January 07 2010 10:57PM
Edmonton Oilers: 2
Columbus Blue Jackets: 4
On a night where the Carolina Hurricanes lost to Nashville, and facing an opponent nearly as inept as themselves, the Oilers needed to come up with a solid effort if they were going to lose this one. Fortunately, they did, as middling goaltending and a disastrous night for the Smid-Staios pairing earned them a hard-fought loss.
1. Fernando Pisani. I'll admit there's some bias in this particular choice, but there aren't many things that make me grin ear to ear in an Oilers game any more (I think the last one was Colin McDonald's goal), and Pisani's goal tonight made me do that. It was vintage Pisani - a great forecheck to strip the puck off the defenceman's stick, and than a perfect shot to beat the goaltender. A beautiful play, from a player who deserves a little success now and then.
2. Sheldon Souray. Souray's struggled at times this season, but played a very nice game tonight. He drilled Rick Nash early in the second period, he made smart plays all night, and his shot may not have resulted in a goal but it was very evident.
3. Andrew Cogliano. Playing with a somewhat limited player in Zack Stortini and a liability in Ethan Moreau, Cogliano played aggresively, charging the net and generating chances off the forecheck. He also used his speed to draw a penalty late in the third and was at times a real joy to watch.
Dive For Five Star
Steve Staios. I'll come right out and say it: without Staios' efforts tonights, the Oilers might have got away with a win - they were the better team, all things considered. But it was Staios who was undressed by Fedor Tyutin and then left R.J. Umberger untouched in front of the net on the Blue Jackets' first goal, and it was Staios who lost a puck battle to Raffi Torres which resulted in a scoring chance and then a Staios penalty as he tried to recover - a penalty that led to a perfect shot by Kristian Huselius, a shot that stood up as the game winning goal.
Making this particularly difficult to say is the fact that Staios selflessly blocked hard shots at least twice that I saw, and looked in pain both times. Like Jason Smith, Mike Grier and Ryan Smyth before him, Staios embodies the kind of self-sacrificing, do anything for the team mentality that is impossible not to admire. Somewhere along the way though, he's lost a step or two.
Staios was bad, but his defence partner Ladislav Smid had a rough outing too. On the Blue Jackets' second goal it was Smid who got crushed by Raffi Torres, which was half of the equation leading to the goal against (Patrick O'Sullivan failing to take Antoine Vermette was the other half). The pairing was on for all three even-strength goals against.
Devan Dubnyk was okay. He looked a little sketchy handling the puck behind his net, he looked shaky early, and he probably should have had the Huselius goal (although I'll cut him some slack because of the situation) but between freak deflections and missed coverage, the goals against were hardly his fault alone. That said, any night a 'tender gives up four isn't a night to remember.
On a semi-related note, I'd like to thank my fantasy goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, for yet another miserable outing (Yahoo! stats line: 11.06 GAA, 11 saves, .733 SV%, 0 wins). As if his effort last week wasn't enough.
Where was I? Right, my fantasy team. Nice goal by Gagner.
I thought the Oilers top line looked pretty good tonight. All the players did that thing they do at times (Penner disappears, Nilsson gets too cute, Horcoff mishandles the puck) but despite that the line generated a bunch of quality chances and outplayed the Nash line for the majority of the evening.
Tonight in improbable NHL'ers: Mathieu Roy. It's nice to see the brittle defender, who set a career-high in games played last season with (a whopping) 59, playing in the NHL.
Patrick O'Sullivan went out of character tonight with a brutal hit on Jan Hejda. He also whined about the penalty he took after kicking out Raffi Torres' feet; I'm still trying to figure out what his problem with it was. Probably something along the lines of: 'C'mon it was Raffi Torres. RAFFI TORRES!'
Ethan Moreau made a couple of boneheaded plays at evens but had a splendid night on the penalty-kill, and despite my annoyance at superfluous cross-checking (it didn't get called but boy it could have) I have to give him credit: he played a few inspired shifts while the team was down a man.
With 30 seconds left in the game, and Pat Quinn and Tom Renney on the bench, I found it interesting to see Kelly Buchberger planning the attack. Not that I have a particular critique, mind you; it was just interesting.
The Oilers are now on pace for a 69-point season, which should put them comfortably in the NHL's bottom five. It's two points worse than their 2006-07 finish, and in the years since the lockout would have placed the Oilers anywhere between first and fourth in the draft order.