Well, here we are one game later than expected but back in the same old comfortable place and thankfully with a positive result.
The night didn't get off to the greatest start. I'm glad it didn't turn out to be an omen. First, while I know the Oilers and Northlands aren't exactly on friendly terms at the moment, it is rather ludicrous that the parking lot wasn't ready for hockey season. The exit off of 112 ave was closed. If it is the City's fault then I could see it and maybe it is, but someone should be pulling those strings properly. Then Jason LaBarbera had his name spelled wrong for his first game at Rexall in an Oilers uniform. Yikes. Luckily, the night got better from there.
When it comes to preseason games, there are a few different things going on for me. It is really weird to have to consult a roster to make sure I can track the players. It means I don't watch as instinctually as I usually do and sometimes it is harder to follow the play. When you watch a lot of games and the same players for a good bit of time, you pick up things and I don't really track any of them by number. It is by skating stride, stick position, helmet, whatever. Something else anyway. I'm usually paying more attention to new guys and bubble players of course because that is where the battles are being waged. This camp and preseason appears to be different than most in that we're seeing the coach run lines of vets out there pretty regularly and they've been carrying the play. I suppose having support players play a support role makes a lot sense as well.
This game rolled out as many games do - not an exceptional amount of rust but certainly some in spots. A number of guys had more struggles with the puck than you'd normally expect but that isn't exactly abnormal. I'll need some more time to study it but it was clear that the Oilers are playing a new system. Being able to see the whole ice surface gave an interesting look into how they were attacking in the offensive zone and how they were defending specifically. I liked a lot of what they did when they really got focused on the forecheck. It was very difficult for the Canucks to stop them.
As for the goals:
Gagner's goal came not long after he'd missed another great chance generated by his linemates. After Yakupov made a really strong play to keep the puck in and get it to Eberle, Jordan walked in slowly off the side as he tends to do and made a quick pass low to Perron. It was a nice little read which allowed Perron the time to make a tiny move and force a pass through to the wide open Gagner. He'd usually finish with more authority than he did, but no problem.
Perron's goal came after a brilliant PK shift by Hall and Hemsky had pushed the Canucks back on their heels. Perron led the charge in continuing this momentum, getting the puck on a rush and finding Fedun, who had made a great little read and joined the rush. The puck went towards the net and eventually wound up on Perron's stick as he headed toward the net. No mistake.
Smyth's goal was set up by another solid offensive read by Fedun. While Hemsky delayed and surveyed the options from the wing, Fedun got his attention and snuck in as a lane opened up through the middle. Hemsky put it on his tape and Smyth went to the net. Fedun again put it toward the net and Smyth, despite making a gimme look about as tough as he possibly could, shoveled it in.
Yakupov's goal was a long time coming. He'd been firing all night - maybe a little too much actually - and hadn't been rewarded. He got himself to exactly the right place again, which is something a lot of people will begin to notice a lot more often about his game, and got ready. Ryan Hamilton got the work started in the corner, Khaira made a nice move behind the net to set up a pass to Yakupov who tapped it in. Beauty.
Acton made no mistake after being sent in alone by Hemsky, who bounced the puck off a Canuck stick and got his own pass back. It was headed to Ryan Smyth originally but certainly worked out for the best.
- Oh boy...not a good start to his Oilers career. It started with the previously mentioned name screw-up, then he lets in that Santorelli shot which he had a clear look at and went right through him. After that he didn't allow another goal but was REALLY shaky and seemed to be intimidated by the Canucks players getting to the crease. A big guy like him needs to stand in there and make saves while dishing out some blockers if necessary. I'm hoping tonight was just nerves or rust, because if not then the backup job should go to...
- I knew absolutely nothing about this guy coming into tonight. I had never seen him play a minute. From the very start of his night, he was positionally solid, confident in the net and ahead of the play to make saves look easy. He got tested a number of times and passed all of them except 1) forgetting that he couldn't handle the puck in the corner in the NHL and 2) the Canucks second goal, which while it was not a bad goal, could have been avoided with better rebound control. Petry and Nurse were pretty ugly on that shift though.
- Some good things and some iffy things. You can certainly tell that he's stronger and has been working hard on his shooting. Petry got a hard slapper away a lot faster than I've seen him able to in the past. If this keeps up it makes him a much more effective player in the opposition's zone. He was also better in the corners and positionally for most of the game. He still made a few passes to absolutely nobody and skated past the play a couple times, but for the most part he was excellent.
- He's a really interesting defenseman and a ton of why was on display tonight. I really enjoyed seeing him go back at the Canucks players who were trying to take liberties with him. A stick here...elbow there...it is a necessary part of being an imposing defenseman in the NHL and despite the fact that he's still got 50lbs to gain before doing that full-time, he wasn't scared of the Canucks goon squad. That's impressive. He was also pretty solid with the puck and can certainly skate. He needs to work on positioning for sure as well as some of his offensive instincts based on what we saw tonight. While I like where he is, I'd also like to see him go back to junior after tonight so that he can get focused on being a dominant player in the OHL and start gaining a bunch of muscle mass rather than trying to keep up with the NHLers at this point.
- Like many of you I was quite intrigued to see what we'd get from Belov tonight. It is important to keep in mind that his performance tonight is in less than ideal circumstances due to visa troubles. He wasn't adequately prepared and yet, he looked very smooth and relaxed on the blue line. I was expecting some panic and saw none. In the first he had two shots in a row blocked by forwards who I imagine were closer than he is used to. He adjusted immediately and didn't have that problem again. Defensively he was solid and made the game look pretty simple. He skated and passed very well, seemingly never having to rush anywhere on the ice. He reminded me of Joni Pitkanen without the top-gear speed and the beauty flip pass. We could really use a guy like this if his performance tonight is an indication of the starting line. He didn't even get to show off much of his offensive skill tonight because other players were given a focus in that area.
- Make no mistake, Denis had an ugly first period. Also make no mistake, I like Grebeshkov a lot as a hockey player, always have. He came back pretty strong in the second period including a gorgeous pass to send Hemsky in alone on Lack. I'm still trying to figure out if there was a hook or what on that play because Hemsky never misses chances like that. The pass was just stunning. In the third he was just okay. There were a number of rather ugly giveaways tonight including a backhand pass in the first that made absolutely no sense. Here's the thing: If he's willing to put in 20 games in the AHL and get settled back into playing in NA for this organization, I bet he'd be really useful the rest of the way. I don't know if he's willing to do that or if the team is thinking this way, but that is the route I'd go. There's still genius there.
- He's an interesting player. Someone I was reading compared him to Bergeron and I certainly get it. Tonight he was aggressive, quick and confident in the offensive zone. He can definitely play in the other team's zone. He does struggle in his own zone and lacks the physicality that Bergeron brought to the table. I see a lot of positive things and you all know I love an offensive defenseman, but on a team with so many guys who can contribute in that way, he isn't on an elite level and therefore can't quite compete. Hopefully he'll tear it up in OKC.
- Did a great job covering for Hunt when it was necessary. I've noted some of his offensive plays above. The most impressive part of his game is his decision-making. He's just an overall well-balanced dman but he pinches at the right time, goes to the corner at the right time, passive at the right time and aggressive at the right time. You've got all day for guys like that because they make things really easy on the rest of the team. He's come a long way and he's almost there. Will certainly play some NHL games this year.
- I have a hard time watching a line like this. I don't like the way Jones or Brown play the game and have never seen Acton play. I know there will be those who liked Brown's game tonight. He did draw a penalty and fought Wiese (though not very well) after he'd been running around. Credit to him for that but it changed nothing as the rest of the game and the Gagner hit clearly illustrate. The issue with Brown is that no one's actually scared of him. His hits looked better than they were because he's running around...no one was rattled. A player of marginal impact like this needs to play a solid game to go with the other stuff. He can't. There was a sequence in the first period where he turned the puck over in the offensive zone, got it back off a lucky bounce, then immediately lost it again and the Canucks were headed the other way. It was so ugly. Acton's game was pretty blah for me. Nothing really stood out despite trying to watch him. When it comes to guys like this, I'm usually looking for things that suggest to me they have the same things that guys like Kyle Brodziak, Jason Chimera and the like had. Something that elevates them above the other 500 or so guys who could get a look from an NHL team. I don't see it but this was only one game to be fair. Jones had a shift in the third period where he made the same pass to absolutely no one twice in a row...I'm not sure whether this drove me more nuts than the fact that people cheered or not. He also took two totally unnecessary penalties. There was less cheating in his game and he did do some solid forechecking for sure, but if there is a true blank slate then he is probably getting passed in these games.
- A curious combination. You almost get the idea that Yakupov asked the coach to play and got plopped on a line he wouldn't otherwise be with but who knows. Nail was his usual self, firing all kinds of shots, ringing a post in the second period, speeding by pretty much everyone and dishing out some hits and trash talk for good measure. His goal was noted above and he certainly could have had more. Looked pretty good on the powerplay which is no surprise. Khaira was a guy I was very interested in. During the warmup I noticed that he appeared to have a lot of skill with the puck and is certainly already larger than a lot of his teammates. The one thing I've heard about this guy from a bunch of people is that he's mean on the ice and we didn't see that tonight. He seemed almost too focused on playing the positional game. While he did connect on a couple really solid his that knocked guys down, I was looking to see him get in Canuck faces and maybe cause some trouble. He didn't really do that. We'll have to see if he has that edge to his game. At least he's already a better hitter than a couple of the guys the Oilers currently designate that role to, while having much more offensive potential and a bigger frame. More than anything else he looked like a player who is probably about 2 camps from making the team. Hamilton is an interesting player. He looks to be in better position than some of the guys vying for a spot on this team. I'd chalk that up to being a vet and maybe knowing more of what Eakins wants. He can play a heavier game if tonight is an indication but certainly isn't a big-time hitter. His skating leaves much to be desired from a technical perspective and if anything holds him back that will probably be it. Worth another look, but I honestly hope we're too good for him to make the squad.
- I like this line a lot. They did have some issues figuring each other out at times and looked a little off, but then it would click and the opposition was just dead in the water. Eberle appears to be healthy and relaxed based on tonight's game, which is all he needs to be a force of nature out there. He ran the play a bunch of times tonight and looked really solid. The only thing I'll dog him for is not finishing that chance in the first in a way that wouldn't have allowed the idiot refs (who were bloody awful for most of the game - it took me all of 6 minutes to get completely pissed at them) to take it away from him. Got to make that cleaner. He controlled the puck, skated and passed well. He was the main reason that this line could easily have had 3 more goals. Perron is going to be a revelation for a lot of Oilers fans. In addition to being able to keep up with the skill of this team based on tonight's adventure, he gets in there and hits people, plays really calmly with the puck and is very versatile. I wouldn't put him on the point during the powerplay, but it will be criminal if he doesn't PK. The guy makes it look easy in terms of pressuring the opposition. Loved watching that. Gagner was a little off his game early on but was settling in nicely when Kassian went moron on him. I hope he's okay - especially because we're already a C short.
- #s 83 and 4 drive this bus for sure and they were both quite strong all night but both also struggled some with the puck. Hall had trouble pulling the trigger and Hemsky was a little rusty in close battle situations but most of the plays still got made. When they get going they play a real flow game that moves all over the ice and ends up in the offensive zone with a chance. It is a pleasure to watch. With Hemsky I'd say the mistakes were rust...for Hall I'd guess either a new stick or concentrating a little too much on learning to play C. If anything I actually like that he can roam around a lot more to find passing angles as this kind of thing works really well for him. These two were dynamite on the PK. Absolutely scary for the other team to be dealing with. Smyth certainly looked to be giving an effort out there, but he just can't keep up. I'd like to see him in a more appropriate role with Yakupov joining this line instead, but who knows what Eakins' plan is.
Certainly a fun game to watch with lots to learn and much to still be discovered. The beginning of another adventure. I'm already having much more positive thoughts about this one. Liked hearing that Eakins sought out a unique viewing angle for tonight's game to make sure he was seeing things at a certain speed. This guy is going to be very fun to follow as he tries to implement his ideas in the NHL.
Glad to be back writing guys. Here's to a great year.