NEW JERSEY 4
In a freaking shoot-out...
So that was a good example of the best and worst types of on-ice performance we're going to see in any given season but maybe we have a higher high gear than in years past. I'm probably one of the few that would take a world-class ten minutes over only a 'good' full sixty on most nights, but we saw what that could accomplish tonight minus a couple more minutes that would have put this one away.
I couldn't believe how bad this hockey team was for the first 45 minutes. It wasn't a case of effort not getting results. It also wasn't really a case of slacking. It was a case of terribly played hockey. The amount of turnovers from nearly everyone reminded me of a time in the early 90's when the Oilers couldn't make a pass to save their lives. Even the horrendous teams of the past few years have had spark. Those 90's teams were hopeless and frightening.
If we're going to look for positives in the first 45, I'd immediately highlight Yakupov, Hemsky and Hopkins. They were really the only players who had anything going offensively. Yakupov nearly scored a couple separate times before the wall came down. Hemsky saw the game was going sideways and tried to put the team on his back for a bunch of shifts. This isn't an ideal role for him as he's best when wheeling-and-dealing, but he still shows some pretty stellar stuff from time to time when playing super hero. That dangle and shot in the second period was just gross. Only a great stop by Brodeur kept that out. Hopkins was the breath of fresh air the team needed. While they did get down, he kept that top unit's heart ticking until they found the beat enough in the third period to be effective.
It is worth looking at how Eakins used his bench in this game. In the third period it seemed as though he was basically running 2 and a half lines. Part of this was out of necessity with Hamilton out, but instead of giving the fourth line a bunch of shifts as many coaches would do when down three and playing a crummy game, Eakins gave the game to the horses to see if they could run from behind. It appears that they can. Looking at the TOI in the game summary seems to verify what I saw by eye. I do find it interesting that Yakupov and Hemsky only got just under 17 minutes total. They must have been used more surgically because they were all over the place in the third making things happen. Anyway, just wanted to note that if this is the new coach's response to being down 3 or more - to run the top guys ragged for a comeback or die trying - I agree with the approach in almost all circumstances.
Where I will say Eakins need to do some work is on his "swarm defense". It is leaving the point men wide open and also sabotaging the breakout as players are out of position. Having that winger in the slot the way he does doesn't serve a purpose and having to chase all over the place just feeds chaos. Need to iron some of these things out.
Also, Eakins talks a bunch about "moments". Watching this team let its foot off the gas on the final powerplay was a sad moment and a huge strategic mistake. This was the time to finish the job and he has them sending in one forechecker. That won't do at all with a PP and 4 minutes to go when all the momentum is going your way. Stupid strategy that almost cost them the 2 points. Against a divisional opponent I would have been pretty angry.
Great to get to see Martin Brodeur in his final season. LMHF#2 is a big fan and really appreciated the chance to see him. He was stellar for two periods and I'm not sure much can be said about anything other than the SO goals and maybe an overplay on Hall's goal. The guy's going to go out playing some terrific hockey. Very cool to see him get an assist too. Guy has always been an amazing puck handler and it was certainly on display for almost all of tonight.
A lot of people seem to be debating the turning points of this game - I saw two offensive and two defensive worth discussing:
The first Oilers goal came on a powerplay that was a bit of a break. The thing is, the PP hadn't been very good tonight and most of the time was spent chasing the puck back into the defensive zone to regroup. For them to execute was a big deal. That it was Hopkins in his first game back was probably also a big deal. Hopkins makes that play of getting to the puck quickly and tapping it in at the side of the net better than anyone else. There have been chances like that in the two previous games but no one's been getting them. He did and it got them on the board. I didn't see the team kick into high gear at this point though.
It was after Ference's goal that the team started going. It was a bit of a weird goal. Justin Schultz was probably trying to send the puck off the boards to the low forward but it happened to go to Ference. His choice to shoot was a good one with three Devils screening their own goalie but it takes skill to thread the needle through a crowded shooting lane like that. He did well to make that happen. At 3-2 the players and fans were into it for sure.
The defensive plays came very close together. I believe both were at 3-2 but I could be wrong. LaBarbera made a key cover when the Devils were threatening that stopped a play that was really looking to be headed into the net. The Oilers were scrambling and this stopped it. Smid also made a really important poke play on a puck that was headed to an open Devil with an open net. Big deal.
- He wasn't as wobbly as in the preseason, but he still wasn't great. I can't fault him for getting beat by Jagr as that shot has baffled goalies for a long time now. Jagr owns us. Brunner's shot was stellar. That guy is a deal on that contract he got. Would have been a great add for most teams in the league and I can't see why it took so long for him to be taken. He went down too early on the Ryder shot (which is an issue that both of our goalies have. The thing was, Justin Schultz played this 2-on-1 so badly...taking away neither the pass nor the shot, that LaBarbera had to guess. He did guess badly though. The fourth goal...on one hand having your own Dman butt it into your net is pretty unfortunate. On the other, he was out of position and bobbled the puck. Got to have that one and bail your guy out.
- Very frustrated with his game tonight. He got beat clean at least 3 times when he actually had a step on the attacker. There's no reason this should be happening to a guy who skates as well as Petry does. He had several chances to get shots on net and didn't deliver. Passing was 50/50. It isn't that he was really terrible but that he can be so much better and wasn't.
- Made the key defensive play I noted above, but didn't really stand out. He's not skating the puck out of the defensive zone as much as he needs to in games like this. This is one of the strengths of his game and he struggles when he doesn't utilize it. No big hits that I recall but he was okay defensively.
- I know Martin Brodeur praised him after the game, but aside from a couple adventures into the offensive zone that turned out fairly well, Schultz was pretty bad. He got beat in the defensive zone way too many times and wasn't maintaining a close enough gap with his check. He had Ference with him most of the game in an attempt to sort of bail him out but the plan didn't work that well. I'm sure he'll come back with a stronger game, but he may be struggling with Eakins' system at this point.
- This game was a struggle for him most of the way. He didn't get his shot to the net, turned the puck over too often, and looked confused in his own zone at times. The mean edge wasn't there either. I'm not worried as this is a very talented guy who is barely acquainted with the NA game, but he certainly needs to be better.
- Didn't see him very often. This usually means he played well.
- Two things: I know he had his stick held on the Ryder goal and that should have been a penalty, but wasn't he already out of position anyway? Too far out wide. On the Elias goal, he should have rotated towards the puck after Hopkins lost his man. The thing is, as I've noted before, Ference gets lost in front of his own net from time-to-time and this can cost the team. He actually shouldn't have been on the ice at this point either, but that's a different point. Very good shot on the goal as I noted, and he was generally solid.
- Landed a couple decent hits and caused enough of a ruckus to instigate a fight. I suppose that is what they ask of him. The thing is that his ineffectiveness on the breakout hemmed his team in the its own end on several occasions.
- I liked that he got under the Devils' skin enough to draw a crowd but did not like that he alone drew a penalty. You have to draw the other team in if that's where you're going. Positionally and on the PK he was fine.
- Same problems as Brown. Though I like his skating and ability to take a pass, if he doesn't make more things happen than tonight, and doesn't improve on the breakout, he will be gone pretty quickly.
- Hadn't done much when he went down with an injury. Very unfortunate for him as this may have been his only decent chance with Smyth in the doghouse and Joensuu out. The downgrade from #6 to #48 is very evident and when you don't take advantage to prove you can contribute from lower in the batting order you do yourself no favors.
- He did enough that he wasn't a hindrance to the team. I know a lot of people probably liked his performance but as an offensive unit the lines he played on didn't have any flow for a long time. While the hitting is an admirable trait for most, I'd like to see him drop it except for when he has a chance to really lay someone out. He's not a good enough skater to get back into position after a late hit so these don't serve much of a purpose. If he cuts this out he'll be much better positionally.
- Hamstrung at the beginning of the game because he had to essentially fly solo. He gave it a go but that isn't his game and the puck wasn't coming at the right time to utilize his shot. This started happening after Eakins began bumping him onto the top two combos. He seems to work best with either Hall or Hemsky which isn't a big shock. Most guys who are as good as he is can play both wings without much trouble but I do wonder if he needs to be on the right side. He just seems to be more effective from over there and that was true tonight as well. Still not being used properly on the powerplay for some reason. I'm really struggling to see why/how it isn't happening. Missed a chance to make it 5-3 on a rebound. I've been surprised a couple of games in a row now that he hasn't managed to finish from there as he keeps getting to the puck but doesn't finish. Loved the shot-pass off Brodeur to Hemsky. That's becoming a signature play for #64.
- Go watch that goal if you haven't seen it. Just a gorgeous shot from the faceoff dot. Pure scorer style. He had actually jumped a couple faceoffs earlier and nearly had similar chances. He made no mistake on this one after Arcobello did a good job of tying up his man. The amazing thing was, he almost scored from nearly the exact same spot, but on his knees a couple minutes after. Amazing. Tonight was a great example of the fact that he makes his presence known, whether that is with a highlight reel goal or simply crashing the net and getting in the other team's face. I'd rank him just below the three guys I noted in terms of the 60 minute effort, but when it was go time he was right at the top.
- Probably a better game from him tonight, but I still see struggling. He's not getting into shooting position and getting the puck on net as often as he should. When he does, as on the little break he got tonight alone with Brodeur where he took a low shot rather than making a move, he's not doing the things he would normally do. The shootout goal was classic Eberle, but we can demand more from him than he showed tonight. Lots of icetime though and did a fairly good job on the PK.
- What a pleasant surprise. He upped his game again tonight and is someone going PPG. While no one expects him to keep this up, I'm guessing the sound positional play, good decision making and faceoff wins will continue. He managed to keep up with the offensive guys as they took off which is something not every checking C can actually do. Really solid game.
- He recognized early on that the team was struggling and attempted to carry them over the finish line. He didn't do that but did help keep them in the game long enough that the win was still there for the taking. One thing you had to notice about Hemsky's game tonight was that he won a bunch of puck battles when the Devils had clean possession. That's not an easy thing for a guy like him to do, but the effort was there and the skill did the rest. Great little play to set up Hall for the fourth goal. He knew where #4 would be and got the puck to that area. Beauty. Couple mistakes of note in the first but other than that a very strong game.
- Well, all I can say is the look of relief on his face at his goal was only surpassed by the relief of the fans. He was on the borderline to start getting booed tonight. There were a ton of people expecting a turnover every time he touched the puck. For quite a while he actually obliged. It wasn't just cross-ice passes to the opposition either. It was little plays in the corner and trying to make simple passes. Nothing was working. When he got the puck with skating room he would bumble it. Not good. I remember vividly when he made a five foot pass in the third thinking that was the first successful pass he'd made in 3 periods. It wasn't but that was how bleak his game was looking. The goal was excellent especially because HE WENT TO THE FOREHAND! Maybe the BS backhand move is dead. We can hope. Getting around Brodeur's pokecheck isn't easy, and credit to him for going to the right ice to give Hemsky a play. He did indeed come through with the game on the line.
- They don't win this without him. Huge minutes. Going full speed all night. I was amazed to see him leading nearly every rush when the "Big 3" were together. I really didn't expect zero rust when he hadn't played in months. Never underestimate Hopkins I guess. One curious thing though: They seemed to be setting up his shot from the Yakupov spot - I don't know about you but I don't think his shot is strong or accurate enough to be firing away from far out like that. Oh well.
The fans booed the players off the ice at the end of the second period tonight. They deserved all of it. They also deserved all of the cheers they got as the game picked up in the third and ended with LaBarbera finishing off the Devils after Eberle and Perron went shelf. That's just the way the game goes sometimes.