Well, that result was quite unsatisfying but we definitely have a lot to talk about after tonight's game. Even though it was only the first game, we learned a lot about this hockey team and especially our new coach. I like a lot of what Eakins has been saying. The thing was, because of the way he utilized the preseason we didn't really get to experience how a game would flow when two points were on the line and now we have.
Eakins' penalty kill will be a bit of a work in progress but could become our killer secret weapon. Tonight for the most part he ran out Acton and Gordon whenever there was a faceoff and had them race off for Hemsky and Hall when there was a chance. Eberle and Perron also saw limited time but it focused mostly on those first four. You could see the opportunities for rushes and scoring chances that came as a result of Hall and Hemsky being out there. The one thing they will have to watch is that as skilled guys they see the vulnerability of the powerplay near the point and chase the puck a little too much. Discipline will be required in that space going forward but make no mistake, other teams will have to adjust to this style of play. I like it a ton.
Eakins wasn't afraid to make small adjustments to his lines at key points during the game. The one I noticed most was at the end of the second when he ran Yakupov out with Hemsky and Hall, then Joensuu with Eberle and Perron (I think that was it anyway but maybe there was a C in there. I know Joensuu was jumped up). He did this because some of those players were doing good things and he knew he could get away with it because there wasn't much time left in the second. That's a lot more Scotty Bowman than Craig MacTavish and that's a good thing.
The defensive system is a work in progress to be sure. If you watched our three units tonight, you'd have noticed them getting caught both chasing the puck and stuck behind their own net. For the most part the forwards did their jobs but the D are going to have to review the playbook. It wasn't really for lack of effort that mistakes were made but instead confusion led to pucks in the net. I'm guessing this will improve significantly.
After Trouba got in Arcobello's face, Eakins sent the goons over for the faceoff. This got a great reaction from the crowd and seemed to send the right message even though nothing actually wound up happening. This was part of an overall tone to the game that was fairly clear. We didn't take much crap tonight despite the fact that the Jets have a bunch of big boys who like to impose their will. We have several guys who are fairly mean and were definitely showing it tonight. If this keeps up it will pay dividends. I'm speaking mainly of Gazdic, Belov, Joensuu, Ference and even Perron who is chippy in a way that is productive.
The powerplay made some mistakes in that it didn't flow through the shooters enough. I know we scored twice but the play still has to flow through shooting chances for Yakupov and Eberle to be as effective as it can be. This is also true with the goalie out. Neither really got a good set up all night. That's not a coincidence - it is a strategic mistake.
Two players were deployed far too much and at the wrong times by Eakins - Smyth and Arcobello. I'm sure Eakins trusts Smyth because he's a vet and Eakins can probably relate some of his grinder game to the old man but that is no excuse for not bumping him off the top line earlier and it was preposterous to see Smyth out there at the end of the game trying to equalize. #94 has no business there. None. I'm worried that Eakins will lean on Smyth for far more than he's capable of for too long and it will hurt this team. Arcobello was also out there when the game was on the line. I know there aren't a lot of choices but Boyd Gordon and Taylor Hall can handle getting double-shifted with the game on the line. Especially after what Arcobello showed tonight.
Overall there were things I liked and didn't like but there are a decent amount of positives to take and it will be interesting to see how Eakins deploys a more complete roster.
On to the goals:
1 - Gazdic
What a debut for a random fourth line enforcer. He now gets to say that he scored on his first shift in his first NHL game. That's Mario-type stuff. Pretty incredible. I'm sure the quality of that shot will improve in his mind over time, but credit to him. He surprised and handcuffed Pavelec and the Oilers led 1-0.
2 - Gordon
I always question playing the faceoff guy on the powerplay but here's an example of where it worked out. Gordon positioned himself well in front and got his stick on a Schultz special wrister. The play that Justin made was really nice because he sold the pass to Yakupov and then delivered a very tippable wrister straight through the maze while in motion. Hemsky and Hall had played catch before this and Yakupov was a solid decoy. Very nice unit-wide effort.
3 - Hemsky
I'm sure that as Hemsky cut across the zone there were all kinds of people whining. They don't understand why he makes this play and probably still don't even after he buried the goal. He knew he had Wheeler dead and made him look like a complete twerp, then held on to the puck long enough that Byfuglien was completely blocking Pavelec's view and then made no mistake. Textbook Hemsky.
4 - Joensuu
He was already having a strong night when this goal came and I was very glad to see him get rewarded for his effort, especially in the first two periods. The guy is big but has some hands as well so I suspect we'll see him set up in front like he did on this one a bunch during the season. The Jets had no answer. Eberle got absolutely robbed an instant before Joensuu banged in the rebound and a ton of credit goes to his effort on this play. The Oilers powerplay went to the net hard and wouldn't be denied.
- The headliner in tonight's game for all the wrong reasons. It wasn't just the weak goals which we will get to in a moment. He was shaky in the net from the very beginning and save for a brief spot in the second he never got things right. Easy shots were vexing him and when he wasn't awkwardly covering up, he was kicking out obscene rebounds that had his collapsing defence scrambling. I don't absolve them of blame, but there was just no way to help Devan out tonight. Scheifele's goal was a rookie mistake on angles and Dubnyk admitted as much. You can't let your team down out of the gate like that. I don't give him a pass on the Little goal even though he was partially screened. He either wasn't squared up properly or plain wasn't ready. There's absolutely no excuse for Trouba's goal. That was a Tommy Salo post-Belarus special. I also have a big problem with the fifth goal, because while his D was indeed scrambling, he was all over the place and wound up allowing the goal because he was nowhere near the net. You can't drift around outside the crease as a goalie. He was the component of the team that didn't play well enough to win tonight and he should wear the horns for that. To his credit, he seemed to accept responsibility.
Belov- N. Schultz
- Much like his efforts in the preseason, Belov made a bunch of parts of the game look silly easy tonight. The puck flowed from his stick out of the zone into transition like it was nothing. He bullied guys around his own net. He made pretty good choices when it came to pinching and wasn't shy with the puck on the opposition blue. With all that said, he did make some mistakes, getting caught out of position on a couple of occasions including one severely so that led to a goal against. What I struggle with is whether Schultz was actually the majority player in those mistakes. What is for sure is that Schultz is attempting to block the puck incorrectly. He was down on one knee multiple times tonight and it cost the team on the Little goal then almost again later. As a vet he knows that this isn't the way to do it and that you have to be moving towards the shooter as you block in order to cut down the angle. Not good enough. I'm wondering if despite being and 'A' Schultz gets chased off the team before too long this year. There were some things he did better than last year in this game but he made a ton of the same mistakes.
- This pair looks like it will work. Justin made a number of strong plays including for his assist at the opposition blue. Probably my favorite was how well he read a developing play to get himself a chance at a wide open net coming off the right side. Unfortunately he couldn't corral the puck but you could see the play unfolding perfectly in his head just a second ahead of the actual pace of play. Just a beauty thing to watch happen. Defensively he was fairly strong aside from being caught behind the net at times. Used his active stick to break up a few plays. Ference was strong in the corners and played a basic, mean game on the blue line. I noticed the one area that still concerns me though...he doesn't contain his man well in front of the net. He either loses position or gets outworked at times. This was true on the fifth goal and a couple other times during the game. It doesn't have to be a big thing - but if you've ever played the position and been good at this part of the game as I was, you're surprised he hasn't found a coping strategy. I relied on controlling the opposition's stick and bringing a player down as I fell if things got desperate. Ference also got some shots through, but he also had enough opportunities that there should have been more. Too many blocked, tipped and prevented.
- This pair struggled to move the puck to safety a lot more than they usually do. Most of their difficulty involved getting beat behind the net. Smid looked at least a step off his normal pace and wasn't getting into position quickly enough to lay any hits. This is a big part of his game when he's most effective. Not sure why this was happening tonight. Petry wasn't making as many mistakes, but also did some weird things. In the third when he stepped into the slot with a great scoring chance he fired so wide he wouldn't have hit a barn. It was UGLY. When this line was out with the Hall unit, they couldn't get the play going for their forwards. I'm sure they'll bounce back.
- As a unit they did the job certainly. Gazdic and Acton especially. I don't think there's much more you can ask from your newly acquired fourth liner than to come up an assist short of a Gordie in the first game he's played for your team. That's impressive even if the goal wasn't art. What I liked about Gazdic's game was his ability to take a pass, decent skating and better positioning than I expected. He didn't get caught as much as Brown does and that allowed him to hit more and get more pucks. Good, strong win in his fight against a big dude. Acton showed off his speed tonight and did fairly well for himself. Nothing wrong with winning faceoffs, keeping things simple and only making mistakes related to the quality of your wingers. What I mean by this is that the line DID have a common difficulty for fourth lines which is getting stuck in their own zone. Not ideal but they kept it to a minimum. You all know what I think of Brown and it was a typical game for him minus the stupid penalty. Ran around a lot...didn't really get anyone solid and didn't impact the game. Good for him getting to the net on Gazdic's goal though. Surely threw off Pavelec.
- In the first period this was the Oilers strongest offensive line in more ways than one. Joensuu established the heavy game he wanted to play very early on. 'Strong' describes the way he played to a tee. He was imposing his will in the corners, in front of the net and engaged with defenders powerfully. There's no doubt the team was missing a guy like this, and one who can skate and apparently has a nose for the net would be a massive find. If he can keep this type of thing up we'll have an important piece. The only thing that I noticed happens to him sometimes is that he's not very good on longer shifts or when tired. He can get awkward and slow. This will require discipline to keep in check. Loved how he went right after Byfuglien and wasn't taking anything from him. You have to be bold to take that guy on. Gordon was pretty much as advertised other than that he struggled to figure out where his linemates were headed at times. There was confusion out there and oddly enough the veteran C was the one experiencing it. I'm sure he'll be fine after he settles in some. Good goal and a lot of strong work tonight. Yakupov was fairly quiet. Part of this was because the PP didn't set him up and part was because he was doing a lot of the chasing and trying to get the puck to Joensuu in front rather than being the shooter on his 5-on-5 line. He had a great chance in the third after Joensuu drove the net that he really needed to cash and didn't. That was surprising and disappointing. He looked good when jumped up to play with Hall and Hemsky. That's where he needs to go for now.
- I hate to do it, but this line was off tonight and it was because of Arcobello. He looks like a kid brother, skates and jersey too big who is out there trying to keep up and trying his damnedest but just can't. I saw him win one puck battle tonight in a role where he needs to be digging it out for Perron and Eberle to make magic. He had a perfect chance to tie the game in the third from a wide open slot and instead stood still, took way too long and took a poor shot with a winger streaking in behind the goalie. All he had to do was keep moving, or make a pass and that puck is in the net all day. He can't keep up at this level. Tonight exposed him in a way the preseason really couldn't and I'm not sure how he could improve from here really as it isn't the effort but the tools. Eberle was just okay. He started strong early but didn't do enough to get himself open with the puck. To be fair, he's used to playing a different role but should have been able to adjust. Perron had two really good chances to score that resulted in shots at the net but he missed. Very unfortunate but not a very flashy game.
- One of the worst games you'll see from Hall all season. Obviously the turnover that resulted in Trouba's goal will be looked at over and over. I actually have a much bigger problem that he went and put another random pass to the opposition out there right afterwards in the offensive zone. Even the best players in the league have to learn from their mistakes. Most of Hall's tonight came when he'd migrated back to essentially playing wing. I'm guessing he didn't notice but you can tell he's still trying to learn and maybe getting frustrated. He really struggled with the puck at times tonight, and when Hemsky would give him the usual lead on a pass, he'd miss it because he hesitated just a bit too long. That's not Taylor Hall. Very frustrating I'm sure and I'd bet we'll see a man on a mission against VAN. Smyth looked like he was trying to skate in a fat suit and playing with no hands. While his positioning was okay and he at least caused some trouble in front of the net, he couldn't keep up at the times when Hemsky and Hall got going. There's only so much a two man offensive unit can do. Hemsky was excellent for pretty much the whole game. Created a bunch of chances, scored a beauty and gave the team chances to close the game out.
Here we go. It is going to be a ride this year. The one thing I take from tonight - how the hell do you stop us when Hopkins and Gagner are back? I don't think you can. That was a big WPG D crew and forwards we took on tonight and they couldn't really manage when we played our game. Look out.