Did we just witness something important?
I'll readily admit that I was considering both not writing and not going to the game at all tonight. I'm not sure what made me head to the arena like always. Whether I'm a glutton for punishment, an eternal optimist or just so turned in circles by this hockey team that I don't know which was is up - it could be any and all. This team is more than enough to make you crazy.
The Jets appear to be an absolute mess. I know it was the second in 2 nights but man...Their best players had awful nights, especially Byfuglien who was victimized on multiple goals and then thought he'd take a couple swings at a small Russian to somehow remedy that...not smart. He needs some serious focusing in if that sort of performance is anything close to typical. The Jets' D as a whole turned the puck over even more than the Oilers D on a bad night. It wasn't that there was no pressure but man were there ever a lot of bad passes. The Jets are supposed to be a further down the road team with some veterans...when you see Andrew Ladd acting like such an unglued moron you know something is truly wrong. A lot of people seem to be bagging on their goalie too...I thought that Pavelec was the only thing that kept this from being a 12-2 hockey game.
I didn't see the complete 60 minute effort a lot of people saw. Don't get me wrong, the team was good enough to win for sure but for a lot of the game the outcome was in doubt and looked a bunch like the first game this season against the Jets. We fumbled that game away and either missed or were denied enough times tonight that I could see the game drifting in that direction.
The thing about this team is, while they have serious trouble with bends and climbing hills, when they see a straightaway and their foot finds the gas, they are not going to be stopped. The execution was ruthless on the goals they scored tonight. Nearly all were things of beauty.
The secret? Nothing special really. They finally went back to sending attackers through the slot and funnelling the puck there. It isn't rocket science but this team seems to have a serious amount of trouble doing it consistently. The Flames of all teams made them look completely incapable. We'll know this is something more than a momentary flash if they come out Friday and get to the middle of the attacking zone effectively. They have enough talent that they will find pucks there most every night and finish enough chances.
For those who were not watching - this is what I think happened leading up to and at the end of the game - in the second period on one of his few shifts, Yakupov was driving hard to create a scoring chance and bumped Pavelec. Nobody really noticed at the time but I'm guessing a WPG coach or player caught the replay where it basically looked like Yakupov clotheslined Pavelec. Yakupov was getting extra shifts in the third and - as he often does - concentrated on skating hard, finishing his checks (the idiot stat man gave him 2...TWO...he probably had 8-10) and trying to create chances. He ran into a number of Jets and on one shift where he was particularly causing a ruckus, Mark Stuart tried to hit him high. Luke Gazdic was only a few feet away and having none of that, so he jumped right in and fought Stuart. Yakupov changed nothing and was still getting shifts from Eakins. Yakupov made the play to Hall at the Oilers blue line, sending them away 2-on-1 to create the 6th Oilers goal. Hall looked for and then made a perfect pass to Yakupov who buried it after beating Byfuglien, and got two big slashes for his trouble. To his credit, Yakupov turned and stared the big moron down. Byfuglien went off giving the Oilers a PP. Eakins sent Yakupov right back out to get another one, probably thinking that things would die down. Then Andrew Ladd decides he's going to blatantly ignore "the code" and go after Yakupov with his stick on the draw. This is the exact opposite of what you expect from a guy like Ladd based on reputation. I really didn't get it. Then for some reason Bogosian thinks he has to stand up for Ladd (??????) and spears Yakupov. Talk about special. The crowd went insane for #64. I was a little disappointed that he neither got a star nor credit for a fighting major.
So there we were, the Oilers won 6-2. Amazing how things can turn over the course of three nights. I have no idea what to think of where this team goes right now.
- UGLY on both goals. The first shot through the wickets was very Roloson-esque in that he didn't go down in the butterfly properly. He also severely overplayed the second goal, allowing the tip in at the side of the net. It is very true that Lander had no business not having his man, but still no excuse for the goalie to be out of position. Aside from those two he was excellent in terms of both some strong key saves and moving the puck. It makes such a difference to have a good passer back there.
- Probably the best game I've seen from him since he was injured a couple seasons ago. He broke up several rushes, played well in the corners and settled back into his role on the powerplay decently. It wasn't the Corey Power Potter Play for sure, but it was much improved over other efforts this year.
- No big mistakes tonight which is about as good as I think he gets. He did alright on the PP and maybe made the forwards think a little harder about their passes to the clue line. I still hate having him back there though. He stood up when called on late, which is certainly something.
- Struggled with the puck at the opposition blue line which is unfortunate. A lot of bumbling. He was strong defensively, physically and with his pinches though.
- The first time I can say that he honestly looked dynamic in quite a while. He was jumping into the play at the right times rather than just for the hell of it. Passes were crisp. Good read and pass to set up the Gagner goal. The only thing he needed to do better was to get his shots through from the point. He just wasn't firing it.
- Invisible, which I've concluded is a good Nick Schultz night. No glaring errors serves him well.
- I was glad that he was able to convert Yakupov's pass because he'd been given an absolute gift by Hemsky early in the game and somehow missed by a LONG way. I mean it was ugly. He didn't have much chance to miss on his goal, but the read that got him in position was lovely. He needs to do more of that. Pretty solid D on a night when he had some tough forwards to deal with.
- I honestly didn't see much from Lander aside from his missed check on the second WPG goal. I'd really like to see Arcobello get back in on this line now that the wingers have had a game like this. Yakupov may have had the most produtive sub-7-minute game in history. The setup to Petry will be a matter of debate. It really looked to me like he looked and saw Petry then made an absolutely perfect slap pass to a spot where my grandmother couldn't miss the net, but his reaction was kind of subdued so I'm not sure it may have been a bit of a fan. Either way, that shift with he, Eberle and Perron on the ice changed the game by getting it to 4-2. The floodgates were open after that goal. Yakupov's goal itself was an example of really hard work in his own end, getting the puck to Hall with a second or third effort, then absolutely busting it to the net for the goal. I've already covered some of the shenanigans that ensued but needless to say if you didn't love #64 before, you should now. The guy plays tough, hard hockey and when Eakins figures out how to let that happen, the man will not be stopped. I applaud that Eakins sought to give Yakupov extra ice tonight after the result was becoming clear. He made the most of it and put up a number of solid shifts. He did have one sequence where he struggled in the defensive zone because he was trying too hard, but that can happen quite easily when you've been on the bench most of the game. Gazdic handled an enforcer's job better than I've seen an Oilers player do it in a LONG time. With the score 5-2, he saw a WPG player take a shot at Yakupov and didn't ask nicely, didn't wait, just went at him. Got some good shots in too. That was perfect. Then he kept up the chatter in the penalty box when he knew he had an unstable WPG group in there across the way. Perfect. I just wish Eakins had sent him over the boards for the last shift with Byfuglien on the ice. Question - do you just run up and crosscheck the guy in the neck at that point or do you go hard to the net with a big smile on your face and wait? I'm guessing the latter.
- Another game where the two vet wingers were excellent. Smyth worked really hard this game and made some things happen that he hasn't in a long time. His damn paddle-stick and slow skating stride kept him from probably 3 or 4 goals and two breakaways, but at least the puck was headed in the right direction all night. Gordon read his role perfectly and was the support man all over the ice for these guys. He just plays the game the right way whether the team is winning or losing. Hemsky was sublime. Every time he is placed on the right side of the PP good things happen. It is incredibly stupid that coaches go away from this. He is more comfortable shooting from that side and showed so tonight by establishing his shot early. That led the WPG PK to expect a shot when he fired a perfect laser pass to Eberle for the first goal of the night. Amazing play. He set up both Smyth and Gordon multiple times the rest of the night. Excellent game.
- Eberle and Yakupov were the two guys who really impressed me by going after Byfuglien in the corners. They battled him hard for the puck and even though they didn't always win, they muddied the water enough that there was no smooth play for the Jets to make and Byfuglien had to work much harder than he likely does normally. Eberle was very strong in the offensive zone tonight and really seemed into the game. Make no mistake, having only a regular visor made a huge difference for Gagner. I'm convinced he doesn't get his goal with it on, and the bumbles and hesitation that have marked his game lately were gone. Was he perfect? No, but for the most part Joensuu and Eberle covered him defensively and he could play an offensive support role. The puck funnelled to the net and that led to offence. Very nice. Joensuu was up and down. There were times where he fit in very nicely, grinding out the play and finishing checks. He also got behind the play a few times though. He'll need to work at it to keep up with these guys. I'd rather see Yakupov get a shot so long as he knows the kind of game he needs to play. That might lead to defensive issues though. I don't know. It's a tough decision.
- Very good line. They were smooth enough all night that I honestly don't have much to say. You knew they would break through eventually and they did. Perron's goal was very nice. Hall's was beautiful - he forced a turnover with his forecheck in the corner then headed straight to the scoring area. Hopkins made a wonderful pickoff and then calmly fed hall the puck. Just perfect.. Liked this combo a lot. I'd rank their performances Hall-Perron-Hopkins. Hopkins can still be better. His shot is still missing.
The rollercoaster continues. Maybe we just saw a team come together. Maybe we just saw the youngest and most talented of the young forwards achieve a major breakthrough. I don't know...but we'll be there watching I'm sure.