November 05 2013 08:22PM
Taylor Fedun scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game a little earlier tonight. Another rookie, Mark Arcobello, scored the first two goals of his NHL career - including the game-winner. Philip Larsen scored his first goal as an Oiler.
The offence came from unexpected places, but it sure came in handy against Florida.
As I saw it, the Oilers were clearly the better team after about the five minute mark of the first period, and dominated the first two frames. With some exceptions (more on those later), the call-ups played quite well and the team as a whole dominated both the possession and territorial battles. The 3-1 lead got a bit of help from Jacob Markstrom, who wasn't good, but on balance the Oilers firmly deserved to be ahead.
Then the team started sitting back. Maybe it was a change in strategy, maybe it was complacency; whatever the case, Edmonton allowed a decidedly mediocre Panthers team to crawl back into the game. First it was 3-2, then 3-3, and yet another loss seemed inevitable. Instead, the Oilers got an overtime powerplay and Ales Hemsky teamed up with Mark Arcobello to put the game away.
The Panthers scored first on a shift where Ryan Smyth in particular took his sweet time moving and Sam Gagner was awfully passive. Marcel Goc had all the time in the world with Smyth, Petry and Ference standing still on the Oilers' goal line.
There's a lot to like about this goal. Whether it's Ladislav Smid and Boyd Gordon making smart plays along the boards in the defensive zone, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins rushing over to spring the rush or Philip Larsen reading the play perfectly, this was a great example of a team taking advantage of an opponent trapped way back at the far end of the ice. We've seen this goal a lot this year, but generally off the sticks of the opposition.
This one isn't complicated. Mark Arcobello made a nice shot from nowhere dangerous and Jacob Markstrom misplayed it badly.
Normally I wouldn't mention the stuff that happened right before the video started, but here it's significant. Ales Hemsky went down to block a hard point shot, found the puck in his feet and knocked it to Nugent-Hopkins, who started the rush that's in process as our video starts. That sent the Oilers away, and as they generally do Jordan Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins played the rush perfectly, culminating in Taylor Fedun's first career goal.
This play starts with a grenade of an Eberle pass right up the middle in the defensive zone. Hemsky makes the simple 'bank the puck off the boards and out' play to neutralize it, but Scottie Upshall makes a great sliding block to keep it in the zone. At this point it's a 3-on-3 and the Oilers should still be fine but Nugent-Hopkins gets puck-watching and that's all she wrote.
Devan Dubnyk, feeling that it's unfair for the Oilers to get a freebie goal and not give one up, mercifully allows the Panthers a guaranteed point for getting it to overtime.
What I like about this goal is its simplicity. The Panthers collapse to defend the 4-on-3. Hemsky and Arcobello swap places so that Arcobello can take the one-timer from the faceoff circle. Then they take the shot. If the Oilers could do this all the time, we wouldn't spend so much time fretting over their power play percentage.
- It's always nice to see hockey succeeding so well in non-traditional markets. Also, hats off to the Panthers' public relations people for handing out matching red shirts to create the illusion of an empty arena - that's the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour everyone loves!
- I'm pretty happy calling the first game of the 'Ales Hemsky at left wing' experiment a qualified success. The first line dominated scoring chances (+6/-2 at even-strength by my count) and looked a lot better than it has lately. I'd be comfortable leaving Hemsky there until Hall or Perron is back.
- That second line is a mess, though. More than half of Florida's chances came against them. I don't know if it's a function of Ryan Smyth being less than 100 percent, or Sam Gagner being less than 100 percent, or whatever's going on with Nail Yakupov this season, but the whole line looked bad against a pretty weak opponent.
- I go through stages of annoyance with the fourth line; tonight I was struggling to see anything positive out of them. It felt like they'd go out, quickly lose possession, and then skate around the defensive zone for 40 seconds until someone mercifully chipped the puck out of the zone and real hockey players could come back on the ice.
- Regular readers know that I hold Jeff Petry in high regard; I think he's the best defenceman on the team. He was a trainwreck tonight, though.
- Philip Larsen looked pretty good on Ladislav Smid's side, and once people get healthy I suspect he'd look even better in a third-pairing role where he's asked to do less. What I really like is his ability to make short, safe passes that minimize the number of mistakes on routine defensive-zone puck-handling. Smid needs a partner with good puck skills; so to does Nick Schultz.
- I can't imagine there's anybody unhappy to see Taylor Fedun make his NHL debut. The goal was icing on the cake but I liked his tenacity in the defensive zone; he seemed to engage well and win his share of puck battles despite being undersized.
- I watched the Panthers' feed tonight (I thought somebody, somewhere probably should) and the commentators ripped on Andrew Ference pretty hard for turning a first period power play into a four-on-four with some gratuitous cross-checking. Generally, I'm a fan of disciplined hockey but I have to admit that as a rule I'm okay with making it clear to an opponent that charging the crease has repercussions. That can mean a scrum, a fight, or in Ference's case stickwork.
- Finally: did someone put a bounty on Nugent-Hopkins' knees or something?