EDMONTON - 4
SAN JOSE - 3
It's been a few games since I wrote anything but I figured I needed to after this one. Skipped a couple games, been sick lately and just generally unenthused. This home stand has seen building momentum and a team able to get it done in different ways. This is all happening with an entire first line's worth of forwards missing and a still-suspect group of defencemen. There's something in that group on that ice right now though.
I don't remember seeing many games like that in the previous 9 years - definitely not the last 5. This team had made art out of turning one unfortunate happening or mistake into an utter disaster. The Dallas Eakins squad of the past couple seasons would have managed to lose this game 5-2 and spent the night whining about how they just couldn't do it. That attitude is gone. A lot of those players are in fact gone. Is it perfect? Far from it. But it is something. It is something we can cheer for and get excited about from time to time. Now is a great time. They are staring at the possibility of a 5-0 homestand against a fine group of opponents at a point of the season that could have spelled the end and a return to desperate hopelessness. We are not there. We're not even close to there.
Weird game for a long time tonight. Lots of flipping the puck to an area, or wonky passes. Multiple fights. Multiple reviews. Just odd.
For quite a while tonight I thought this game would end 2-0. Nilsson was playing like nothing would pass and the Oilers, though allowing SJ some zone control, were keeping chances to a minimum and actually should have been up more than the 1 goal they were before SJ struck. The Sharks cranked up their play and took advantage of some mistakes. There are still some holes in this Oilers team surely - but there is no albatross taking the ice that will for sure give the other team a chance to win. Removing Andrew Ference from the lineup is one of the most important things that has happened to create this momentum that has built into this home winning streak.
Brent Burns might be one of the most underrated players in the league. He was absolutely fantastic tonight even if he was on for the final GA. The can and does play everywhere. He gets open. He hits. He FIRES the puck. Just a thing of beauty to watch him play. If the Oilers have any chance to add him, they must pursue that to the end.
You can see the Sharks aren't what they were a number of years ago - some are older, some are less talented and the D just doesn't stack up, but they have the saavy to usually pull out a win in a game like this against a team like the Oilers and bust a losing streak of their own. That wouldn't be the case tonight.
The 4 Oilers goals were all excellent in their own way.
Leon's goal was awesome because it looked like a nothing play, but he had room and a shooting lane. One quick move and a simple shot later it was in the net. A one shot scorer. He's one of those.
Eberle's goal? Man. Great plays by all on the line, then Khaira shows excellent patience and vision behind the net, finds Eberle on a perfectly timed pass and Eberle executes the backhand that only he and Malkin apparently have. My gawd what a shot.
Speaking of what a shot, Iiro can fire the puck. He had several other chances and almost scored, then took advantage of the Khaira benching to score a huge goal. Great work out of the corner, settled himself and fired a hard shot at a spot. Such strong fundamental hockey.
And Hall's winner - I'll tell you this: whenever I see Leon charge up the wing with the puck and a star-calibre player near him, I almost expect a goal at this point. This man is rising to the occasion in a way that I've only seen from McDavid. You just know good things are going to happen when he drops his head and starts lugging that puck. He wasn't intimidated by Burns. He didn't throw some stupid shot with no lane. He waited, drifted around Burns just enough, and flicked a perfect pass to Hall's stick. In the net like it was nothing. Those guys took down Thornton-Pavelski-Burns. That's amazing.
- Another very solid game in a good string for the #1 goalie in this town. He looked so calm and almost stunned when pucks got past him. I don't think you can fault him on 2 of the 3, and Pavelski's goal was a really weird play (though he could have stopped it). The guy has run with his opportunity in a way that we haven't seen in a good while. Good on him. He gives this team a chance to win every night.
- Sekera still looks slow to me. I don't know whether he's tentative or just very deliberate. Either way he's got to move out there and get the puck going where he wants it to faster. Didn't make a bunch of mistakes or anything though.
- Nurse was good again. He was challenged by some big, strong boys tonight. At one point, he and Burns came together at nearly full speed in the Oilers zone. I thought there might be an earthquake. Wow. Very thankful Nurse is now a fixture and hoping he's watching tapes of Souray and Pronger for tips on how to be an even bigger pain near his own net without taking penalties.
- Well, he made a big mistake pinching before the Marleau goal. You can't make that read late in a game when you're one of only 2 back. He knows better. Aside from that I thought he had a strong game generally.
- Quieter night for Davidson aside from some physical play in front of his own net. I like that he mixes it up and seemed to have some tricks up his sleeve for dealing with Burns and Thornton. Wasn't perfect, but that's okay. Did he get one really good shot off that rang the post or am I imagining things?
- Well, he was just okay. Too many coverage mistakes and looked slow to the corners. Didn't have the glaring turnovers that might characterize a bad Schultz game, but also got beat at some key times and didn't take his man. I swear he used to be better in the corners.
- Not a great game. He's been passed on the depth chart since an early streak of strong play and has never really recovered. Some mistakes with the puck and struggled to keep up with the Sharks cycle. They all did really, but Gryba most of all.
- Purcell managed to play his way off this line for a time due to a number of puck mistakes and bad passes, as well as getting stuck in no man's land during the first 2 periods. It was pretty ugly. He seemed okay by the end of the game, but certainly struggled for a while there. Nothing to write home about in his game. That may have been Hall's best game in several years. He was flying. Still rushed some passes and shots, but was intense in all aspects of the game and really willed this team to a win. The motor just kept on going. He took a bit of a beating too, but gave back as well. Great finish on the OT winner. Love the reaction too. Almost like he knew that was how the game would end. Leon? What a hockey player. Seriously. I've watched this guy and just been amazed. Part of me isn't surprised per se, because he's clearly a late bloomer with little development until his late teens who happens to be supremely talented and built like an ox, but for it to just come pouring out like this has been a joy to watch. I would have made him first star tonight. So many big, strong, smart players on that SJ team just couldn't handle him. We haven't had a C like that since Jason Arnott - and I think Leon is better.
- This line was having a really good game even before the goals. Khaira is showing that he's a dynamic skater who gets in on the forecheck and can distribute the puck. Loved his hit that led to the fight. That SJ player is lucky he partially dodged that train. Then in the fight, he overpowered his combatant and came over the top to free his left hand. I haven't seen that in a long while. It is unfortunate that after his assist and a number of scoring chances (including a backhander he probably should have scored on), he makes an ill-advised back pass, then changes his mind too many times when backchecking (you have to go to and stay with Marleau, allowing Nilsson to play the shooter) and gets benched. He deserved it and I'm sure took the message well. Aside from that one shift? Great game. Eberle's back in a real way. The goal was amazing. He made a third period drop-the-shoulder and drive play I haven't seen him make in forever. Solid work to set up Pakarinen's goal and dangerous at other times as well. Great game. Hopkins was the quietest of the three, but provided the support Eberle needed to have that great game.
- Iiro was certainly the standout from this group. I didn't see much if anything from the other two. Pakarinen would up with the goal, a couple other strong chances and some physical play that is important as a depth option for this squad. Very well done and properly rewarded with shifts on both the first and second lines.
- Gazdic unfortunately had his combatant turtle almost immediately during their fight. Too bad. He also had a decent scoring chance though. Lander was a beast in the faceoff circle and played one of the more complete games I've seen from him in quite a while. All very good to see. Hendricks has gone quiet for some time now and that continued tonight. I'm not sure if he's hurt or if his role has been usurped by younger versions of him that can fire a puck.
So - what now? First things first, you need to be New York. That would be so huge.
Next - the time has come to send a message to your team that you mean business THIS YEAR. There is an opportunity here. If you are in a playoff spot or very close by the time McDavid returns, you can make it. So what does that mean? It means you need to take the steps necessary to move out Gryba and Schultz, and bring in some superior defenders to take those spots. That would send a message of positive confidence to your team and really give them a shot in the arm for the next stretch of games. You make these moves when you are WINNING, not LOSING. This is the time. Get it done Peter Chiarelli. This is when your earn your dough.
You make that move, get the team over the hump, reinsert your injured 1A/1B line when McDavid is healthy, and scream towards a playoff spot.
Also - breaking up that unit would be insanity and anyone who's reviewed their stats together and concludes otherwise is delusional. Most haven't reviewed their stats.
Look at this:
That's a really solid group! That's a playoff group.