Yes, you read that right. They beat the Red Wings in regulation.
The first thing to mention from tonight is the pigeon. There was a pigeon flying around Rexall all night. I hereby propose that he be kept in the building, fed, kept, named and appointed the official Oilers' mascot. He must be a good omen.
You could feel that there was more energy in the building tonight, which is totally understandable. The couple of wins gave a bit of optimism and that was built on. The crowd still isn't ready to rock and that's understandable as well. People got excited for goals and big plays, but no general atmosphere. Again, I'm a part of this. I want to see it continue. I want to see this team go on a run, suffer a loss, and bounce back to run again. That hasn't happened in forever.
A technical point - this is now a streak. 3. It is impossible to "increase your streak to 3", 2 wins is not a streak. The third win creates it. Get it right.
Comparing this game to the last one I saw on home ice was night and day and that starts with the approach and Coach. There are lines that are working well together now, the team is more dynamic in its approaches and there appears to be accountability in place. We'll have to see how this plays out and if old habits creep in, but I liked what I saw.
If there was anything to nitpick about, it was the third period. That's too much of a tightrope approach for me. Got to be aggressive for longer and then maybe play a little more cautiously. With that said - it wasn't a 'lazy cautious', but an intentional one. Nowhere near the same level, but the sort of thing that Team Canada would do with a 2 goal lead at the Olympics - clamp it down, simple shots, avoid turnovers and penalties. There were some mistakes in this regard, but largely it never felt in jeopardy which EVERY 2 goal lead felt like it was last year.
The break in has adapted. There are still chip ins, but tonight the team now carried the puck through the neutral zone with speed. This makes all the difference in the world. They still struggled at times because the passes from the back end are still hit and miss, but it was very noticeable that different tactics were in play.
Another thing - this team applied back pressure on the puck carrier in a way I haven't seen an Oilers team do in years. Because of their skillset, if this keeps up they will be very successful. It allows forward-only transition play leading to odd man rushes. That's everything for a group this good that lacks talent to pass the puck up from their own end.
After a lackluster first powerplay, they went to a different breakout and in. For a guy who's watched coach after coach bang his head against the wall in a "dammit I'm right!!!" war to implement their system at all costs, this is so refreshing. The players had clearly practiced multiple methods and flipped like a switch.
Also really liked what McClellan said pre-game about getting the practice up to snuff and after the game regarding working through tonight's mistakes. Enjoy the win, but it wasn't perfect. It's nice that it didn't have to be.
- Brilliant. A couple bad rebounds but many, many excellent saves. Didn't even look tested because he was so calm and positionally sound. Too bad one breakdown and a bad rebound cost him the SO.
- Spent the first period making at least one truly ugly play every shift. He was also very lucky the referees weren't in a mood to call all his hooks and holds tonight. Played better in the 2nd and 3rd, but was bailed out routinely by Talbot and to a lesser extent Gryba. Why he insists on taking bad long-range shots during sustained offensive pressure and killing the momentum I'll never know.
- Credit to him for saving Ference on a number of occasions. He handled the puck well, made a few passes and maintained position well. Good night for Gryba. He appears to be growing within McClellan's defensive system.
- Didn't see a lot from him which is usually good. Some of the slow moments were gone. Not great with the puck, but pretty good otherwise.
- He needs to create with his passing and he didn't really do that tonight. I expect better from him even though there weren't really glaring mistakes or blown coverages. Needs to be pushing the offence forward and that wasn't happening.
- Pretty good game from him. I can't recall a specific bad defensive mistake and that's good. Certainly played a lot of minutes and didn't allow the Wings many great chances. Expected a little more offensively I suppose.
- Really solid game all around. I remember him getting beat once in the first period and then really clamping down his game. Good to see. He's not jumping out a lot but I'm wondering if that relates more to McLellan's system given that it looks like something I may be observing on a regular basis.
As a unit the impressive thing is that the group isn't making the big mistake. They did have a couple problems when Detroit tried to open up the middle ice for the stretch pass. Klefbom in particular got caught chasing the play up and was nearly burned for a goal. Got to not get stuck staring at the puck like that.
- What a line tonight. They were all excellent. What makes these guys work? Many things, but I'll key on one - all of them force the other team to turn the puck over and are capable of quickly turning the play around. Pouliot had easily his best game of the year. He'd really done nothing thus far and was suddenly everywhere. On several occasions I mistook him for McDavid with the way he was moving and passing the puck. Just a beautiful game from him. especially the heads up play to spring McDavid. Yakupov was great tonight. Setting up that Letestu goal with a nice delay and pass, making a little bump play to set up the transition to McDavid's goal and many other chances generated. I'd like to key on the play where he sent Pouliot in alone. Just a simple and lovely play. He headed up ice and saw there was nothing available to him and instead of forcing the play he calmly circled back, found time and space, lulled the DET players into a defensive lapse and hit Pouliot with a lazer. That's exactly how you do it. McDavid? He was McDavid. He's their best player. He blew by everybody. He got a chance and scored. He set up Letestu like it was nothing. He sprung his linemates multiple times and PKed like a champ. They should have played some more in the third to keep the pedal down.
- Honestly I expected these guys to step up after seeing what McDavid's crew were doing and they really didn't. Don't get me wrong - they weren't bad - but nothing really leapt out at you. Hall took a penalty out of frustration that was rather annoying to see. I know he was skating through getting beat up most of the night, but you can't get undisciplined like that. It was also too easy for him to shoot from out wide tonight. He needs to get to the net more than he has. Hopkins was himself - consistent and pretty good including a couple of strong shots but didn't find a way to hit the scoresheet. Miller was a victim of McLellan's impatience with trying to get this line going and found himself on the fourth line early. Didn't see much from him other than maybe one scoring chance but again, nothing horrible. I still see Slepyshev as the choice for this line because of the combo of skill and size - he can also keep up - but the Coach doesn't seem to at this point.
- I liked this line a lot and viewed their strength as an extension of what McDavid's group was doing. They forechecked really hard and forced turnovers. They can't transition as dramatically, but they controlled the flow of the play in their time on the ice. Purcell wasn't perfect, but he was better than he has been. That late penalty can't happen but thankfully the team didn't pay for it. Lander was excellent in many roles including the PK and PP. He's doing basically everything that's asked of him. He's also doing it with a tenacity and fiestiness that were lacking in his early NHL days but he has now embraced. When a smart, talented guy gets after it like that he is very tough to stop. Korpikoski? Simple game - use his speed, attack the puck, get it to the net. I have to say, he does it well. He had another strong game tonight.
- Only one member of this line really managed to make his mark on the game and that was Letestu on special teams. I was underwhelmed by his efforts early as he appeared to be coasting but perhaps that was just a veteran being a veteran. He was really good as a role player tonight. Scored the PP goal by going to the right place. Got a great chance off the rush from McDavid and had a couple others as well. It is really nice to have two players that can help your PP and two who can help your PK on the fourth line. Very valuable.
Strong goaltending and quick-strike offence. Who knew?
That and pigeons. Long may our pigeon friend oversee home wins.