Well thank jeebus for that.
Our season draws to a close with a victory against what should be considered our most hated rival. Qualifiers notwithstanding I'm going to take full enjoyment out of this.
Let's get the short negatives out and move on to a positive close to our year.
1. The Oilers still can't get "chips for everyone" right. That's sad. If we'd lost I may have lost it at that point.
2. Why has Mike Brown either self-neutered or been neutered by the coaching staff? There is no point to playing a player so bad if he isn't going to light people up or at least scrap in a game like this. There were many deserving Canucks out there and he wasn't interested in any of them. That Tom Sestito was allowed to mess with Yakupov and #64 had to do his own fighting back (though he did that well, more later) is an utter shame.
3. Some of those Dubnyk rebounds were just AWFUL. The Sestito goal set up by Kassian was about as juicy of a rebound as you'll ever see. He gave out two more of these in the period and got bailed out. He really needs to work on handling his angles. Two major weaknesses remain for him: low shots off the wall and high blocker shots. Hopefully these areas are a major focus in the offseason.
4. Eric Belanger demeans the Oilers jersey by wearing it. The guy spent the entire game avoiding the play. He wouldn't go into the corners. He wouldn't fight for the puck. He wouldn't even lean in on the faceoffs. I've never seen a guy loop out of the play that much during a hockey game. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself. If he ever plays another game as an Oiler I will be appalled.
I think that was about it. I'm not going to dwell on the rest of the season tonight. Let's enjoy what we got to see in this one.
One of the first things we got to see is how pathetic we know the Canucks are. Henrik playing 22 seconds is one of the most cowardly things I've ever seen. That "streak" should be voided. Kesler as always went whining to the bench after every single shift and didn't go face to face with anyone as per usual. Sesito tries to throw a knee on Yakupov. Bieksa spends the evening swinging his stick then breaks it over the bench like a whining child. Luongo goes headcase and starts letting in Jarred Smithson shots. Vigneault is too dumb to pull his likely playoff starter and save him the embarassement. It was lovely. I truly hope they exit in four games as they and their fans deserve to.
This game of course took a long while to get going. For much of tonight a lot of us were not sure if either team was going to do much in the way of showing up. The little bit of feistiness that appeared at the end of the second might have gotten things going a big. I still don't see why taking liberties against our players (Yakupov, Hall was crosschecked multiple times, Eberle took some abuse) is tolerated so readily by our coaching staff but at least these was some push back from individual players in little ways.
Let's go through the Oilers goals:
1 - Gagner breaks hard to the area behind the net and wins a battle to get the puck to Hall who makes a nice little backhand flip to the blue. Schultz to Schultz for a good, low, tippable shot and Eberle is in perfect position to get the job done. This goal was a big deal because the Oilers were really struggling to get a good offensive chance.
2 - The Oilers powerplay was moving the puck around really well and more movement through the middle of the ice meant the Canucks had a harder time dealing with the flow of the play. Yakupov is set up right beside the net (which I'm really thinking is the key to a ton of powerplay goals and might be worth doing some research on in terms of what % come from that spot. Has to be a bunch). Schultz does a good job of getting the puck to the net and of course Yakupov makes no mistake with that kind of chance. He was so excited. As usual. Worth noting that Sestito tried to mock him after his own goal. That worked out really well for him...
3 - This play starts as Eberle gets absolutely robbed when he can't finish off a rush led by Hall. No one quits on the play including Fistric who makes a great little play to keep it in at the blue line. Eventually the puck heads behind the net where Hall works it out and Schultz has smartly snuck to the front. Once again, no mistake.
4 - Horcoff makes a solid play in the neutral zone and smartly gets the puck deep as Magnus is carrying speed and can get in on the forecheck quickly. He takes advantage of an ugly mistake, then looks and sees Yakupov standing right in front of an open net. Bing-bang, it is in the net. As Yakupov was skating to the bench he was pointing enthusiastically at the Oilers bench. I think someone told him to get himself to the front of the net for the rest of the game. His next goal only cemented that for me.
5 - Starts with a forced turnover to Schultz in the neutral zone. He finds Hall moving down the wing who makes an excellent read to find a trailing Eberle in the slot. Eberle dummies the Canuck defender, then Luongo. Gagner, whose role on the play might have been missed on TV, played a part in generating the turnover and then was a great decoy who got thrown into the boards as Eberle scored.
6 - Nail finishes what he started. This play was all him. Made a great little play to keep things alive in the offensive zone initially, Magnus got the puck to Fistric. As this is happening, Yakupov heads straight to the front of the net, perfect screen, Fistric fires, Yakupov takes the rebound off his chest then deftly beats Luongo low. It was an absolutely stunning sequence from a tremendous hockey player. Couldn't see the celebration live so I'm glad they got it on the highlights. It was borderline subtle for him!
7 - Smyth crashes behind the net, Jones gets the puck and centers to Smithson who misses with his stick, barely gets it with his feet, then shoots without looking and scores. You know you're having a night when...
I'm just very happy to be able to count that many goals against that team and especially that goalie.
- Made some nice stops but also gave out some nasty rebounds as noted above. For the most part he was in control and cut back on the puck handling which helped his team out in the end.
- Good enough performance from him tonight, though I thought he dialed back the physicality at times which was a little mystifying. There were opportunities to really lay out some Canucks players and he didn't take them. He was caught up ice on Sestito's goal, but that shouldn't have mattered as he was elbowed in the head and the rush never should have happened in the first place. Aside from that lapse he was defensively solid.
- Quieter game than usual from him but that meant fewer mistakes. I'm okay with that. He landed a really nice hit in the second period which was something to see. Puck movement was just okay.
- Certainly one of his better games. He kept several offensive sequences alive with his play at the opposition blue line and was also rewarded with two assists by getting the puck headed toward the net. I also liked that he went at Lapierre and a couple other Canucks as the game wore on. I'm not sure why he didn't go after Sestito when he tried to knee Yakupov though. That was a little strange.
- It is about time he had a game where the offence flowed so freely. His goal and passing game were great examples of the high level of skill he can bring to any game. He also bailed out a couple Nick Schultz mistakes including one ugly pinch that generated a 3-on-1. He was offensively effective without having to jump in too much. That's the mark of a strong offensive defenceman.
- He had a weird game. There were several instances where I couldn't really figure out what he was doing. No really exceptional moments in the positive but he did come out ahead so that's something.
- He was okay much of the night. I'm still not sure exactly what he was thinking on that ugly pinch given that Justin Schultz had refused to pinch on the other side not long before that. Some good work behind the net.
- Yeah, I really don't know why he dresses if he effectively does nothing in a game like this one. He went to the front of the net and forechecked I suppose, but he always gets caught deep in the zone and tonight was no different. He also looped away rather than finish his check. Disappointing. He should've at least administered some bruises.
- I'm glad the guy scored. It has to have been a weird ride for him over the past couple weeks. It doesn't change the way I think about him, but he actually scored that goal and had another good chance. Good for him.
- I'm glad that what may have been his final game as an Oiler was a better effort than we've gotten used to this year. He forechecked hard, drove the front of the net and nearly tipped a couple in. Generated a couple penalties and some scoring chances for others. Didn't take any crap and specifically had words with Kesler which is at least something.
- I've said all I want to say about him already. I hope he's never in another one of these reports.
- Uninteresting game. Didn't really stand out other than being thrown into the net by a Canucks defender at one point.
- I'll give him that he put out a good effort tonight. He hit people, went hard into the corners and did what he needed to do. Good plays to set up some chances and also got involved physically in pushing back a touch against the Canucks.
- Pretty solid tonight actually. While he wasn't able to be anywhere near keeping up with Yakupov and Hall/Paajarvi, he instead contributed by moving the puck well in the defensive and neutral zones while also picking off a few passes. This helped the transition game immensely. It was good to see him adapt his game and help his teammates out.
- A quietly successful game. He didn't do the things that I always watch for from him (using his speed to find openings, going to shooting areas in the offensive zone) but he did forecheck well and play off Yakupov to some extent once that line became the norm. Supported Eberle decently as well. If only we could get him to be a better player with the puck in front of the net. He had a couple really good chances to score in close tonight and just couldn't do much of anything with the puck.
- Easily could of had four or five tonight. He was robbed by Luongo and his defence at least 4 separate times including a couple beautiful backhand plays. This was the Eberle we need to see. He wanted the puck on his stick and drove the slot to look for shooting opportunities. When Eberle forces the play to the slot, good things happen either in terms of great shooting chances or a pass to a wide open teammate. His goals were covered above but just from a general standpoint he was excellent tonight.
- Worked really hard and took a lot of abuse tonight. While he wasn't rewarded the same way the other high profile young guys were, he did pick up some points and did certainly make things happen. He was strong in the corners and made some very nice passes and decoy plays when the offence got going. Always good to see him contribute. I will also note that #89 never shies away from the scrum. He was in there multiple times tonight and I have a lot of respect for that.
- What else can you really say? He was tremendous as the Oilers offensive play pick up. He made so many things happen behind the net and off the rush specifically. I've said for some time that he plays his best games when he treats his primary offensive responsibility as being a rush passer. He showed why again tonight on several occasions and especially on Eberle's third period goal. Just a beautiful read. Kind of surprised he didn't score as well on a night when he's jumping around like that, but he didn't wind up needing to.
- We've covered his wonderful goals above but there was a little play I saw that I really wanted to highlight. Yakupov was around the low circle with the puck on the powerplay. Not much was happening in terms of movement and many other players would have been stuck, forced a pass and made a mistake or taken a stupid shot to the chest. Yakupov, without looking at all, made a subtle move then fired a laser shot-pass off of Luongo's pads right to Eberle. #14 was so shocked he couldn't score but MAN what a simple, utterly brilliant play. No one on the ice saw that and I don't think any other player could have done it the way he did either. I'm sure he knew what he needed to do to catch Huberdeau and he just went out there and made it happen. He engaged physically with Tom Sestito, hitting him when he had the chance and swinging his stick a little bit. He was all over the ice and passed the puck to himself off of the boards several times. It was an absolute treat watching someone that excited play the game in such an impressive way.
I'm hoping to put together a year in review, something that's been missing the past couple years, relatively shortly. There's a lot to say and a lot of decisions to be made.
The one thing I will say is that I've been mulling it throughout the season and while Hall surpassed Eberle this year in the "best of the group" race, I will say that Nail Yakupov is on his way to greater things than even Hall. Why?
1. He loves the game so damn much.
2. He appears to work harder than any of the group.
3. Sheer talent. The guy will score 50.
4. He's focused.
5. His game is versatile and we'll be talking about him as a complete player within a season.
#64 is bloody amazing. Period. Can't wait to watch this guy win a Richard Trophy.
Thank you all again for sticking with this throughout another trying year. We all hope for a tremendous offseason and better days ahead. You readers are the reason I plow through the horrible losses and why I so relish getting home to write after a massive win. Thank you once again for the encouragement, reads, discussion and everything else.