Well, that was refreshing.
It's been forever since I went to a game and at the end simply thought "they took care of business tonight".
This team did that.
I've missed a number of home games already this year due to a number of factors but was quite thankful to have seen this in person.
Early on in the game you could see the potential for what happened. Various Oilers forwards were pushing the Chicago defence backwards and either bobbling the puck away, or making a misstep. It was clear though that the Hawks would struggle against that forward group for the game. They never figured out how to shut the Oilers down. Once the first puck went in, the game started to change.
That's not to say the Oilers dominated early. They were giving up chances and needed some time to find the game. By the third they were in control. It took some excellent work from Talbot, especially at 2-0, to get there. This is how games tend to go against a team with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. There are very few nights where you will keep those men from getting a good number of chances.
Once they made it through the 10 or so minutes where Chicago pressed, the game was over.
One thing that was quite noticeable all night was that the Oilers were forcing hooks, holds and slashes from the Hawks. This is usually a good sign, even if it doesn't generate a parade to the box. The referees certainly were calling to the score from 3-0 onward. The entire 3rd period should have basically been an Oilers powerplay.
What I liked most was that the effort and push came from throughout the lineup. There were essentially no passengers last night. The Oilers are now talented enough that most games will be determined simply by whether the applied effort is there. Are they attacking the middle? Are they creating shooting lanes and then taking advantage? It really looks that simple so far. If they do this, they will score enough goals to beat most any team.
I loved the shooting from the defence tonight. They were making a concerted effort to move the puck or themselves into areas where the screens provided from the suddenly huge forward group would be most effective. They varied their shooting as well - everything from the classic bomb, to wristers at the corner, to slap passes and shooting for tips. It was great to see from a group that is usually so lacking in this area. I imagine that they've been working on this in practice. They're still 1 man away from being able to talk about using the forwards pushing the play low and dropping the puck back to someone dangerous - but they're getting better at least.
The powerplay was a sight to behold. I know the Hawks PK struggled mightily, but watching the home team actually control the puck for the majority of powerplay time was so refreshing. They may have finally figured out the key to the whole thing - get the damn puck to McDavid and move into space. They still haven't figured out the shot from the right circle (the player there is too low for an angled pass and too high for the cross-crease), but they'll get there.
Ultimately, I really enjoyed feeling like the Oilers were in control of this game. I'm honestly not the sort who wants to see last minute heroics. Blow em out and lets all spend the third partying.
- Outstanding performance. I enjoyed the basic saves more than the few spectacular ones to be honest. Why? Because when Talbot's positioning and movement control is on, he's near unbeatable. He was square to essentially every good chance a Hawk got. He was ready, steady and completely unfazed. There were clean breaks where they didn't have a hope. That's just great goaltending. He made the big saves when he needed to, but more importantly, made the easy saves easily. Such a lovely change from the first few games of the year. He had this locked down. There were not going to lose that lead.
- I didn't notice him in the same way as the other defencemen, but what I did notice I liked. He was physical and mean again while maintaining position on the Hawks forwards. That's most of his job on this team. Looked like he moved the puck okay too.
- He's certainly looking like he's taking a step forward. Especially in the offensive zone. His reads on when to step up and what to do with the puck have improved significantly. That goal he scored is gold for a defenceman. The only thing better would have been if he'd gone bar-down. Hammering it through a goalie is pretty damn satisfying though. His shot that was tipped was a great read - he saw and timed the double screen so perfectly. Crawford had absolutely zero chance to see that puck. Defensively he looked good as well.
- Just another solid game from him. Loved the point shot as again it was another clear read and timing a screen beautifully. He picked the exact right shot for the spot and that's an art. No major screwups.
- For whatever reason, he makes the difference for this group. I don't know whether it's decision-making, how he skates with the puck or that he just doesn't make a lot of passing mistakes. Some combination of both. When he laid out that Hawk in the second we all assumed it was a Lucic hit - seriously impressive for a guy that small to step up and just nail a guy. You have to be really strong on your skates to do that the way he did. Don't be fooled by the lack of board clatter either - getting hit like that HURTS. Very nice game.
- I group them together because I didn't see a ton from either, but that's okay. They moved the puck a little bit and didn't get caught out of place. On a night when your forwards are going and your top 4 has things under control. That's really all you need. It's also somewhat impressive for an offensive guy and a wanderer to have a boring game together as a pair.
- Had trouble picking up on how good these guys were 5-on-5. McDavid did his damage on the powerplay and of course created chances with his outrageous speed (as he does every game). I still see Lucic struggling to know where exactly to go. I wonder if Boston and LA have gotten him used to an attack that comes from the blue line rather than on the rush or from speed. He should be able to simply move to the slot and wait a lot of the time. He flies by too much. McDavid and JP both had several strong defensive efforts, including 97 going 1-on-1 with Toews for a time. That was a sight. #98 keeps getting better with every game. The reason he's been able to stick is that, unlike most rookies, he doesn't make many mistakes and is strong positionally. He's also just massive, which helps.
- Is it wrong to pick on a guy who had a 2-point night? I don't care because I'm going to. Eberle has completely lost his shooting touch. I think back to the game where he couldn't finish his hat-trick despite a ton of chances before finally putting one in. Since then I've not seen him wiring the puck like before. He couldn't make one-times work last night and just didn't have any snap on the wrist shot. That's his moneymaker and it needs to work. He had a ton of chances which is mostly a credit to his linemates. He did get his stickhandling and rush skills going in the third, which was nice to see. Eberle's struggled with imposing himself on the game in the last couple years. Hopefully that ability is coming back. Maroon did an excellent job keeping up and getting to the net. I've been very impressed with his consistent game this season and the fact that he's able to work with skilled players so well. Love that he does it all with a big grin on his face too - you can really tell he enjoys his job out there. Hopkins had an excellent game as the backbone of this line, getting it done at both ends of the ice. He's adapting to his new role right now and I'll be interested to see how he settles in. I'd like to see more shooting from him though. He looked like he'd scored a couple times last night and didn't. Just needs to keep jamming away.
- What a group to be dealing with. All solid, all can skate, all can burn you at any given time. This is my kind of third line. Loved watching these guys work. Leon did what he does best - get to the right spots in a way that leaves him able to apply his strength and skill to get things done. Lovely simple goal to cap the night and a perfect screen+tip for his first. Made some nice passes and other plays too. I was impressed Slepyshev was able to get a off a shot period, much less with that release and scoring a lovely tough angle goal. Having random big guys who can skate and fire the puck is a wonderful luxury. The next shift he pulled out some fancy moves as well. People are really underestimating this hockey player and what he could mean moving forward. Kassian rang a post and drove the net hard all night. Great, simple, focused game. I'd like to see this group stay together - they're smart, big, can skate and everyone on the line can score goals. If they get teams' weaker defenders they will eat them for lunch.
- Had some struggles but thankfully not many that led to danger. They were giving up shots but not too many difficult ones. Caggiula impresses the hell out of me. 2 points in your first 2 after coming back from a crummy injury that could have derailed your rookie year is lovely. Pitlick had a set of sequences in the third where his forecheck dominated the Hawks defenders. It was a thing of beauty. The guy will be just fine if he *knocks* stays healthy. Let's hope. Another of the right sort of depth player to have around. I liked that Hendricks won some draws and whacked that Hawk who hung around the goalie too long. Would rather see a younger player there though.
So...are they trading Pouliot? He's going to struggle to break through if the young and cheap guys keep impressing.
Had a lot of fun watching them play that way. Could really get used to those performances. Even though Chicago was at the end of 3 in 4, part of proving you're a good team is dispatching a group like that when you get the chance, and making a statement while you do it.