Boy, they sure kicked the hell out of us, didn't they? Chicago residents are going to be fishing chunks of Oilers and Flames out of their soup for weeks we got destroyed so bad. 4-3? It is to laugh! As 4-3 games go, that was the Battle of Stalingrad.
Check out that Nikolai Khabibulin, though! Okay, the third goal looked bad. He should have had his stick covering his five-hole when he slid across to meet Versteeg. And the fourth goal was another one of those goddamned tip-ins, although I'm inclined to give ol' Maginot Line a pass on that one. But he was pretty good! Not four-years-four-million good but pretty okay!
And Horpensky! They... they existed! It was like the Beatles had reunited except we were in an alternate universe where there was no such thing as Ringo Starr. For more than half the game Hemsky and Horcoff didn't generate boo while Penner hustled and didn't do much else, then the band got back together and wham, Penner's whipping pucks off of guys' skates and Hemsky's Euro dangles are suddenly going somewhere and Shawn Horcoff is getting robbed blind instead of firing pucks into the Plexiglas and they're banging and crashing and Denis Grebeshkov slammed one home and we had hope.
Not that we'd win, of course - never ever in a month of Sundays did we deserve to win that game. But hope for the seventy-six games remaining on our accursed regular season schedule. You know, some of these guys can play a little hockey. Sometimes. Well, only Horcoff, Hemsky, and Penner. But it's so worth it.
Grebeshkov's turning into a fine little hockey player, too. You know that kid has three goals and six points so far this season? You know that he and to a lesser extent Gilbert have been our only reliable defensemen in almost every game? You know that we got him for Marc-Andre Bergeron? Oh, it still makes me giggle. Say what you will about the Kevin Lowe era, the man could turn garbage into defensemen like some sort of hockey King Midas.
Speaking of garbage, Jean-Francois Jacques! Apparently Pat Quinn still wants him on the first line! Well, let me rephrase that. Pat Quinn wants Jean-Francois Jacques on the first line until he needs to score goals and win hockey games, then he rides Horpensky like a mechanical bull. Playing a deliberately sub-par lineup seems like an interesting piece of coaching from Quinn. My theory is that he saw the Blackhawks come back from 5-0 down against Calgary and has decided to pursue that as an actual strategy. Now, I've never won a World Junior Championship, but it seems that not playing your best players when you know they're your best players is weird coaching.
Comparing Jacques to Dustin Penner is like comparing filet mignon to dog food that's been left in the sun for eight hours. There is a certain ontological similarity, but if I fed you old Alpo because I was saving the steak for the kids table you'd put my face through the kitchen counter.
Hard to argue with results, though. 3-2-1! That's .500! And we've played some pretty good teams in there. Well, we played Chicago. And Calgary is a pretty good team compared to us, but I don't think that counts.
Another goal from the fourth line of Cogliano, Moreau, and Stortini: the will-be, the has-been, and the never-was. It was a proper NHL finish from Cogliano and a very cheeky play by Moreau to set it up, catching the chipped puck, turning on what's left of the jets, and putting so much sauce on a pass to Cogliano I was surprised Penner didn't hop over the boards and eat it. Cogliano made good, and it was a very nice goal. Everybody was happy. You could almost think a real team was playing in Chicago that night, except the shots were something like 3-1 Chicago and it got worse.
A couple good shifts aside, that line got worked like a speedbag. Their goal came against the Chicago first line, and certainly the seemingly omnipotent Patrick Kane couldn't get anything out of them. But they still conceded too much possession and played too carelessly with the puck. None of those three players are an old-time possession player; not one of them can just lug that biscuit and make life difficult for the other team on the boards. Ethan Moreau used to be that player, but that was many years and many knee surgeries ago. Zach Stortini might be someday, but he'll have to develop more skill with his stick and more of a gratuitously mean style. Andrew Cogliano, speed demon though he is, can never be a defensive stopper in this game unless things radically change because the puck hops on him too often and he just can't hold onto it.
Finally, there's Nikolai Khabibulin. I don't trust him, he did allow four goals, and he should have had the third one. But it was a good game. He made some five-bell saves. He stopped one of the better finishers in the Western Conference on a penalty shot, he stopped a shorthanded breakaway where Kris Versteeg was unmolested from the red line on. His glove hand, normally a liability, was much quicker than usual. A worse goaltender would have made this game ugly, and even though Jeff Deslauriers would have got a shutout, that's nothing against Khabibulin.
We're not through yet, Nikolai. You're still the Maginot Line to me until you prove otherwise. But... good game.
Must-Read Oiler News of the Day: Not much joy in Mudville beside the game, so I shall settle for tossing you a link to a Dustin Penner press conference this afternoon, as ably scoped out by our own Derek Zona. Penner thinks he's playing his best as an Oiler, and fans would agree. Then again, fans have underrated Penner his entire career. He had some stretches last year in particular where he was just Joe Thornton dominant. But he's playing well, so it's hard to argue.
Things That Will Make You Giggle: There's a new SBNation blog for the Anaheim Ducks, and veteran awesomesauce provider Earl Sleek of the Battle of California tossed up a lovely introductory post for them. Any time Sleek busts out the Microsoft Paint set, giggling is pretty much guaranteed.
The Copper & Blue Seriously-Isn't-There-An-Auto-Body-Shop-On-The-Whitemud-That-Can-Throw-Us-A-Few-Bucks Reverse Threeof the Game:
Lot of good candidates in this one, mostly out of the forward crop. Ales Hemsky and Shawn Horcoff were both written down in pencil before Horpensky II: Electric Boogaloo shook them out of it. I'm not entirely convinced Zach Stortini was actually playing. Taylor Chorney gets all the respect in the world for the situation he's been thrust into but still had a pretty ugly game.
But in the end, I have to pick three. So these were them. May the hockey gods have mercy on their souls.
18th Star: C Sam Gagner. I hate condemning Sam to these. He's still pretty young and he's still learning on the job. Dragging him out of junior was probably a mistake, even if you don't think that drafting him instead of Jakub Voracek to begin with was a bigger one (more on that another day, I think). But he was miserable out there tonight. He made one keen play: a two-line pass to Ryan Stone, absolutely tape to tape, right after Stoner got on the ice. But Ryan Stone, who has the puckhandling skills of, well, Ryan Stone, bobbled it.
Beyond that, he was giving it up all over the place. His performance on the power play made me long to get Rob Schremp back, firing the puck straight into Blackhawk sticks on numerous occasions. He seems down on confidence after his exciting first two games, and though he showed some commendable jam getting into it with Brian Campbell, the skill wasn't there and Sam Gagner without skill ain't much.
19th Star: LW Mike Comrie. Like Gagner, but moreso and without the excuse of youth. He's got his old edge back, which had deserted him last season, and that's good to see. People always underestimated how much grit Comrie could bring to the table when he had a mind to, and he brought it at a couple of points in this game. I can't dock him for effort, but I can condemn him for what came of it.
There was a play late that about summed up Comrie's performance to me. An Oiler - I'd have to check the tape but I believe it was Gilbert - had got the puck on goal while the Oilers were buzzing to get within one. Comrie hopped on the rebound while behind the goal line. He had the puck on his backhand, so no cheeky play to get the puck on net was possible. The smart move would be to either throw it behind him around the back of the net, where you know no Blackhawks are likely to be because they're killing a penalty, or to look up and to backhand pass it to an Oiler defenseman if the lane was clear.
Instead, Comrie flung a no-look backhand pass in front of the Blackhawks net, where Brent Seabrook effortlessly corralled it and began a counter. There were no Oilers within range of that pass, and the TSN booth, somewhat bewildered, thought Comrie may have expected Penner to be in front. But Penner was in a shoving match and behind the goal line with Comrie, which he should have known if he'd been paying even a moment's attention. Not a good play with the man advantage.
20th Star: D Jason Strudwick. I am almost bereft of speech. The worst game played by any Oiler this season, and I'm including the Maginot Line. Coming on the heels of another 20th Star performance in Nashville, Strudwick is making an early case for the Golden Rooster.
What an awful, awful game. His play on Kris Versteeg's goal was borderline embarrassing, when Versteeg was allowed to sidle leisurely in front of Khabibulin as if this were a quilting bee and not a hockey game. Strudwick stood behind (!!!) Versteeg while Lubomir Visnovsky battled Jonathan Toews in the corner. Visnovsky went low to try and stop Toews (an awful, awful play in its own right) and Toews slipped an easy pass to the utterly unmolested Versteeg who could hardly not score.
It got better! Dogging it up ice, Strudwick let Patrick Sharp get by him at the blue line before he'd quite realized what was happening. Sharp got the puck and went in alone on Khabibulin, and having done too little against Versteeg Strudwick now did too much, hauling Sharp down for a textbook penalty shot that Khabibulin luckily stopped. Beyond those two plays, Strudwick was a pylon, getting blown past by players much, much better than he was and making me long to get Cory Cross back.
Congratulations, Jason Strudwick, you are the twentieth star of the game, and I pray for all our sakes nobody does more this season to earn it than you did.
10 points: Jason Strudwick
5 points: Jean-Francois Jacques
3 points: Ethan Moreau,
2 points: Sam Gagner
1 point: Tom Gilbert