Well, I’ll never get those two and a half hours of my life back.
I’m partially kidding, but that was a fairly boring game. The Oilers, who despite their flaws have at least had some interesting players for most of the season, were almost entirely bereft of guys who are fun to watch all on their own. The Coyotes, like pretty much every team Dave Tippett has ever coached, are one of the least exciting teams in the league on a good night, and this wasn’t an especially good night.
Not that I’m criticizing the Coyotes here; their style may be boring, but it’s effective. In the family of NHL predators, they’re the boa constrictor: slowly, irrepressibly squeezing the life out of their opponent.
I don’t know if I can call it a positive, but the total and complete absence of players with even a shred of offensive talent sure makes it easy to focus in on Jordan Eberle. I’ve been praising his two-way game to high heaven all season, but it was his offensive game I appreciated tonight – he moved with confidence in all three zones, taking his time with the puck, and sparking the majority of the Oilers’ few flashes offensively.
Liam Reddox had a really good game; he took the body all night, had a few shots from danger areas, and looked comically undersized while mouthing off Adrian Aucoin behind the Phoenix net. Reddox has taken a lot of grief from fans of all stripes since he first started pushing his way up the Oilers’ system, but I’d argue he was the team’s second-best forward tonight.
The power play made me sad for most of the game. The ‘top’ line of Jordan Eberle, Andrew Cogliano and Ryan Jones didn’t do very much. The Barons’ power play, consisting of Kurtis Foster and a bunch of guys who have played in the AHL this season, looked okay early on albeit with some fumbles from Alex Giroux, but fumbled after that. That changed on the Oilers’ seventh attempt – Linus Omark provided the nice cross-ice pass, Teemu Hartikainen provided a screen, and Magnus Paajarvi made a perfect shot.
The AHL guys were the real reason I watched this game: I was curious to see what they looked like. They didn’t look bad, really – heck the fourth line with Hartikainen and Vande Velde even managed to make Steve MacIntyre look like a hockey player early on (side point – I’m always interested to see MacIntyre retreat into his own zone when the other team has the puck; he looks for all the world like a defenceman even when he’s playing the forward position. That’s not a criticism; all I’m saying is that the experience he has had on the blue line is obvious.). Hartikainen was probably the best, although admittedly I was also watching him closest and he got the most in terms of opportunity: he recorded an assist, drew a penalty, and did the kind of dirty work along the boards that will go a long ways towards ensuring an NHL career is in his future.
Despite my negativity, the Oilers did a decent job of keeping the play in the offensive zone, a better job than I would have expected given the current state of the line-up. Then again, on most nights, the power plays aren’t going to favour the Oilers so heavily. I suspect that the biggest reason the Oilers looked semi-competitive tonight was thanks to so many minutes on the man advantage. I further suspect this last stretch of this season is going to be awfully painful to watch.