Edmonton - St. Louis post-game: suite & sour

Well that was fun, except for the hockey game part.

I accepted the kind invitation of David Staples to join him and some other bloggers in the Edmonton Journal's executive suite for tonight's shindig between two Western bottom feeders. It was quite a treat, especially the "meet other bloggers" part. I had met our genial host at one previous such group outing, an entertaining and hard-fought 5-3 win against the Wild in the stretch drive of '08, and it was a pleasure for my wife and I to renew our acquaintance with David. Tonight I also had the honour of meeting BlueBelle of HF Boards fame (at least I understand that she's famous ... I never read HFB, but having now met the irrepressible BlueBelle I can't imagine her as anything but a sensation in any forum), as well as Smokin' Ray of Oilers' Jambalaya. And it was my distinct pleasure to meet the founder of the Copper & Blue, our very own (though shared these days with The Score's Hockey or Die and OilersNation) Jonathan Willis. I can't say for certain but it may well have been the first time any 2 of the 5 of us on the C&B team had met in the flesh. It's quite astonishing when you stop to think about it.

Anyways, it was a good thing we had each other to keep each other engaged (if you follow me) because the game positively negatively sucked. The Oilers were flat-out brutal at times in the first 30 minutes and pretty much continuously throughout the last 30, crashing 7-2 to the offensively-challenged St. Louis Blues and finishing a devastating four-game homestand without a point. 0 wins, 4 regulation losses; 9 goals for, 20 against. Three of those games were against teams that had played in Vancouver one night previous, then spent two hours in the air and lost a third on the clock flying against the time zone. Yet the Oilers wilted in the last 5 minutes against Los Angeles, got blown out in the final 20 against Washington, and tonight mailed in the last 30 against lowly St. Louis. A shocking and frankly unacceptable performance on a crucial homestand that began with some promise.

Tonight I, reformed optimist, sat in my free and cushy seat and felt bad not for myself and certainly not for many of the Oiler players other than poor Devan Dubnyk. I felt bad for people like BlueBelle, who drove 3 hours up from Calgary where she bravely wore copper & blue at work all day, and now has to get up in the wee hours to make the drive back only to face the music when she gets there. I felt bad for JW making a 7-hour trip on winter roads each way from Fort St. John only to see a piece of shit game like that. And I felt really bad for the people in the stands who may have paid $200 or $300 or even more for a pair of seats only to see the team play stupid hockey before giving the game up entirely as a lost cause. Which it most definitely was, but that's unacceptable. The 5000 or so fans who remained by the game's sorry conclusion gave a pretty hearty boo and while I didn't (don't) participate, I nodded in silent agreement. A real stinker at the end of a real stinky homestand. And a Merry Christmas to you, and don't forget to stop in the Oilers' store on your way home.

The Oilers actually dominated big sections of the early going. Despite an absolutely dreadful first-period powerplay in which they coughed the puck or lost it in a one-on-one battle no fewer than 7 times in 2 minutes (the "extra man" being nowhere in evidence anywhere near the puck at any time), the Oil twice battled back from one-goal deficits to tie it up, and by the game's midpoint the shot clock stood at 20-7 Oilers. Which was fine, except 2 of the 7 were bang-bang plays inside the blue paint after both defencemen abandoned their posts simultaneously. On the first Visnovsky and Smid got sucked behind the net leaving David Perron alone on the doorstep, and on the second it was Gilbert and Souray who got sucked over to the same side of the ice as Andy McDonald outraced Penner for the tap-in. Or as Pat Quinn put it in his always frank and entertaining post-game presser:

"The kinds of goals that we allow and the freedoms we allow around our net aren't a goaltender's job all the time. Afterwards you say 'geez maybe he should have had that' but gee, how many times does he have to bail these ... guys out when they don't do a job around the net?" 

... with the ellipsis actually provided by Quinn himself as he paused to seal his lips at a moment where most of us would say "fucking". (Even on nights like this, the man can make me laugh.)

So, 2-2 on the scoreboard but 20-7 on the shot clock, Oilers seemingly with better legs against an opponent that in theory should be tiring. Then Sheldon Souray took a bonehead roughing penalty on Brad Winchester of all people, and the game absolutely disintegrated from that point. It wasn't ten seconds later that the Blues got their first powerplay goal of the night on another bang-bang play in the blue paint. The good news was that Smid didn't abandon his post this time. The bad news was that he hammered Brad Boyes' centring pass home with such authority that I was thinking maybe he should replace Dustin Penner in front of the other team's net on our powerplay. An own goal of such stunning ineptitude it had me noticing for the first time really that Ladi Smid wears Steve Smith's old #5. 

There was no coming back this time. Not after that. The next shift after the goal was a fire drill, a sequence of Blues shots and Oiler giveaways that ended in an unneccesary penalty against Visnovsky who had been out there the entire 93 seconds. Another powerplay, another powerplay goal, this one on a double deflection by Patrik Berglund and David Backes who were unchecked in the high and low slot respectively. (I have both of them in my pool, so it's not all bad.) Seconds later Souray got burned yet again on a bad neutral zone pinch, Jay McClement walked in 2-on-1 without any challenge from Gilbert and roofed one from about 8 feet out. And just like that it was 5-2. "That's the worst 5 minutes of the season" I said to Jon, making a mental note to check later to see if the beancounters up top had possibly seen that stretch as bad as I did.

So I just now reviewed the official play-by-play, and it shows that between 13:03 and 18:24 of the second, the following stats were recorded:

Stat STL EDM Remarks
Goals 3 0
Shots 9 0
Corsi 16 0
Faceoffs 8 1 Blues 6/6 in Oilers zone, 2/3 in neutral** zone
Giveaways 0 4 All 4 in Oilers defensive zone
Penalties 0 2 Neither of the "good" variety

 ... which may be not only the worst ~5 minutes of the season by the Oilers, but of any NHL team in 2009-10.

(** Bear in mind that those 3 neutral zone faceoffs all occurred after Blues goals. The only way the puck got over the Oilers blueline was if the linesman was carrying it back to centre.)

By the third it was all over, but rather than a show of resistance for the faithful the Oilers simply assumed the position, mustering all of 1 shot through the 13-minute mark. By then the shot clock had gone from 20-7 just twenty minutes earlier, to 22-25. That's 18 shots to freakin' 2.

In theory, the trailing team should be driving the play. In theory, the rested team should be driving the play. In theory, the home team should be driving the play. In reality, the rested home team was trailing for good reason: because They Sucked.

St. Louis added two more goals in the third, both on a previously anemic powerplay that came into the game ranked 29th in the NHL and left it ranked 23rd, having jumped by 2.5 percentage points in a single game, halfway through the season for heavens' sakes. 4 for freakin' 5.Oilers killed their first penalty early in the first, but the other four all ended with the Skate of Shame for one veteran after another: Souray, Visnovsky, Horcoff, Moreau.

Oh yeah, Ethan Moreau. I'm used to thecaptain taking stupid penalties in the offensive zone, but this one was beyond stupid and beyond offensive. In the dying minutes T.J. Oshie  cranked Moreau with a clean open-ice hit, and thecaptain retaliated first by tripping Oshie, then crosschecking him in the back of the head. I don't mind that he hates to lose or even that he doesn't like to be hit in a game where he's playing out the string and expecting the other guys to be doing likewise, but there are ways to make your objections known that aren't quite so ugly, and he was lucky to get off with just one minor. Then, after the Blues scored yet again to release him from the box, Moreau was given one more shift in which he needlessly instigated a fight with Darryl Sydor, an honest veteran renowned for minding his own business. What was that all about? That's the sort of shit Shayne "Shame" Corson used to pull off late in bad losses. An embarrassment to the Oil Drop.

I have long resisted the melodramatic calls to "rip the C off Moreau's chest" but tonight I think it might be appropriate to do just that, if only to replace it with a D-minus.

But that's a fair grade for the whole team on this night. No point in singling out more players or getting into stats. The $22 MM Defence wasn't worth 22 cents, the forwards were by turns ineffectual and negligent, and the poor young goalie making his first NHL start wound up cracking and letting in a couple of weak ones in the third after being all but blameless on the first 5 GA. I guess if he was Marty Brodeur he could have got his stick on one or two of those goal mouth passes, but he was left eyeball to eyeball with NHL scorers time and again, and they weren't missing. An awful debut for the kid, who can now relate to how sacrificial virgins must feel.

As for the teammates who deserted him -- during a sixth consecutive home loss, lest we forget -- they're lucky I'm not their coach, or the bastards would still be skating.      

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