photo courtesy thehockeywriters.com
I was blessed with gratis tickets halfway through my Environmental Conservation and Restoration class this AM, so I figured why not contribute something to the Oilogosphere and take a few notes on how I saw the Oilers (and some Lightning) on display tonight? Seemed simple enough.
I learned very fast tonight that it takes a keen eye and very good hand-eye coordination to scribble notes whilst keeping both eyes on the action.
Decent atmosphere at the MTS Centre tonight not to mention absolute P.R.I.M.O. seats, Section 120 Row 6 Oilers attacking periods 1 and 3 . Nowhere near what we had the last time the Oilers rolled into town (2006 versus Phoenix, a 4-0 shutout for Dubnyk where Winchester and Mikhnov stole the show offensively), but get a couple pops in me and we’re good to go. On to game action after the jump:
Don Cherry: Was in town today and greeted to a standing ovation at the arena. Dropped the ceremonial first false leg (seriously) along with the goaltender from the 2006 Olympic Mens Sledge hockey team, who incidentally provided said leg. What was really interesting to me, was that Penner, and not Moreau took the ceremonial faceoff. And yes, Moreau was in the starting line-up, on the ice at the time, watching Penner take said draw. Donned a Moose jersey for the puck drop, and was interviewed later on in a suit that really left something to be desired from these eyes.
Lightning odds and ends: They iced a full complement of NHL defenders tonight. Viktor Hedman is a massive specimen. NHL-ready size and a great skating defenseman to match. Probably better wheels than Pronger. Used the boards effectively in clearing the zone. Looked very at home on the 2nd unit PP and 1st unit PK. Steve Downie is still a punk and a dangerous player. He’s going to get what’s coming to him one day, and I doubt anybody will feel sorry. Goaltender Mike Smith is also a huge body. Made some very acrobatic saves and had sound positioning. One suggests that Dallas is going to regret trading him in a package for Brad Richards before Smith’s career is over. Solid starting goalie.
Oilers bench: Did a good job without last change. To my eyes, our fourth line (85-46-33) were only caught out against a scoring line (St. Louis’) once. Quinn was very effective in juggling his lines to a degree of success. Re-united the old "Kid line" and they were buzzing around in the offensive zone for much of the 3rd period. Cobbled together what was, to my eyes, a very effective crash and bang line of 18-67-32. I really liked the make-up of that banger line, and would love to see a variant of it, perhaps with Jacques taking Moreau’s role. Best sign of the night at MTS Centre read: Give me some gum, Pat Quinn. Scoreboard cuts to Quinn chomping away like a cow out at pasture.
38 Jeff Deslauriers: Had a rough first period, to be sure. Poorly positioned on the first TB goal, but had no chance on the second goal which was an absolute rocket. Got beat pretty easily 5-hole on the third goal, and again had no chance on the game-winner. Settled down nicely after the first two goals and had improved positioning and stayed on his angles. His rebound control was solid all night long. One thing he will not be mistaken for, and that’s a puck-moving goaltender along the lines of Marty Turco or Martin Brodeur. Definitely an area of weakness. I’d give him a passing grade on the night, but nothing spectacular. C+ ish?
5 Ladislav Smid: Seemed to be cheating more towards the offensive side of the game. One-on-one play was solid when called upon. Has this Pavlovian conditioning thing where every time he hears a whistle, he tries to headlock the nearest opponent. If only he could do that during game play. Ranked 4 of 6 defenders.
24 Steve Staios: Completely lost most of the night in all three zones. Got a gift of a second assist courtesy the Cogliano goal and had enough sense to pass up a bad shot and dish to Moreau for a better opportunity. To his credit, he battled hard when he was called on and didn’t have a lot of quit to his game. Dirty, unprovoked, needless hit on Foster lead to me not getting to see Eberle in a shootout. Ranked 6 of 6 defenders.
37 Denis Grebeshkov: Didn’t want to engage physically, and when he did he consistently lost the battle. Made up for some very questionable decisions on puck distribution with a sublime pass to spring Cogliano for the Oilers second goal. A couple too many ill-advised pinches for my liking, though the Oilers forwards did a good job of covering for him. Ranked 1 of 6 defenders.
41 Taylor Chorney: Size should not be an issue with this kid. He’s at least 6’ given that he had, to my eyes, a couple inches on both Gagner and Visnovsky. There were a couple moments where I thought he really hesitated in the offensive zone. He was adept at keeping the puck in the offensive zone along the boards using both hand-eye and his footspeed. Was the best Oiler defenseman lugging the puck out of his own zone, very calm and used his agility and quick feet to his advantage. Didn’t fair too well in his defensive zone, in particular with the angling of his stick. Purposely deflected a puck up into the stands right in front of his own goalie that, if the angle of the stick was slightly different would have ended up with puck in net. Ranked 2 of 6 defenders.
71 Lubo Visnovsky: Had a very up and down game. Pinched at opportune times, but threw some absolute grenades to his teammates up ice. One questions if he wasn’t seeing the defensive coverage at all tonight. Had a couple of good stick checks to break up offensive opportunities. Ranked 5 of 6 defenders.
77 Tom Gilbert: Rather uneventful night from this spectator. Wired home Brule’s feed top cheese for a beauty goal. Ranked 3 of 6 defenders.
12 Robert Nilsson: Didn’t seem very creative at first, but really made up for that later in the game. A deadly shot for the Oilers first goal. Wasn’t all that noticeable in the defensive zone. Another vanilla effort but he’s getting the job done. Ranked 6 of 12 forwards.
13 Andrew Cogliano: Struggled with the defensive side of the game today. Left the backdoor open on the PK at least once. Lost the only faceoff I saw him take, but managed to corral the puck for a "winger win" on a Gagner faceoff attempt. Showcased his amazing speed for the Oilers second goal, perfectly receiving a pass in stride from Grebeshkov and slid home a backhander on a shot I would expect Mike Smith would like to have back. Also passed up a couple good shooting opportunities to make an ill-advised pass. Used his body to hold off a defender in the slot and fired a beauty backhand forcing Smith to make a spectacular save. Ranked 8 of 12 forwards.
14 Jordan Eberle: A half court player but the defensive aspect is starting to come around. Knows how to clear the puck from danger areas, but is still outmuscled easily. Also credit him with a "winger win". Ranked 10 of 12 forwards
18 Ethan Moreau: Driven physical presence all night long. Gave a decent effort defensively all game long. Has absolutely no shot to speak of, wrister or slapper. Didn’t give up on clearing attempts. Took his traditional penalty early in the second while I was still finding my way back from the bathroom. Ranked 9 of 12 forwards
27 Dustin Penner: Great offensive zone presence all night and was determined to not be caught up the ice. Backchecked hard and kept his legs driving. Actually used his large frame to shield the puck and create space in the offensive corners. Recipient of the best cat-call of the game coming from behind me. To quote it verbatim; Come on Penner! Skate you fat...uh..guy! Hey, I thought it was funny. Ranked 1 of 12 forwards.
32 Ryan Stone: Brings a skillset that is severely needed on this team. Willingness to battle multiple defenders, he drew a penalty while PKing deep in the Tampa zone where he was one against four Bolts players, winning the battle for the puck. The only forward I saw tonight who knew the concept of "dump and chase". Fearlessly blocked shots. Very easily had his pocket picked in the neutral zone. Not going to be mistaken for a faceoff man. I believe it was him that lost the faceoff leading to the eventual game winner. Ranked 4 of 12 forwards.
33 Steve MacIntyre: Didn’t fight. He should have. Showed willingness to get into the shooting lanes. Did not realize he was that big. You’re looking at a mighty specimen of man in big 33. Unfortunately, bigger objects also take time to accelerate, or so my limited Grade 11 physics once told me. Missed on a couple of potentially bone-jarring checks where the opposing player took half a stride up-ice. Clearly they knew what he was up to. Ranked 12 of 12 forwards.
46 Zack Stortini: Oddly, took the faceoffs for his line with Reddox and MacIntyre, and faired reasonably well in this role. Did some great things controlling the puck in his feet along the boards several times during the game, it’s an underrated skill. Ranked 5 of 12 forwards.
67 Gilbert Brule: Bounceback game for the little spark plug. This kid straight up fights to win every battle he contests, and he enters into plenty of them. Showed he was willing to go into dangerous areas to battle for the puck. Good open-ice hitter. The offensive creativity and vision is starting to show. Created the Oilers most exciting rush of the game where he broke up a D-to-D pass, turned on the jets down the left wing, and found the trailer Gilbert for the Oilers third goal. Was lit up in the faceoff dot. Ranked 2 of 12 forwards.
85 Liam Reddox: This man has the best hand-eye coordination on the team, bar none. Batted several pucks out of the air in order to clear the zone and tipped clearing passes on the PK to get the puck deep. Underappreciated defensive acumen and has a gas tank that hasn’t yet reached empty. Had some offensive skills showcased later in the game. Ranked 3 of 12 forwards.
88 Rob Schremp: In a game where he needed to show up and show he belonged, he was lazy, slow, soft and unwilling to engage in battles for the puck. Showed issues staying on his own two feet. For all the credit he’s given for his time in London, his offense just does not translate to the NHL game. Straight up, he can’t shoot, and double clutched when he had golden opportunities. In real trouble of clearing waivers at this point. Ranked 11 of 12 forwards.
89 Sam Gagner: Looked very good in defensive posture, even stripping Lecavalier of the puck in the neutral zone. Offensively, he tries to do too much himself 5-on-5, trying to beat multiple defenders with fancy moves instead of getting the puck deep. Good along the half-boards on the PP. Impressed with his ability to clear the zone without a stick, not as impressed as Penner’s forearm shiver to Dion against Calgary yesterday, but still put the effort in. Might have a bit of a temper to him, as he was given a stern talking to by one referee following the end of regulation. Looked like he was beaking off to the zebra and said official wasn’t in the mood. Ranked 7 of 12 forwards.
That’s the way one man saw it. I’d like to thank my friend for the great seats, my younger sister for attending with me and buying me beer and yelling obscenities at referees with children under 7 within earshot, and the insightful Showerhead whom I met up with earlier in the day and provided his own analysis in between periods.