Montreal: 5 (SO)
The Oilers were *this* close to giving Devan Dubnyk his first NHL win. Not that Dubnyk was particularly good (except for in the shootout), but that has to grate on the goaltender. It was an odd game, to be sure. Neither goalie was sharp, defensive miscues were the order of the day, and neither team took control of the game. On the plus side: Firewagon Hockey!
There was some nice skill to be seen from the forwards; Robert Nilsson’s wrist shot was a beautiful thing to behold but Sam Gagner one-upped him with an absolutely perfect shot from a brutal angle, and the two combined to give the Oilers their first two goals. The next two were less pristine: Andrew Cogliano was the beneficiary of some hard work by Dustin Penner on the third goal and the fourth was a hard shot by Horcoff through a screen that somehow eluded Halak. After that offensive outburst the Oilers scoring touch went missing in the shootout, as all five shooters either missed or were stopped.
On the defensive side of things, the Oilers actually weren’t bad. I like the Johnson/Peckham pairing the more I see it, and in this game Peckham stood out with some vicious physical play. He finished the night with seven of the Oilers 21 hits. Ryan Whitney blocked a shot with his knee and didn’t finish the game, while defensive partner Tom Gilbert made some brilliant offensive plays and a couple of uglier reads in his own end. Overall, the top-four wasn’t bad. The bottom pairing, on the other hand, was brutal, on the ice for three goals against, and to my eye Jason Strudwick was the worst player on the ice for either team. I haven’t been this mad at a defenceman in a few years. He was caught pinching on the Plekanec goal (Gagner couldn’t get back in time to cover him) but that was nothing compared to the Moen goal.
Strudwick, the world’s least offensively capable defenceman, somehow gets caught pinching down to the opposition faceoff circle, and the Canadiens break the other way. Gagner has apparently learned from earlier in the night, and is covering; he and Chorney are backing up to handle the three-on-two. Ganger blocks first a shot and then a pass as everyone scrambles to the front of the goal. Dubnyk’s down at this point; at his left is both the puck and depth forward Travis Moen, who keeps swinging at it. Standing right behind him is Jason Strudwick, who has caught up to the play. Strudwick is 6’4”, 225 lbs, and aside from his reputedly charming personality the only thing he brings to the table is a physical element. Does he knock Moen down? No, he stands there, staring at his back for about two seconds, until he realizes he should probably do something, at which point a goal has already been scored.
(In fairness to Strudwick, the third goal against wasn’t his fault; Chorney got caught in the corner and the Cogliano/Brule combination in front of the net made the bizarre decision to just skate away, leaving Strudwick caught between three potential Montreal shooters. I was a little surprised to see the mainstream guys name Cogliano first star after that decisive display of defensive delinquency, but it was a third period goal so it’s possible they’d submitted his name beforehand.
Nick Kypreos also mentioned something interesting – he said that Visnovsky didn’t want to be in Edmonton, his heart just wasn’t in it, and thus he had to go. I hadn’t heard anything to that effect; indeed, Visnovsky seemed perfectly happy to play in Edmonton whenever the subject came up. I don’t know if Kypreos has some behind the scenes stuff or if he was just filling airtime, and I’d be curious to know the answer.
Oilers Three Stars
1. Dustin Penner. Penner was in power forward mode tonight; he almost scored a beautiful goal on a breakaway but wound up catching the post instead. The Andrew Cogliano goal was all him to; he had two whacks at the puck at the side of the net and Cogliano swooped in and finished the job.
2. Robert Nilsson. Nilsson didn’t see a lot of ice-time but he looked like the good Nilsson tonight, and his goal was of the lovely shade. When he’s flashing brilliance he’s a fun player to watch.
3. Theo Peckham. Peckham reminded me a lot of early Matt Greene tonight, for both good and bad. On the plus side, he was a physical force and once again looked like a capable NHL defenceman when paired with Aaron Johnson (perhaps a duo to look at as next year’s third pairing?). On the other hand, he took two minor penalties against one of the league’s best power plays.