December 30 2009 11:10PM
Edmonton Oilers: 3
Toronto Maple Leafs: 1
After a slump so bad that even incurable optimist Robin Brownlee found relief in the dive for five, the Oilers have won a game. Over a bad team, yes, but at least it was an earned win.
Oilers Three Stars, According To Me
1. Patrick O'Sullivan. Perhaps the unlikeliest hero on the roster, O'Sullivan scored two goals: one a flukey bounce off a defenceman's skate, the other a beautiful play in tight on a partial breakaway. He'd been having a poor night up until he drew a slash from Jeff Finger, which gave the Oilers the first power play (and O'Sullivan his first goal); after that he got increasingly good.
2. Gilbert Brule. A fine game for Brule, who along with Shawn Horcoff was on the ice for every Oilers goal. Brule's goal started the scoring and snapped a drought of his own (he's been cold offensively for as long as the team's been losing), and even though it was deflected it was a good shot to take.
3. Shawn Horcoff. Played a very nice game along with Brule and both he and O'Sullivan have looked better since they were split up. Moved the puck well on the power play.
Watching Pat Quinn roll lines has a certain rhythm to it, like waves gently rolling in on shore. I decided to keep track of how he sent out his forward lines, and record it for the benefit of all. The latter two periods were interrupted by penalties, but the first period had a soothing flow: 3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1,4,3,2,1.
I also noted down whether each shift was won or lost territory-wise, and it gave a surprisingly accurate feel for the game's momentum. I've mentioned previously that I think 'momentum' is an overused word, but there's a reason it's become such a cliche: because there is some value to it. In this case, every time a line does well, the next line goes out in the offensive zone, giving them a better crack at doing well, or when a line does poorly the next line starts in their own end, making it less likely that they'll have a successful shift. The third period is a fine example: the Oilers carried the play early, and Nilsson drew a penalty; the Oilers scored on the ensuing power play. After that they seemed to sit back, drawing even or losing shift after shift until first Grabovski hit a post and then finally Kessel scored on a Leafs power play.
Production values on the pay-per-view could be a little higher. On the Leafs' lineup card, Kassel was listed as a first line forward and Kaberie was on the top defence pairing. Than Dan Tencer came on to say something about being patient because the big picture was about eventually being a Stanley Cup contender (aside: no playoffs in three years and looking at a fourth is plenty of patience, Dan) but two-thirds of his segment was drowned out because the audio feed from the arena was blaring over top of it.
I'd be curious to know if Tencer was a little miffed by Rob Brown; right after his discussion on patience, Brown pointed to Toronto's record with and without Kessel as evidence that a single dramatic move can vastly improve a hockey team.
Gene Principe's absolutely brilliant. I should really hate him, given his job, but he's just way too fun to listen to. He had some good news in his little interview segments tonight, too - Pisani's been feeling good for two to three weeks and just needs to get his strength back, and both he and Comrie are skating regularly.
One small negative note: I'm not at all sure what the fourth line (Moreau, Cogliano, Stortini) was doing on the ice with around two minutes left. They got badly hemmed in their own zone and it was only good luck that kept Toronto from drawing within one goal with a minute and a half left. Compounding matters was Moreau cross-checking a Leafs' forward after the whistle; I probably would have blacked out with rage had the referee called it (and it was blatant enough that he easily could have).
One other note, which I suppose is both positive and negative - Toronto managed 66 shots on net at even-strength, although only 23 of those got through to Jeff Deslauriers. Here are the shots on net totals for the Oilers' defencemen tonight:
- Smid: 14
- Gilbert: 15
- Souray: 16
- Visnovsky: 17
- Staios: 33
- Grebeshkov: 37
The first four names on that list were all on for between two and six more shots by the Oilers than the Leafs. Grebeshkov and Staios were a combined minus-60 in terms of shots on net for and against. The first two pairings were quite good, but they weren't quite as good as Grebeshkov/Staios were bad. I was a little hard on Strudwick the other night, but Grebeshkov hasn't had a very good season and he ought to be just fine as a third-pairing guy. Perhaps he's still suffering from injury.
I noticed that J-F Jacques is wearing a set of those new Farrell shoulder pads. Apparently Dustin Penner wears them too. I'm sold on the idea that those compression blocks are highly effective, but I have friends who figure they'll just be blocky and won't be any easier to move in than a standard set of shoulder pads. If anyone here has used them I'd love to hear a review; they're fairly pricey and I don't really need new shoulder pads so I've been hesitant to spend the money.
It was nice to watch a win, although now that I've seen one I feel just the tiniest bit of regret that the Oilers are now within one of the Maple Leafs for 28th in the NHL. I hate feeling conflicted about whether the team should win or lose; I suppose the best course of action is to just be happy for whatever comes, for whichever reason.