Got a freebie to last night's preseason affair between the Oilers and what appeared to be the ECHL's Florida Everblades. Row 34 in the NW corner, behind the net that Nik Khabibulin defended with ease for two periods, and into which the Oilers pumped all four of their goals in the middle frame. A good seat at the price I paid (nothing), but the sticker price of $77.25 raised my eyebrows more than a little. If teams charge more for playoff games -- as the teams which actually make the playoffs reportedly do -- because the games mean more, they should be charging less for preseason games. A lot less.
Of course those games are not meaningless to the players involved. I'm sure that Tyler Plante, Jamie Johnson, David Brine, Colby Robak, Andrew Sweetland, Jason Garrison, Adam Keefe, Victor Oreskovich, Mike Duco, Scott Timmins, Eric Himelfarb et al gave us their level best last night, fresh off a travel schedule that had the Panthers or some version thereof playing in Halifax, Ottawa, and Montreal the three previous nights. The result was far from a major-league show and to charge major-league prices is usury.
The Oilers dressed about half an NHL team and comfortably handled the penalty-prone Panthers. Observations of the individual Oilers follow the jump:
#8 Dean Arsene: Vanilla defender, and I mean that in a good way. Solid, unspectacular, seemed reliable. He'll be good in Springfield and might even see a few big-league games in an injury emergency. The next coming of Allan Rourke.
#10 Shawn Horcoff: Misfired on a close-in chance on a second period 5-on-3, setting the stage for a drunken lout behind me to wail "What's Horcoff even doing out there?!" Puck went around the horn and before he could say "seven million" Horcoff got another opportunity and made no mistake. I turned around to say "That's what!" but seeing the size of the guy (and noticing him cheering the goal) I merely grinned mischievously at him. How does the old saying go? You can't whiff 'em all. :)
#19 Patrick O'Sullivan: Showed me more last night than in any of the 19 games the played for the Oilers last winter, perhaps more than those 19 games combined. Was flying out there, anticipating well, moving the puck in the right direction, showed well on both special teams, and posted 1-1-2, +2. Led the Oilers with 8 shots, although about half of them were muffins, including a couple end-of-shift shoot-ins which padded his shot totals, killed his shooting percentage, and accomplished absolutely nothing except to give the puck to the Panthers. I noticed this tendency last year too, and it shows up in his numbers.
#22 J.-F. Jacques: Lots to like in the big man's game on this night. 5 hits including a beauty when he came out of the box and surprised some Panther scrub who was skating through the area with the puck and his head down. Didn't leave his feet and deliver a head shot à la Phaneuf, he just stopped the guy in his tracks with a solid shoulder check. Fared very well in the subsequent fight instigated by Adam Keefe (who I believe is the brother of Sheldon Keefe of David Frost/Mike Danton infamy). Later scored the 4-0 goal by bursting into the slot and finishing a nice feed from POS with a beauty one-timer top shelf on Tomas Vokoun. On the minus side, looked totally lost on the PK, took a weak penalty himself, led the team with 3 giveaways, and showed very poor awareness when clearing the zone after rare Panthers pressure only to pass the puck right into a broken stick that was lying right in front of him just inside the blueline.
#24 Steve Staios: Steady.
#26 Kip Brennan: Big goober who can skate at least a little bit. Led the Oil with 6 hits, presumably not including the one after the whistle which earned him a needless unsprotsmanlike penalty. Was unable to find a Panther to engage in a scrap, which is almost a necessity for a tough guy trying to make an impression in limited preseason opportunities.
#27 Dustin Penner: Did not play, but when they showed a Penner sequence on the big screen including a bunch of goals and a few big hits, then switched to a live shot of Penner in the press box, there were more than a few boos. A voice behind me siad "They gotta trade that big fat useless hunk of ..." These were the same fans who were later lauding Mike Comrie as lord and saviour. Go figure.
#32 Ryan Stone: People around me were penning him into the lineup, presumably on the first line with O'Sullivan and Comrie. He showed real promise at some times and appeared to be skating in mud at others. Very nice feed to Chorney for the first, game-winning goal, then a secondary assist on POS's softie. 0 shots, 2 hits, 2 takeaways. Worth an extended look, for sure.
#35 Nikolai Khabibulin: A shutout in his first Oiler game is impossible to criticize but nearly as hard to critique. I wasn't impressed with his puckhandling or communication with his D early, but then again, what can you expect in September? He'll need a little more preseason action to work out some of these kinks, preferably in a game or two featuring most of his NHL teammates.
#36 Charles Linglet: I really have no idea who this guy is or why he's here, and last night left me none the wiser. His only stats were 1 giveaway, 1 attempted shot that was blocked, and 0-2, 0% on the dot.
#41 Taylor Chorney: This guy can really skate. I chanced to isolate on him on his goal: the puck was lost from my view along the boards in front of the Florida bench, so I watched Chorney read the change of possession and join the rush as the fourth man. That was one too many guys for the Panthers to handle, Chorney found a seam, took the pass and buried a nice wrist shot. Played 22:52 paired with Gilbert.
#42 Ryan O'Marra: This guy has "looked like a hockey player" since my first sighting of him with Canada's U-18 team, and he still does. Played a solid game with 3 shots, 5 hits, and 2 takeaways. Did not fare so well on the dot, going 4/11, 36%, including a lost defensive zone draw that led directly to one of Florida's few dangerous shots.
#43 Jason Strudwick: I arrived just late enough to miss his early fight with Keefe. After that he did little to impress or unimpress.
#46 Zack Stortini: Surely marked a career first when he took consecutive shifts on the penalty-kill, then the powerplay. At night's end had posted 5:32 of special teams time, more than Horcoff (!). Stortini acquitted himself fairly well in 14:04 TOI, posting a very unZorglike 6 shots and 0 (official) hits. Looked faster, and played with confidence.
#48 Alexandre Plante: Comme ci, comme ça. Was rumoured to have tweaked something midgame, which fits with what I saw (impressive early, less so late). I think there's a future NHLer lurking in this giant body, but he's a couple years away.
#67 Gilbert Brule: Played OK but nothing special. Not the greatest decision-maker I've ever seen. Followed last year's tendency of taking needless penalties, this time for high-sticking. Just 2/5, 40% in the circle in draws against Taffe, Duco Timmins and Himelfarb. Tiny sample size obviously, but he won't win many converts with results like that.
#77 Tom Gilbert: Team-leading 24:45, but nearly invisible out there, mostly in a good way. Avoided contact, moved the puck.
#88 Rob Schremp: A very so-so showing at a time he needs to impress. 0 shots. Had some good ideas with his passes but the execution was way off. Looks very slight compared even to other smurfs like Comrie and O'Sullivan.
#90 Miroslav Lazo: Played like a buzzsaw but to little effect. Did attempt 7 shots, 4 of which were on target. Underdog Czech turns 32 next month, seems like a real long shot.
#91 Mike Comrie: Was just late enough to miss his first shift and the reception by the faithless (reportedly mixed boos and cheers). By game's end they were standing, cheering, and chanting his name. Wound up missing out on the Gordie Howe hat trick when his announced goal was given to POS on the slightest of deflections, but wound up with 4 assists, 4 shots and a fight. The latter struck me as a calculated move to win more support, but hey, why not? Things were going his way. Showed great chemistry with O'Sullivan in particular, and both of them left Schremp in their wake. One peculiar play by Comrie (highlighted by TSN as a "heads-up play") occurred when he deliberately gave the puck away on a delayed penalty with the man advantage. Wayne Gretzky initiated that back when the rules were different, and it still can be a good idea if time is dwindling on the first minor. In this case, however, there was 3:17 to serve in a major penalty, meaning that Schremp gave up 6-on-4 time in return for later time at 5-on-4. Like JFJ's pass into a broken stick it's a little thing, but it speaks to on-ice awareness. Comrie made up for this brain cramp by setting up Horcoff with a can't-miss pass during the 5-on-3, then getting a second assist on JFJ's goal in the 5-on-4.
Coach Pat Quinn: Was clearly having a hard look at various options, as JFJ, O'Marra, Stortini, Brule got lots of special teams opps up front, as did Arsene, Chorney and Plante on the back end. Called his timeout at the midway point to discuss the 5-on-3 which the Oilers promptly converted. He cuts a commanding figure behind the bench.