A lot to see at the game tonight. The first thing I noticed was a ton of empty seats and the quietest start to a game I can remember since the early 90s. It was eery. I suspect it had more to do with the cold weather and early start than anything else but it was still something worth noting.
The game didn't start very well. There's another sport where launching a no-doubter into the crowd early on is a great thing - but Justin Schultz lazily dumping one into the 10th row doesn't work in a hockey game. I didn't take this a positive sign...even less so when Tampa scored to take a lead in the first.
For once the Oilers found a way to turn it around. Mostly it sprung from the efforts of Eberle, but there was also a balance to the Oilers' lineup tonight that made it possible to have offense from pretty much every line. This is a big deal. It will be tested in a big way against STL as they have a truly stellar group of defencemen.
The second period is something to worry about. A team like STL or PIT would have lit the Oilers up for 5 or 6 during that middle frame. I don't know what exactly happened but the team appeared quite sleepy. The three zone pressure that was present in the first and third dropped off a bunch and Tampa pressed. Because they were short players and also not having an amazing game, this only resulted in two goals.
Discipline and the way the referees called the game helped out tonight. When the Oilers don't go to the penalty box a bunch, and frankly when there aren't a lot of penalties called period, they seem to have a much more consistent game. The officials let some sticks and holds go at points during the game that may have been called on other nights. The linesmen did a pretty solid job on offside calls tonight. Gotta love Mike Cvik. He also tossed around J.T. Brown when it looked like he was trying to start something at the end of the second period. Hard to believe Cvik was never a player.
Generally liked the way Eakins ran the bench tonight. Increased icetime for Marincin was the proper choice. He resisted the urge to over-play the fourth line even though they were having a strong game. Still wonder about playing Justin Schultz so much, but it worked out in the end I guess.
- Just okay game from him tonight. Looked a little shaky on a few occasions and should have allowed at least one less goal. The thing was, he didn't pack it in and give up on the game. He stayed in and made enough saves in the third for the team to win. He'll need to be better against STL (assuming he starts - and he'd better).
- I would say this was the key pairing tonight even though another featured more in the offensive play. Marincin bailed out Petry defensively on a number of occasions. The two in the third that I remember involved Petry making ill-advised dumps up the boards and creating a scoring chance for the Lightning. On both occasions, Marincin was in good position and used his reach to break up the chance. Aside from one shift in the second period that resulted in a goal, #85 was wonderfully steady. Simply more of the same from previous reports - good in the corners, good with the puck, very responsible. Will be very interesting to see what he can do when he fills out. As for Petry, it wasn't that he was terrible, though he does make a lot of simple mistakes. It was that next to even a rookie in Marincin, Petry's bumbling style with the puck looks third-rate. That can't be your top Dman. One little thing that I noticed that was very illustrative was this - the difference in how each of these two clears the zone when there's no play. Marincin's chip off the boards is at an angle and speed that doesn't allow many interceptions but also doesn't result in icings. Petry normally either rips it all the way down or lofts a softie that's an easy pick. It's the little things that can make a huge difference - especially when they are little fundamentals (if that term makes sense).
- HEY! ANDREW FERENCE DID SOMETHING RIGHT! I'm being half-sarcastic as I'm sure you've all figured out that I don't like the way Ference plays much. His slap-pass to Hall was a really nice read and perfectly one-timed. He was actually pretty decent tonight. Didn't get beat wide and made some strong plays with his stick. After Schultz made the bonehead move I noted in the intro, he settled into a fairly steady game. In setting up the Gazdic goal, he did something that has been sorely missing from both his and the Oilers' game this year, as he fired a nice wrister through a screen while moving the play against the grain. All too often the Oilers have simply not moved and bounced that puck off the shot blocker. Not this time. Very well done. Defensively he was just okay. This pair was out for the Hedman goal, but that play came out of the forwards making a mistake and then Ference cheating too far back.
- Interesting to watch Brad Hunt live. My experience watching him tonight was pretty much the same as the preseason. You can see he's offensively somewhat capable. He made a couple good pinches and could be relied upon to move the puck. One of the things that made the Edmonton PP better tonight was that he was getting the puck to the skating forwards much earlier in the neutral zone. The thing is, if you're going to be the kind of defenceman Brad Hunt is, you have to bring some extra. I measure on the Marc-Andre Bergeron scale basically. Always have time for a guy like that on my team. Bergeron could hit, had a really strong shot and would even fight if called upon. I don't see anything extra from Hunt. If the preseason is any indication, he's also not the best OKC callup for the PP - that would be Marincin. In the defensive zone, you can see that he isn't sure of himself yet. He cheats toward his own net in a way that would be taken advantage of by top-flight teams. The good news for him is that this is something that can be corrected with a bit of positioning work. Nick Schultz was just okay. He made some mistakes but nothing glaring.
- That was probably about as good of a game as you're going to get from Luke Gazdic and he didn't even need to fight. He did what you do as an enforcer when offense happens - go to the net. Good solid screen and tip. He could also have scored in the second after creating good forechecking pressure and getting the puck in front of the net. Only a bad shooting decision kept him from his second there. He was positionally strong and kept skating all night. Jones started the game with a remarkable amount of restraint and focus compared to normal. He was not overskating his check or looking like a flailing forward. This restraint wained as the game went on, but I'd still classify this as a better game for him. Make no mistake though - the reason this line had a strong night was that if Mark Arcobello is your fourth C, you've probably got a decent fourth forward unit. On any given shift if he wasn't working the puck or leading the forecheck, he was in a strong support position to keep the line strong. Because of his effort, these guys only got stuck in the defensive zone a couple of times. Very pleased with his effort tonight.
- A little bit of chaos for this unit tonight. You could see Perron getting a little frustrated trying to figure out where the freelancing Yakupov was going to be after playing with the ultimate "straight-ahead" winger in Hall. It led to #57 having one of his weaker games this season. Part of that was also because this was not a particularly emotional or chippy game, which is what Perron thrives on. Gagner was okay - which is an upgrade on recent performances. He wasn't a defensive liability and got into shooting position on a number of occasions. Both of these things have been missing from his game this year. I also liked the way he carried the puck into the offensive zone with speed. Yakupov had an interesting game. He got a couple nice shots away and played a fairly responsible game. A lot of people are going to note his backhand pass in the third with the goalie pulled - it wasn't a bad play - Perron was breaking to that spot and then just quit. Probably just a misread on #57's part. I really don't like watching Yakupov dump the puck so much. I have a feeling this is a demand of Eakins and don't like that at all. You're much stronger with him either carrying the puck or dishing and heading for a dangerous position.
- Yet another strong performance from the Smyth-Hemsky pair. They are now a line with the strongest C option for them in Gordon. You don't have to worry about too much with this group on the ice. Hemsky had a strong game including an absolute ripper of a shot that went bar-down but not in. It was a great example of changing the angle on both the defender and the goaltender. Hemsky also backchecked very well. Smyth kept it simple and had a strong game. No lazy play. No energy letdown. Lots of grinding in the corners. That's what works best for him. Gordon continued what has been a really good season especially on a team this bad. His goal was a nice example of getting to the right spot and not quitting on a chance generated by Smyth and Hemsky. You're going to get those chances with those two players and he's done a more than adequate job this year. I wonder if he would have been on pace for 20 with a couple fewer injuries and a slightly better squad overall.
- It's funny as I saw their game quite simply. They had Tampa's number in the first and third. They were stifled in the second but still got a few chances. The one thing that was a bit of a problem was getting stuck in their own zone. The unit was not great at moving the puck up. Hall should make the Olympic team, but likely won't. If he doesn't, I'm guessing it will be because of the lazy backhanded giveaway that has leaked into his game this year. There were a couple of examples tonight. Hopkins was the strongest player on this line. Eberle had one of the quieter two-goal games I can remember. Not saying he wasn't good - just saying he wasn't all over the place like a lot of two goal nights look.
Certainly the Oilers got a break when Bishop went down. Not sure whether it would have mattered or not. You've got to beat these Eastern teams and they did that. Good on them.