Sunday 'night' games are always weird. I swear the team never looks ready on these nights. Tonight was no different in many ways, but the team was good enough to overcome the early nap and get back in the game. Indeed, when Kassian broke through the line with under a minute to go, I swore he was going to pick the top corner and the Oilers would be ahead going to 2. He missed by a little bit, but that wasn't the killer, far from it.
A year ago, a few more games in, many of stood and watched as the goaltender anointed to be the future was failing. Thankfully, a part-time fill in was ready to rock and the team eventually got things moving - at least for a while.
Here we are again. I haven't watched a period yet this year where Cam Talbot looks to be ahead of the puck and making easy saves. Even the most basic shots are vexing him right now. This is truly disturbing as there is no Anders Nilsson this year. I saw a small glimmer of hope in the third when Talbot finally made some saves on yet another Buffalo PP, but even then he wasn't his usual, well-positioned self.
Make no mistake - I believe that despite all the issues tonight they win this game if Talbot doesn't stink out the second the way he did. That was brutal. It turned the game. I can't blame the team too much for not thinking it could run down Buffalo tonight. The pucks were just going in to fast.
The coaches didn't help either. I understand benching Pouliot. I truly do. This guy needs to figure out how to play the game without taking weak, useless penalties. How much are the refs looking for him? I'd imagine quite a bit. That doesn't excuse him, but I imagine it is a big problem.
Now, you bench Pouliot - sure...you don't mess up the lines as a result. You replace Pouliot with another winger and that's it. The change they made completely threw off the Oilers' attack and it wasn't the same at all for the rest of the night. Because the Oilers committed so strongly to the Lucic-McDavid-Eberle group, they don't have a lot of immediate versatility there. This is something you have to build, and they haven't.
The special teams are still struggling. Tonight they didn't generate powerplays but their PK was on display again. I've said it probably dozens of times now - until they ditch that absolutely stupid setup at the top where their forwards cross sides and wind up blocking no one and no lane, their PK will be a joke. Giving up such easy gimme chances is not excusable the way it happened tonight.
A word on a couple of Buffalo players - Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan O'Reilly are certainly a couple of the finer players in the league. Risto had multiple points, and was an absolute beast in the D-zone. SO unfortunate the Oilers narrowly missed out on him. He would have been the absolutely perfect piece on that blue line right now. O'Reilly gave the Oilers fits too.
Random arena finding for the night - they don't have butter for the damn popcorn. Are you kidding me???
I don't know how much I want to even break down the goals so much. It was kinda ugly.
- Like I said, his game is dpeely flawed at the moment. Tonight he was late to essentially every puck and struggled to be square to shots. I'm having trouble picking up on why - there's nothing obvious other than that he doesn't look sharp or controlled in the net. Maybe he's unfocused, I don't know.
- Oscar had some struggles tonight and gave the puck away more than usual. He also wasn't particular physical and didn't do anything offensively. Rather disappointing. Larsson at least made a diffence with some physical play. He got mad and punished some Sabres, which was more than you could say about some players tonight. He made some odd skating choices later in the game but seemed to be okay.
- There was a play that Russell made in the second period that was one of the few bright spots in the game for me - he broke in from the point and made a strong move with the puck. Unfortunately the shot he got on net appears to have been blocked by Kassian. This could have made a difference in the game. I didn't see #4 as strong as in the first home game, but thought he was generally fine. Sekera was just okay for me. He has to create offence to be effective and it wasn't there so much tonight.
- Ugh...I really don't like watching this pair play hockey. Nurse simply isn't ready. He got beat again on a weak PK effort tonight in the first period where he waived his stick instead of taking a step. This is nearly universal in sport - if you get caught not taking a step, you pay. In tennis, basketball, hockey and pretty much everything else. It's just the way the games are played. I like having Nurse as a tough - but if that is all he becomes, that's an epic waste of talent. Gryba is simply too slow and takes too many penalties to play for this team. He can be the #8 or 9, but not 6. So many on this blue line can get the puck moving quickly. Time to weed out the player who can't in a more permanent way. Unfortunately, McLellan has adopted the flaw so many NHL coaches have. He has favorites. Comfortable players who he goes back to, whether they're any good or not. On this team, that's Eric Gryba and Mark Letestu. They play too much, get bumped up too easily, and get prime opportunities they don't deserve.
Now I'm going to try to cobble together the forwards - it was all over the place tonight.
- Otherwise known as "the benched and his unfortunate friends". Pouliot scored a nice goal but man...he just has to get this penalty thing under control. Shorter stick maybe? I'm serious. Lander was just okay. He ran into a few people, but that was about it for me. Pitlick was a little better - he landed a nice hit of course, but he also skated hard and was in decent position. He was more nervous with the puck than last game. Still holding his own.
-Jesse probably played his best game despite limited ice time. He was getting to pucks and beating defenders in a way I haven't seen him do thus far. This was the first night where I really saw him as a #3 rated prospect on the ice. He still needs to calm down with the puck a touch, but at least he's using his size and skating ability now. I'm still in favor of sending him to the AHL. Kassian had some moments. I have generally liked his game as a depth winger who can move around the lineup in the preseason and games thus far. The guy can play hockey and seems to have decided that is indeed his priority now. Like I said earlier, good chance in the first and got in some Sabres' faces throughout the game. Good stuff. Letestu had a nothing game by my eye.
- Hmm...Didn't work for me. Even though I quite like Maroon with McDavid, they need a bit of a speed demon or at least a quick player to play with. I could see Leon on McDavid working well together, but not with Maroon. The combo just ruined the flow for me. Of course both #s 97 and 29 still got chances because that is what they do, but there wasn't the sustained pressure and balanced attack that you get when players like McDavid and Draisaitl especially are deployed correctly. Liked some of the fight in McDavid tonight as he got into some scrums. Maroon was a bit off for me. He usually gets better looks.
- As I noted earlier - didn't work for me. Yes Hopkins got a couple chances but something is off. Tonight he looked a step slow, and just wasn't that strong with the puck. He took a quick shot when a deke would have resulted in a goal. I don't know if he's being tasked with something different from the Coach or what. His game just looks off. Eberle? Didn't seem him a bunch to be honest. Again, with the flow thrown off this line looked slow and disorganized to me, especially Eberle. Lucic was okay - he at least kept doing what he does.
Honestly I think the focus tonight has to be on the coaching and goaltending. Without the problems there, we see a different game tonight.