The New Jersey Devils are an excellent hockey club, in just about every way. Martin Brodeur’s in the twilight of his phenomenal career, but he’s still an above average NHL starter and arguably the game’s best puck-mover. Jacques Lemaire’s methods may never be popular, but they’re undeniably effective. And the forward corps features a surprising amount of firepower: Kovalchuk, Parise, Elias, Zajac, Rolston, Langenbrunner. Like I said, they’re a good team.
And the Oilers beat them cleanly tonight.
Even for a rebuilding team, there are highlights along the way and tonight was one of them. After a largely uneventful first period, the Oilers took control the rest of the way. Jeff Deslauriers was superb throughout the evening, with the highlight coming on an Ilya Kovalchuk breakaway which Deslauriers dismissed as though it were no big deal. Rocket Richard winner? Whatever.
The Brule, O’Sullivan and Cogliano line played a shockingly strong game, and the O’Sullivan-Brule connection for the Oilers first goal was a thing of beauty to behold. Dustin Penner joined Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff on a shutdown line which got the job done, backstopped by Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney (although I can recall three separate plays where Gilbert made me nervous, he actually had a very good evening overall).
Over the last two games the remnants of the Oilers defence has looked surprisingly good, incredibly good actually, given what that collection looks like on paper. It’s been a pleasant surprise.
I was sad to see Dean McAmmond leave the game with less than four minutes of ice-time, grimacing from a Zack Stortini hit. I’ve always had a soft spot for McAmmond, a speedy player who always seemed to give honest effort during his time as an Oiler and who has turned into a very competent two-way player after bouncing around the league for a few years. He has always had rotten luck with injuries.
Oilers Three Stars
1. Jeff Deslauriers. Questions remain on his career potential, and it’s always an adventure when he goes out to play the puck, but the man deserves a lot of credit for tonight. The Oilers did outplay the Devils but Deslauriers faced an assortment of strong shots (including the aforementioned breakaway) and didn’t let the puck get past him once.
2. Gilbert Brule. Admittedly, the game winning goal works in his favour. But to my eye he was the most important player on a line that outplayed Parise and Zajac despite getting matched against them for the majority of the night. Any of he, Cogliano or O’Sullivan could be mentioned here; they cycled the puck well and ramped up the pressure in the offensive zone.
3. Robert Nilsson. Nights like tonight, pretty much any Oiler could get chalked in here without looking out of place. We saw the good version of Robert tonight, although he was only one part of a revisited (and effective) ‘Kid Line’ with Sam Gagner and Marc Pouliot. The goal in particular stands out; a beautiful play by Gagner to get the puck forward, a slick move from Nilsson coupled with second effort to get the puck across to Pouliot, and then a gorgeous shot from the Oilers 2003 first round pick to put the goal away.
What a game. An unqualified pleasure to watch.