Another live game report, as your roving reporter accepted a generous offer of a pair of tickets to tonight's Blues-Oilers game. Opportunities to attend NHL games on somebody else's dime seem to be happening more often these days for some reason. It seems like season ticket holders are trying to share the load: they have to pay for the games, somebody else should have to watch them.
Anyway, this was my third live game in a row, every one of them a regulation loss: 4-3 to Dallas, 4-2 to Chicago, tonight 2-1 to St. Louis. So endeth another four-game homestand, outscored just 13-8 but with nary a win to show for it, or indeed for the month of January. On their own ice the Oilers have won just once since mid-November for goodness sake; which is one more win than I personally have seen in 8 (eight) trips to the Pillbox in this accursed 2009-10 season. I have seen undeserved losses and uninspired losses, overtime losses and over-early losses, shutout losses and shootout losses, but not a single win of any description.
Tonight's loss was routinely excruciating, or is that excruciatingly routine. The Oilers made much more of a game of it than last time the Blues blew through, a 7-2 stinker which was also my, uh, pleasure to see live. Tonight was a tight affair, played at a very rapid pace: under 30 minutes running time for the first period, just 2:13 from start to finish, an extraodinarily low 41 faceoffs. From Row 24 it didn't seem to be a high-intensity affair, with relatively little hitting and no scrummage outside of Mike Comrie's brief tilt with Mike Weaver. It was more a skating game, and a hard-skating game at that. It didn't lack for effort, there just wasn't enough grit for my liking, which I guess is no real surprise given the line-up the Oilers iced.
Forwards: The Oilers welcomed back Mike Comrie (mononucleosis) and Gilbert Brule (mystery virus, possibly swine flu) who joined the recently returned Marc Pouliot (pubitis), Fernando Pisani (ulcerative colitis) plus a few other guys returned at various times from actual hockey-related injuries like separated shoulders and concussions and stuff. The temporary good health of the forward corps means two guys had to sit out, and Pat Quinn gave the short straws to Patrick O'Sullivan and Zack Stortini. The latter's absence was felt IMO, as the group collectively looked small and unaggressive.
Penner - Gagner - Nilsson had a solid game, generating Oilers' lone goal as Penner converted a dandy pass from Robert Nilsson to open the scoring midway through the second. It was the first time the Oil had led at any point in the 6 games I have attended since the winter solstice. Alas, said lead lasted all of 17 seconds, as the checking line of Moreau - Horcoff - Pisani allowed KeithTkachuk's tying goal off a lost D-zone faceoff. Too bad, as the trio had an otherwise strong game, carrying the play to a large extent as attested by Pisani's team-leading Corsi of +11. Moreau skated much better and seemed to have his head more into the game than was the case Tuesday; maybe the presence of healthy Black Aces has gotten his attention. Still, the play died with him far too often for my liking. The trio of Comrie - Potulny - Brule showed some spark, with Brule having a couple of fine opportunities, but the trio was victimized for the game-winner on the counter-attack after turning the puck over in the St. Louis zone. The newly-constituted fourth line of Jacques - Pouliot - Cogliano did not impress, with the two wingers tying for the team-worst Corsi of -9.
Defence: The top two pairings played reasonably solidly, but were a little too careless with the puck. The big money men were somewhat culpable on the goals, Souray on the tying GA and Visnovsky on the winner, while leading the team in giveaways with 5 and 4 respectively. (Souray also led with 3 takeaways) The big four all played around 23 minutes, while Chorney - Strudwick were spotted in around 13 minutes apiece. The Corsi numbers of the group are a bit of an eye-opener: Visnovsky +10, Souray +8, Gilbert +6, Grebshkov +5, Chorney -6, Strudwick -9. The third pairing continues to be a serious weakness on this club.
Goal: Jeff Deslauriers needed a great game after a dismal month of January, but was only able to deliver a pretty good one. He had no chance on Tkachuk's deflection, but Steen's game winner beat him short side and seemed eminently stoppable. He was solid in the early going but the second half of the game was a nightmare. Besides the weak sauce winner, Deslauriers' misadventures included abandoning his net and going all the way to the far bench on an imagined delayed penalty that was never called (fortunately, Oilers retained control of the puck untill JDD scrambled back); going out to field a puck behind his net only to fall down and create a dangerous situation; and cancelling what would have been a valuable icing against tired opponents by wandering from his crease. The most damning stat for JDD is this one: the Oilers entered the third period tied 1-1, outshot the Blues 10-1, and lost in regulation.
Coach: I've been solidly behind Pat Quinn this season but he began to lose me during this homestand.
- Didn't take the fine after the Vancouver game, showing more resignation than fire (if you'll excuse the terminology :) about the absolute screw-job the Oilers received that night.
- Dallas scored the winning goal against a mismatched line with an extra centre put together for a big own-zone faceoff, but with no prior experience or apparent preparation; opponents did such manoeuvres as a matter of course throughout the game so had some experience at it.
- Chicago scored the winning goal in the continuation after an icing. Quinn with his 1300+ games of NHL coaching experience declined to use his timeout to rest obviously tired troops with predictably disastrous results; tonight in a near-identical situation, Davis Payne with 13 NHL games under his belt used his timeout to good effect.
- The line-up decisions didn' seem to have much method in their madness: Quinn spoke of using ice time as a stick to motivate underperforming players, but chose to sit out Zack Stortini despite mentioning several times how Zack gives you everything he's got, every night. What kind of message does that send to the entitled players? Let's start by benching the guys who work hardest?
Sorry, but from where I sit it seems like the Old Timey Coach is starting to get beaten down by all this losing and is himself losing some of his competitive edge. IMO that has hurt us at key times in recent games.
Next up: Edmonton @ Calgary, Saturday, January 30, 20:00. One of the few remaining meaningful games on the sked, as two massive losing streaks collide. The resistable force against the moveable object. Would be the perfect place for the Oil to steal a win.