Edmonton Oilers: 4
Minnesota Wild: 1
What a great game to watch. Seriously, writing the three stars I could submit half a dozen or more names that played well; a far cry from other nights where it’s a real struggle to find three players. The goaltending was solid, the team played well, and even some of the customary whipping boys – Patrick O’Sullivan, Taylor Chorney and especially captain Ethan Moreau – had solid nights.
Oilers Three Stars, According To Me
1. Ethan Moreau. It’s been a tough season for the Oilers’ captain, but he was at his best tonight, charging the net hard and showing off his skating ability and willingness to shoot the puck. He had what was probably his best game of the season (though he had a couple of good ones around the trade deadline) and came oh-so-close to recording a hattrick. He finished the night with seven shots.
2. Dustin Penner. Penner also managed two goals, setting a new career high with 31 on the season and continuing to cement his place as the best player on this year’s team. By eye, his skating has fallen off since the beginning of the year but he’s a smart player with a good shot and he somehow just keeps scoring after a bit of a drought.
3. Ryan Potulny. The TSN commentators kept pointing to Potulny’s stretch as a healthy scratch as the reason for tonight’s turnaround, and perhaps it was. After going minus-6 over his last two games, Potulny recorded two assists tonight and finished plus-1. He meshed well with Penner and played a key role in his goals.
Reading Between The Lines
Steve Tambellini did his best not to give anything away during his interview (one of the things I do like about him is how he plays his cards closer to the chest than previous managers) but the way he phrased things and reacted made it seem pretty clear that the Oilers weren’t going to do something crazy with the top pick (should they get it) and would pick one of Hall or Seguin. I’d bet Hall is the player selected if the Oilers retain the top pick.
But if Steve Tambellini didn’t want to speculate, Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie were under no such constraints. Dreger made two points, both of which gel nicely with common sense: first, that Tambellini is “highly unlikely” to deal Hemsky, and second that Jordan Eberle will be an Oiler next season. For his part, Bob McKenzie suggested that it was “50/50” that Magnus Paajarvi would stay in Sweden for next season.
Hail The Whipping Boys!
We mentioned Moreau’s efforts above, but there was one more point I thought was worth making: watching Moreau interact with his teammates tonight, it was easy to get the sense that he’s well-liked in the dressing room. Now, it’s always dicey to make psychological assessments of people you don’t know from watching them play a game for an hour, but Horcoff’s obvious desire to get Moreau a hat-trick, and the response of young players (particularly Chorney and Dubnyk) to Moreau was an interesting thing to observe.
Speaking of Chorney, has he had as good a game in the NHL as the one he had tonight? The stats sheet reads one assist and plus-2, but there’s much more to it than that. In my game notes I can see a half-dozen times I marked Chorney as making an exceptional play: some of them offensive to be sure, but also some great reads in the defensive zone like when he easily handled Guillaume Latendresse midway through the second. I’m sceptical about how high his potential lies long-term, but for tonight at least he was excellent.
Shawn Horcoff had a nice night as Moreau’s setup man and looked a lot more like the player from season’s past than he has for much of this year.
Finally, Patrick O’Sullivan may have been snake-bit but he could easily have finished with two goals on the night too: on two different occasions he fought through multiple opponents to get a chance, most notably when he hit the post after taking the puck through Brent Burns and Martin Havlat along the boards and then dancing past John Scott in the slot. He also formed an effective penalty-killing duo with Marc Pouliot.
How good would Greg Zanon have looked on the Oilers’ blue-line this season? Playing through a hairline fracture, I was reminded of Steve Staios of old watching Zanon complete his shift after blocking a shot that obviously stung.
Speaking of shot-blocking, Zack Stortini showed pretty much everything anyone needs to know about how he plays the game tonight when he was hurt blocking a shot and then desperately tried to get in front of a second shot a few seconds later. I’ve grown to like Stortini more and more as a player this season.
I don’t see any point to having a tough guy square off against Derek Boogaard; he’s best dealt with by having guys skate around him and the Oilers did that well tonight. Andrew Cogliano chipped the puck past him and skated away, and as Boogaard put his head down to putt-putt up the ice he looked totally outclassed. It was hardly a unique situation; later in the first he took a run at Strudwick but took so long getting there that 43 had already passed off the puck and skated out of harm’s way by the time he arrived. Later on in the game, he put his team off-side because he couldn’t skate fast enough to clear the offensive zone. He’s big enough to beat up just about everyone, but when he gets played as a hockey player the deficiencies in his game become readily apparent.
John Scott is the other iffy hockey-playing behemoth in the Minnesota line-up, and he laid a licking on Dean Arsene after Arsene’s clean hit on James Sheppard. For his trouble he took 17 minutes in penalties, a prime example of a case where the instigator rule is useful. I’d love to see it used more often to dissuade fights after clean hits.
After a lousy start to his career, Devan Dubnyk has looked a lot like a guy who could challenge for the backup job in camp next year, and he was solid tonight, making 25 saves on 26 shots. I still think it’s a long-shot that he gets picked up on waivers if the Oilers send him down next year, but he can improve his chances with a strong finish.
I always love watching Andrew Brunette play: he’s got some rough spots but he’s a fine hockey player. He’s also proof positive that sometimes NHL teams underrate their own prospects: Brunette had five outstanding seasons in the minors, performed well in NHL cameos, but never got a chance in the big league until expansion came. He’s now on the right side of 650 points and just a little shy of 1000 games played.