The title comes courtesy of Gene Principe, who used that term to describe the Oilers season to date. It also applies to the Oilers’ effort against Minnesota tonight; they played miserably for the first two periods, were gifted a 5-on-3 power play which gave them some life, and then reverted back to form.
Oilers Three Stars
1. Sam Gagner. With Ales Hemsky out and Lubomir Visnovsky sent away in exchange for Clubfoot, Sam Gagner has been the Oilers’ best player down the stretch and that held true tonight. In an evening where most of the team had checked out mentally before stepping on the ice, Gagner was sharp in both ends of the rink and was easily the most imaginative Oiler offensively, too. He finished with two assists and now has 19 points in 25 games since January 1, along with a respectable minus-3 rating.
2. Cal Clutterbuck. Yes, that’s right: Cal Clutterbuck. I know if I were Wild coach Todd Richards I’d want to find something blunt and beat him over the head until the stupidity was all poured out. Clutterbuck can be an effective agitator, but he did his very best to giftwrap the game for the Oilers tonight, taking the additional penalty to give them the game-changing 5-on-3 at the end of the second, and then taking another incredibly stupid penalty on a disciplined Theo Peckham with minutes left on the clock. Aside from Sam Gagner, no player on the ice tonight did as much to try and help the Oilers win.
3. Aaron Johnson. A decidedly ‘best of the rest’ selection, Johnson had a relatively low event night where he stood out on account of a couple of smart shots (including a lethal wrister that Harding had to be sharp to stop) and a decided lack of boneheaded own-zone plays.
The Sportsnet panel decided early on to praise Andrew Cogliano for his play over the Oilers road trip (where he’s admittedly had his best offensive effort this season) but bizarrely continued to heap the plaudits on regardless of how clueless Cogliano was in his own end. After a great chance in the game’s first minute, Cogliano took a needless penalty and botched a 2-on-1. Those were both relatively trivial sins, but his inability to take the guy in front of the net contributed to two goals against on the evening – and that was decidedly non-trivial.
Speaking of the Sportsnet panel, Mike Brophy’s take on the Craig Anderson signing says pretty much everything one needs to know about him as an analyst – he picked up a paper, looked in the “Transactions” section, and thought, ‘Hey, Anderson might be Colorado’s backup.’
John Scott and Zack Stortini had a running battle before both were set aside in the third period. The linesmen prevented a fight between them in the first period, which I thought was a shame. It took place right after Stortini fired a shot, blew by an ineffective Scott and looked dangerous before Marek Zidlicky bumped him out of the crease. Scott may be huge, but he’s no great shakes as a hockey player.
Tom Gilbert, Man’s Man, must have read Brownlee’s article before playing tonight, because he was as physically aggressive as I’ve seen him. He led off with a vicious hit on Robbie Earl, dumped Owen Nolan, dumped Earl again later on and got into a tussle with Mikko Koivu in the third. Unfortunately, while the physical edge was nice to see, both he and Whitney were decidedly unimpressive in their own end.
Jeff Deslauriers was fairly good through the first two periods, making 22 saves while allowing two goals to keep the Oilers in it, but when the Oilers started applying pressure in the third he came apart, allowing two goals on just four shots.
Ethan Moreau took a brain-dead penalty, cross-checking Clutterbuck three times in the back of the neck despite the fact that a) the referee was standing right there and b) Clutterbuck was a non-threat, but he also drew two penalties with some strong efforts, so he probably deserves some slack (tonight, anyway).
After recording only eight points (and going minus-14)in his first 19 games, Martin Havlat’s come alive for the Wild, recording 41 points and a plus-9 rating over the last 44 games. Barring poor health (always a risk) he’s going to be a key player with Minnesota for the rest of his contract.
I like Theo Peckham. I’ve been a fan of his since practically the first time I saw him play, and he had some good moments tonight, including a great hip-check on Andrew Ebbett and some disciplined play when hit by Clutterbuck late in the game. On the other hand, he also seemed not to realize that Ebbett had snuck behind him on the latter’s goal, and along with Moreau wasn’t far back enough to cover Antti Miettinen on his breakaway (he missed the net). I think he’s going to be an NHL player for a long time, but like both Ladislav Smid and Matt Greene it’s probably going to be a while before he’s a good one.
Marc Pouliot’s been very good since coming back from injury.
And just to end things on a positive note, I’m going to go back to Sam Gagner. He’s been a difference maker on this team, despite a lack of support from other lines and some *ahem* interesting wingers, and barring injury there’s no reason he can’t be a star for the next 15 years. He’s a special player, certainly the best the Oilers have developed since Ryan Smyth, and I have very high hopes for his continued growth. Big picture, he’s the most significant player currently in the system.