Well, maybe I'll have to head back to Palm Springs for the foreseeable future if we want this team to win hockey games for any sustained period of time. I was sad to miss what appeared to be a couple pretty epic performances and was hoping that the prospect of playing the Hawks would have this team ready to deliver an exceptional and possibly historic night. That of course, did not happen.
I'm not really going to rant and rave about what went on tonight. This was an odd sort of game and the 5-1 score doesn't really reflect what went on. Don't get me wrong, full credit to the Hawks on their victory. They are a very good hockey team that closed the doors early and didn't let the Oilers get much going after a pretty decent start to the game that could have gone either way.
At the higher level, what happened tonight was that the Oilers secondary offensive players didn't put up any points, and even though the top unit did, Chicago's top players were better. Ideally, these are the nights where at least one line in a strong top three lines can carry you to at least a point. Again, that didn't happen but it wasn't for lack of try from the forwards.
I did see plenty of struggle from the D tonight. There are a couple individuals in particular that I will highlight later, but in general the D couldn't move the puck to breaking forwards with any consistency. When this is going on, it is very difficult to get any kind of sustained attack going because there's just no rhythm to the game.
There was also an issue that I believe ties into the FLA and CLB games, but because I wasn't there I can't be 100% sure. The Oilers (and especially line 1 and the D) made a ton of passes to areas rather than players tonight. Against a bad team with undisciplined positioning, the Oilers' skill and speed would get them to most of these pucks. The Hawks, even without Mr. Hossa, are not this kind of team. They will kill you when your passes are not tape-to-tape - and they did that to the Oilers tonight even if every turnover didn't wind up in the net. They also played a very agitating defensive zone game that meant the Oilers were hit, slashed, sticked, poked and bothered at every shooting chance. This is a product of strong positioning and commitment to detail. Hopefully the Oilers learned something.
- It wasn't that he was outwardly bad - Toews should score on a breakaway, Kane should score when left completely unchecked, Potter shouldn't be putting the puck in his own net. I don't give him as much of a break on the fourth, but it was still a strong goal. The thing is, he was completely out of it on each of these goals. He wasn't putting himself in a position where if the shot wasn't made well, the puck would've hit him. The way he bit on Toews move - before Toews even moved - he might as well have pokechecked or did a sliding pad stack. He was lying on the around on Kane's play as well. I did see some effort to play a more stand up game on some of his saves, which is certainly a positive thing, but you can see how Dubnyk gets down on himself REALLY quickly and starts playing goal very conservatively. This doesn't work for his body type or in the modern NHL.
- I hope Dubnyk learns a few things from Bryz. He was thrown into his first game and came in with the attitude that he'd been here all along. He makes a strong first save and then rifles the puck up ice, actually getting it on net. He was cutting down angles, making some excellent saves and forcing other shots wide. Some of them were absolute robbery. He also showed tonight that he is a much better puckhandler than Dubnyk (though, most everyone is) and the difference that can make as his passes got the play going in the right direction several times. I see no reason why Dubnyk can't pick up on these things if he's willing, but I also see that while #80 may be completely nuts, #40 is completely fragile. I know which attitude I'd rather have in the net.
- In order to contribute to wins for this team, Andrew Ference must be good defensively and make simple plays with the puck. He did neither of these things tonight. The play I'll never forget was the horrible pokecheck attempt and subsequent penalty he needed to take in the second period. That's a Peewee mistake he made there...one that only happens when you stop moving your feet and give up position. It was shocking that a vet could make such a brutal mistake. Much as I bagged on Staios and Smith from time to time, they very rarely made plays as ugly as that one. Ference also made too many turnovers, got beat in the corner, and (as usual, sadly) didn't cover his man in front of the net. Not a strong game.
- Pretty medium game from him. Didn't make the goofy mistakes he's been prone to this year and certainly was more assertive in his game. With that said, he didn't make a lot of crisp passes and got outmuscled on a number of occasions.
- Really strong effort, especially in the defensive corners. The man should teach lessons. He's not at the Pronger/Pitkanen level, but he used positioning, size, strength and reach to his advantage all night and did an especially good job on some chances that Toews had to make plays. Belov was really focused on getting his shot away in the offensive zone and did a decent job of making these shots effective. He can still improve here. Better passing and especially more patience than the rest of the D tonight.
- I didn't see a lot of highlight reel stuff, though like Belov he at least moved the puck fairly well. No glaring defensive lapses while still jumping into the play often enough to have a shot at making a difference.
- Bad with the puck and didn't have the added physical element to his game that denotes when he is playing well. Not helping the team tonight.
- Speaking of not helping the team - you have to be aware of where you are on plays like the Oduya goal. Will you always prevent them? No, of course not, but he looked like he was in lala land. You can't just be drifting along in front like that. No exceptional passes to speak of. One shot where he made Crawford work a little bit. Any magic in his game is gone and that he and Schultz are playing ahead of Fedun is a travesty.
Speaking about our D as a whole - there are only two players I see as being placed to play on a winning squad - Belov and Schultz. Petry will always be the type of guy who can be a top dman on a bad team. I don't see him fitting in lower due to his contract going forward and he's not good enough to anchor a winner. Ference is already a defensive liability which is truly unfortunate. Potter and Nick Schultz are also rans who we hopefully won't have to talk about next season. They just don't bring anything exceptional to the team, and yes, your 5-7 dmen should be able to at least have SOMETHING exceptional in their game.
- Well, at least we have 1/3 of an effective fourth line. Joensuu is fine in this role and can move up if he's playing well or if something goes wrong. He got some hits, went to the net and generally did what he could tonight. Gazdic looked tired for some reason and was further behind the play than usual. I saw nothing of note from him. Acton is not an NHL hockey player. Period. Maybe a borderline NHL PK man, but that is it. There's no way he should play over Arcobello. Ever. If #26 were in, you have 2/3 of a useful fourth line. At least that's getting somewhere. Part of the problem for these guys tonight was that Eakins allowed them to play against Kane's line on several occasions. That's never good and they got completely owned. The coach has to know better than that.
- I'm a little puzzled about how these guys did tonight. They certainly didn't get eaten alive - but also didn't really generate much of anything. I can't recall Perron getting open for a single good shot. Gordon would have scored on a wraparound if not for a quick whistle in the third. Smyth had a good chance at the side of the net in the first but of course couldn't get the speed or height needed with his shovel. They were positionally decent, got some shots on net and generally did things right but didn't manage to contribute. Odd night. Perron was going to the net and being his usual annoying self at least, but both Smyth and Perron struggled to help the PP at all. Both need to be strong there for this team to win in its current configuration.
- Well, I'm not sure I've ever seen a line play for this team that can move the puck so quickly or gain the zone with as much speed. They were a touch off tonight - mainly because Gagner is still finding his way back and isn't going to his usual shooting zones - but sure look like the kind of line that's going to throw up a five goal night one of these games. Hemsky and Yakupov moving the puck in the first was magic. Chicago did very well to keep them off the score sheet. Yakupov will likely get a lot of attention for the Toews goal - two things - one, you can't expect that broken stick fan shot from the CHI dman, it looks like a break but it is a tough adjustment when you're already going the other way - two, he has to know that in a situation like that you take down Toews and take your two minutes. That's called a good penalty and that was the time for it. Hemsky tailed off in a pretty big way after getting hammered by a Chicago player on what should have been a penalty in the second. Yakupov got whacked in the face and should have drawn a penalty. No breaks for this crew tonight. Too bad as they did some really nice things in the offensive and neutral zones. They do need work in the D zone, but again, a lot of the issues there were because the puck wasn't coming to them cleanly from the D.
- Let's be honest, only two-thirds of this line is here right now. I don't know who that man was wearing #4 tonight, but he's not Taylor Hall. While the whole line was guilty of weak giveaways tonight, Hall made a ton of passes from a standstill position to absolutely no one. He just had no clue at a number of points throughout the game. No high gear speed either. Both Eberle and Hopkins knew to keep the puck away from him on the rush and avoided the usually obvious pass on several occasions. Not good. Eberle had the strongest game of the three. He went to the net and got some shots away, but he needs the other two going so that he can focus on his main role as the slot shooter. Hopkins was up and down, he'd make a brilliant play, then follow it up with two boneheaded ones. There was a sequence in the third where he got bonked at the blue line on a bad zone entry, then got the puck back, only to give it away like nothing. Hopkins was also never really in shooting position tonight. These guys really struggled despite looking like they were ready to go - it was quite confusing. I'm going to give credit to Chicago mostly.
So, where was this game decided? I'm going to say the two CHI goals in the first, coupled with the fact that the Oilers generated at least 3 golden rebounds in the slot, with Crawford completely out of the play and got nothing. They couldn't corral the puck and when the Hawks have a lead they are very, very good. What looked like a confident and energetic Edmonton team to start backed off as the game wore on, and despite the fact that it always kind of looked like they might just jump back into the picture, they just never did.
While I feel a lot better after this one than many other games this year, I sure do long for the day when I can simply be annoyed they lost rather than scrounging for positives in another lost season.