Edmonton Oilers: 2
New York Rangers: 4
Believe it or not, there are positives to be taken out of last night’s game. For starters, at even strength the Oilers actually outscored the Rangers 2-1. Continuing in that theme, at even-strength the Oilers actually tied the Rangers in shots; both teams had twenty-two.
Where things fell apart was on special teams, but more on that in a moment.
Oilers Three Stars, According to Me
1. Lubomir Visnovsky. Again, the veteran defenceman had a very strong night, and was easily the best of the Oilers rearguards. Even without the goal (on a beautiful backhand shot) he had a very good game, with an active stick and serenity and poise under pressure. It seemed like he never left the ice in the final five minutes of the game, but surprisingly he had less ice-time (21:08) than either of Gilbert or Grebeshkov.
2. Dustin Penner. In a night where the penalty-kill surrendered three goals, Penner played nearly five minutes on it and wasn’t on the ice for a single goal against (and his success on the unit this season makes me feel a little silly for criticizing MacTavish using him there last season). He played effectively with Patrick O’Sullivan, always a threat to steal the puck and generating several rushes while down a man.
3. Jason Strudwick. That’s right. Jason Strudwick, a guy I’ve criticized a ton over the last year, had a quietly effective game and Steve Staios looked far better paired with him than he did with Taylor Chorney earlier in the game. On a night with some suspect defensive plays, Strudwick looked for all the world like a safe and dependable presence.
I hinted at this above, but Taylor Chorney and Steve Staios were paired in the early going, and they were shakey. The coaching staff rather wisely switched that tandem up, putting Chorney with Visnovsky and Staios with Strudwick. I’ve already discussed how Staios’ play seemed to improve with Strudwick, but Taylor Chorney also got a lot better once he was paired up with Visnovsky.
Speaking of Steve Staios, he wasn’t awful, and I’m inclined to give him a pass on the evening given that he’s just returned to the lineup. Ditto for Mike Comrie, who improved noticeably as the game went on after a poor showing in the first period.
Patrick O’Sullivan was two players tonight; on the penalty-kill he was an effective and aggressive forechecker (he was on for the Callahan goal, but it’s hard to blame him for that one) but on the powerplay and at even-strength he seemed out of synch with the rest of the team and looked shakey on the point.
Is it just me, or is Robert Nilsson doing his best to submarine his NHL career? After a training camp where Jim Matheson reported he’d added 15 pounds of muscle and was in the best shape of his life, I rather confidently figured Nilsson as a comeback player. Nope. He seems exactly like the guy who played last year, and that guy looked like someone who would be more comfortable in the SEL than the NHL. All the injuries have kept him in the lineup, but if a decent NHL forward became available (Mike Peca would be nice), I think he’d slip right through waivers unclaimed on his way to Springfield.
Steve MacIntyre’s something else entirely, because there’s no diminished performance here; he’s always been a fighter who can’t handle a regular NHL shift. The writing was on the wall in the offseason when Quinn reminded us all (several times) that he liked fighters who could play regular minutes. Last night, MacIntyre got one shift, took a stupid penalty in the offensive zone, and got stapled to the bench. Quinn has refused to dress him when any other option presents itself – even in games against division rivals – and I have to wonder: what’s he still doing on the team? At this point he’s dead weight; the coach won’t use him and this team could really use another option up front. On a completely unrelated note, off-season addition Chris Minard (who played 20 games in the NHL last year) has nine goals in 11 AHL games.
People will be calling out the power play all over Edmonton, but honestly even at a 25% clip they would have only added one goal, and they aren’t the chief culprit here. No, that honour falls to the penalty kill – specifically the Moreau/Cogliano forward pairing and the Gilbert/Grebeshkov defence pairing, who were both on for two goals against. Cogliano talked after the game about how it’s harder to kill stick infractions than roughing penalties, but c’mon now: it’s two minutes short-handed either way.
None of which excuses the Oilers for taking stupid penalties – especially in the offensive zone. Pisani and Moreau were the culprits here, with Pisani getting his stick up on Michael Del Zotto (who went down like he’d been shot) for a double-minor, and Moreau taking one of those aggressive, easy-to-kill penalties: needlessly pushing a Rangers player to the ice in the offensive zone. Both are veterans, and both were the only Oilers in the box in the third period. It’s difficult to say which brain cramp was stupider; Pisani had six minutes of penalties on the night, but he is coming back from injury and the high-stick was probably careless rather than intentional, while Moreau only took one penalty, but it was pointless and stupid over-aggression with less than seven minutes on the clock.
Final thought: for those out there who figured that Craig MacTavish and his whole losing the room/hatred for skill/inability to motivate were the biggest problems with this team, has it’s performance under the dream team changed your mind? The biggest problem with this team was always the roster, and while MacTavish wasn’t perfect (see: Penner, Dustin and his treatment last year) watching the same problems pop up under this group is a tell: players were rushed to the NHL too early, and veteran players were shown the door too quickly and replaced by guys who simply aren’t up to the challenge yet. I thought that in the new rich owner/salary cap era the Oilers would be finished developing players at the NHL level, but apparently not, and this team is still working on the players Kevin Lowe introduced two years ago.