that way. It never has and never will.
For the last word I'll turn to the talking about the coach. I've tried to like Ralph Krueger. I like his positive take on most things and I like that he seems to be thoughtful. These are important parts of being a strong coach. The thing is, you also need to be able to get pissed off. You need to have intensity. You need to impose your will. You can't whine about not being able to get players icetime because you steadfastly refuse to take a chance and play offensive players on the PK when you're losing. That's just such a great example of a coach who gets completely stuck in his own groove and can't see the obvious and easy solution to his problem. When you're down in a game late in the season and can't make the playoffs but want your players to grow, you play Hall, Eberle, Yakupov, Hopkins and whoever damn else on the PK, PP, 5-on-5, 4-on-4 and wherever else you can. You just DO IT. This is not complicated stuff. We may very well be at the paralysis through analysis stage here.
Good god is this ever frustrating. I am so thankful that I didn't have to pay for and sit through 41 games of this crap this year. It is painful to say that, but it is true.