Lord knows why exactly, but Derek actually allowed me to return to the C & B and reactivate the travel desk. Fortunately, this was just in time for me to drive down to Toronto and watch the baby Oilers lay down a steaming pile of bad hockey that was so terrible I could have sworn I was watching the big club. Let me tell you, it was bad. Not only was the game awful, but there is something really unsettling about being a part of anything to do with hockey in Toronto. It wasn't just the $9 pints of Canadian or the really lame mascot or the bad cheerleaders both on and off the ice. It wasn't even the fact that there were maybe 1500 people in the stands. Rather, it's quite simply that Toronto hockey fans are just the worst. The picture says it all.
Because of the condensed nature of the AHL schedule, the Barons play 3 games in under 72 hours, starting in San Antonio Texas Friday and ending in Hamilton Ontario this afternoon. That meant we the few, proud Oiler-loving writers in attendance were given the awesome pleasure of watching Bryan Pitton between the pipes. This was not the only joy of the evening, as we were also treated to the great Ryan O'Marra centering Linus Omark and Liam Reddox. This, by the way, is what appears to be the default top line. The rest of the combinations looked like this:
Before I start deconstructing the game that was, I should point out that it was a really good time, not because of the game, but rather, in spite of it. You see, how could it not be a good time when all three of the infamous Covered In Oil writers, as well as Pat McLean, Tyler Dellow, James Mirtle, Littlefury, plus various girlfriends and Pat's often mentioned young son Jack were all in attendance at this game? It was awesome, and exactly what one would expect: making fun of Oilers and Leafs prospects, catcalls at underage cheerleaders, watching Pat's inspired and terrific parenting, and just having a good time hanging out together in real life rather than from the confines of our own computers. Such a summit of legendary writers really should have been accompanied by a triumphant Oil Barons win, but instead we were subjected to the first of two Oiler-related massacres on the day. Even more depressing is that poor Jack had to witness this humiliation as his first ever live hockey game! More after the jump.
As you can clearly see, this was a very AHL lineup at best, with sub-AHL goaltending at worst. The game started out slow and choppy, with the Barons taking three lame penalties in the first ten minutes, causing me to see very little actual talent on the ice. The Marlies had a 6-0 shot advantage when the most incredible thing happened; with the goalie pulled on a delayed penalty, the puck deflected off of a Marlies player all the way back from the Barons zone and into the gaping Marlies cage. The Barons fans - all 14 of us - erupted with joy and glee about the incredulous 1-0 lead we found ourselves in without even mustering a proper shot on goal... wait, what? No goal? What? Why? The horn sounded, the replay clearly showed us that no Baron had touched the puck, yet the own-goal glory was disallowed. This was surely a sign of things to come.
On the ensuing powerplay the Marlies had, they scored. And they didn't just score; Kadri scored the first of his two goals and four points on his first-star-winning night. Ugh. It got better, as after being outshot 10-2, the Barons made an attempt at coming back with Liam Reddox scoring a great garbage goal after a lot of hard work in the corners by both Omark and O'Marra. After 20 minutes it was all even and the shot clock gap had settled down somewhat.
The second period was something of a calamity waiting to happen, with lots of terrible giveaways and seriously sloppy play. Pitton allowed two not terribly soft goals but if JDDDD or the Dark Lord happened to be between the pipes, they likely would have been saved. Pitton has really bad mechanics; he plays far too deep in his crease and he just looks uncomfortable. On the other hand, if I had Taylor Chorney as one of the defencemen in front of me, chances are I would be uncomfortable too. The second was not exactly much fun to watch, so really, I didn't. I spent most of the time chatting with Tyler Dellow and his girlfriend, a little bit of time with Mike Winters, and a bunch of time laughing at the most obvious man in the rink. That jersey fail pictured above was a photo taken stealth-ninja style by Tyler on my phone with the plan to submit it to puck daddy, but I know he reads here from time to time, so I figured I'd let him just take it if he wants to. But come on, really, you're in a leafs jersey, buddy. You think you might just be a leafs fan? That must be what passes as irony in Toronto these days. Jeebus...
The third period started with a bang and went out with a whimper. Linus Omark showcased some of his incredible skill, scoring just a beautiful goal within the first two minutes. 3-2, close game, shot clock is now even. Doesn't matter. Ryan O'Marra loses a draw, and suddenly there's a 3 on 2 down the other way, the defence can't close the gap fast enough and it's 4-2. Tyler responds to this turn of events by shouting "Dammit O'Marra, we traded RYAN SMYTH for you!!!!" I say it's true, but it's not like the poor bastard asked for it, and Pat looks at me, sagely and with a twinkle in his eye and says something to the effect of it may not be his fault, but it is the cross he will have to bear for the rest of his career. Then Pat and I get to talking about Alex Plante. We both agree that perhaps he will be a player and might actually make that trade not the stupidest move in K-Lowe's career. Of course, no sooner do we have this chat then Plante gives the puck away at the point, can't react quick enough, and it's 5-2 Marlies. Pat and I agreed it was safer not to speak of it, or any other player we have hope for, ever again. The final score was 5-2 Marlies, with the shots on goal being 33-32 Barons.
A few game observations before I take a page out of Massey's book and do the reverse three stars.
First and foremost, Milan Kytnar has really fallen as a prospect, regretfully playing with Marquardt and Stewart. They play a lot like the current Oilers 4th line, but with two critical differences. The first is that Matt Marquardt is not a hockey player but rather a robot assigned to viciously hit people in their backs, right between the numbers for about 23 seconds at a time and then slowly skate back to the bench. The other difference is that nobody on the line has Ryan Jones' sweet sweet hockey hair.
People talked after camp about how they felt maybe Belle or Petiot should have made the team over Peckham. Those people are wrong. Belle was a turnover machine, couldn't hit the net if it was the size of a barn and has no hockey sense, while Petiot seems to just kinda float around and fall a lot. These players are still likely the best call-up options as Taylor Chorney is lost out there, while the other three defencemen all exude loads of potential but are still not-quite-ready-for-primetime players.
Harski and CVV are developing some fine chemistry together, but CVV can't win a draw. Actually, the whole team, much like the big club, cannot win a draw to save their collective lives. Harski's reputation for being a poor skater is unfortunately well earned. He's got an awkward stride and it takes a while for him to really move anywhere, but once he gets there, he is a real player. He had two or three glorious chances in the third and really goes hard to the dirty spaces. He could be a Holmstrom/Franzen like player some day, which I know will make everyone around here very happy (and Derek more than a little aroused...).
Finally, Linus Omark. Okay, so he cherry-picks more than a 10-year-old playing in a floor hockey game and just floats in the defensive zone, but there is a reason for it. Once the puck gets on his stick, it's pure magic. I was skeptical of him before, given his stature and own-zone shortcomings, and I never really "saw him good" aside from those glorious internet videos, but seeing him play live changed my perspective about him in a big way. The kid is a player; he's exciting to watch because he makes something happen on the ice almost every time. Hell, he makes O'Marra look less bad and has really helped our favorite little ginger regain some of the scoring touch he had in junior. Good players make the people around them better than they might really be. One of the knocks on Omark was that he's a bit selfish, but I didn't really see that. He battled hard in the corners, made a few dazzling passes and his goal was great, but the important thing is that he elevates those around him when he is given the space to make some moves. It's possible with Lander up the middle and Paajarvi on the other side that the Oilers could ice a skilled, gritty all Swede line that could do some really serious damage, like the Czech line of the early 2000s, but with a bit more flash. I can almost guarantee that Omark will find his way up to the big club before the season is done, and he will make a case to stay there.
Alright, the moment of truth. Let's all see if I can do a reverse three stars that would make Massey proud.
#18-Matt Marquardt: Why the hell is this guy playing hockey. He can't skate, he can't cycle, and even Smac has more actual hockey sense than this guy. He's like JFJ, but without hands, speed, offensive or defensive awareness, which is not to say that JFJ has any of those, but he's at least demonstrated the ability to not be an anchor at the AHL level. To be fair, playing on a line with Gregory Stewart and Milan Kytnar is barely playing with AHL caliber linemates, but I just don't understand why this guy exists? Poor Cody Wild. O'Marra has to live with the legacy of being traded for RYAN SMYTH, but Wild will always know in his heart that the worst team in the NHL traded him because they felt that Marquardt was more worthwhile. Ouch. Marquardt Smash!!! Marquardt Suck.
#19-Bryan Pitton: So, the Oilers have 2 AHL-caliber goalies in their system and two reasonably capable NHL goalies in their system, yet the two AHL goalies are not playing in either league and an ECHL goalie has to face the awesomeness that is Nazem Kadri and Luca Caputi. It's hard to fault Pitton, much like it's hard to fault Strudwick on the big club, which is why I put Pitton at #19. (Oh, what, Massey, you had Struds at 19 last night too? Hmm...how about that?) 3 of the 5 goals he allowed weren't necessarily his fault, and yes the penalty killing was just awful (which makes the idea of bringing up Reddox in that role a little more questionable), but he's got to make some saves when the puck is in close. Pitton just looks scared, like that episode of The Simpsons when Milhouse is tied up to the net, glasses tied outside his Jaques Plante style mask and he's cowering, waiting for the storm to pass, but it never does. Send down JDD to put this poor soul out of his misery. He's been a good soldier for the organization the last few years and should be rewarded with a 6-figure salary to play in Stockton, where he'll be safe.
#20-Shawn Belle: This is a player I really want to like. He has the draft pedigree, the skill set, and the tools to succeed. Oh wait, that sounds like Ryan O'Marra. Belle is just not that great. He might not have been the worst player tonight, but given all of his potential and experience, he sure doesn't think the game well or play with much fire or passion. If he really wants to make it to the show for more than just a couple at-bats, he has got to step up his game, or his next contract won't be so AHL cushy.
Dishonourable mention to Alex Giroux. Did he actually play last night? I spotted him, once, maybe twice, alone in the slot, whiffing at the puck like some sort of snakebitten clone of POS.