There was a point, as the second period drew to a close, that I was really glad I was watching this game. The Stars had come out strong in the first, thumping on the Oilers and controlling every aspect of the game, but the Oilers had shown some fire by coming back in the second and dominating in their own right. Then the third period happened, and the Oilers went back to getting stomped on.
Oilers Three Stars, According To Me
1. Dustin Penner. Penner took over the game in the second period, scoring one goal, assisting on another and looking dangerous every step of the way. He’s set career highs in points and assists already, but watching him creep up to the 30-goal mark is one of the remaining storylines worth following.
2. Ryan Whitney. I can’t recall Whitney looking so dangerous offensively, and I winced a little when he rang a howitzer off the post. He was credited with three shots in the game (though I’d have sworn he had more) and every time he fired the puck he put everything he had into it. In the third period he coughed the puck up but then pursued it all the way back to the defensive zone and took it right back.
3. Zack Stortini. There are nights where I watch Stortini play and marvel at how good a hockey player the guy has turned into. Tonight, for instance, Stortini’s forechecking drew a penalty (the Stars defenceman was scared of the hit and threw the puck over the glass) a couple of giveaways, and one big shiny hit. He was his usual nasty self in the scrums, and for an energy forward can play hockey a little bit too. Took a two minute minor on a bizarre call to end the game; he made some kind of comment and ended up in the box.
The Sunshine Jason Strudwick Report
Everybody here knows how I feel about Jason Strudwick, and he had a fairly typical game tonight. However, in the interests of doing something different I present the first sunshine report, where I ignore any errors and focus entirely on the positive. Strudwick had a great fight with Brian Sutherby fairly early in the game, and he was throwing punches with gusto and ended up winning the bout. Also, at one point in the second period he chased Mike Ribeiro all the way out of the Oilers end and across the red line.
The Never Ending Injury Saga
There were a few contestants tonight on the Oilers’ quest to end the season with the entire lineup from the Stockton Thunder. Ryan Jones went into the boards after being hit from behind by Mark Fistric (in Fistric’s defence, Jones turned at the last minute) but got up and looked okay. Andrew Cogliano went down awkwardly while skating full tilt, but returned to the game looking none the worse for wear. But the winning contestant was Gilbert Brule, who was perhaps overdue; so far this year the forward, whose career has been heavily impacted by injury, has tiptoed through the season-ending injury minefield, but that ended tonight.
Brule was knocked into the net by Brian Sutherby in the first and appeared to twist his ankle after lodging his skate in Kari Lehtonen’s pad; he left favouring his right leg and did not return to the game.
Odds And Ends
Andrew Cogliano continues to confuse me. The assortment of physical skills, starting with his skating, are obvious, as is his gumption, but for whatever reason he’s always a bit of a question mark on the ice, oscillating between good and bad and looking lost defensively. He was no different tonight, at times looking incredibly bullish with the puck and dangerous offensively, and at other times gift-wrapping the puck for the opposition or going flying off incidental looking hits. If he was Russian, we’d be using the word "enigmatic" a lot.
Tom Gilbert might have had the biggest hit I’ve ever seen him throw tonight; unfortunately a moment later Dallas scored, rendering what had been a nice moment sort of pointless.
Interesting to here Penner admit that on his goal he’d missed an assignment and been bailed out by a nice play by Ryan Potulny. Penner’s easily the best interview on a team with some good ones; he combines self-awareness with the willingness to say things other players might be hesitant to.
801 career assists for Mike Modano, too many of which have come against the Oilers. I’ve got nothing against the player personally, but the late-90’s/early-00’s have left me thinking that the sooner his retirement comes, the better. He’s as pure an Oiler-killer as there is.
The way Devan Dubnyk played tonight, the Oilers might have been better off starting him at centre. In some ways, this is a good thing: he will almost certainly clear waivers next year, and while he’s got some upside he looks raw enough that another AHL season won’t hurt.