Before the game started, I was in the game thread (which is spectacular by the way, based solely on Scott's Gospel, please check it out) and said:
The best result tonight, for my sanity at least is a lucky win or a close loss. If they’re blown out, it will be terrible to watch because it might be repeated a million times. If they blow the Flames out, the euphoria will be nuts.
And we have a blowout!
Before everyone goes off of the rails, let's remember that this game was against an injury-ravaged Flames team with an innate need to cough up the puck to the Oilers. Their defense was AHL-caliber and they had the girl from the Scotiabank commercial playing center for them tonight. Let's also remember that the Oilers' results looked fantastic in the early stages of last season, Flames games notwithstanding, even though the percentages were against them.
So bask in the glory of crushing the Flames and the spirits of Calgarians, but let's not start planning parades just yet; there's work to be done before the Oilers can regularly curb stomp the Canucks.
The first period was about as good as any rational Oiler fan could've hoped for. The forwards were clicking and the Oilers' team speed seemed to shock the Flames. The defense was backing way off and Calgary forwards were giving the puck up. Rather than throw the puck to the boards and win a puck battle, they had no problems firing it to the nearest open Oiler.
The Hall - Horcoff - Eberle line was really cooking, pressing the pace of the game at a whim. The Penner - Gagner - Hemsky line also looked fantastic, playing a highly-skilled game, keeping the puck in the Flames end for large chunks of their shifts. The Oilers seemed to strike first, with Ales Hemsky finding Dustin Penner for a one-on-one, which Penner turned into a breakaway, but the resulting goal was called off for goaltender interference. It's a shame too, because Penner undressed Miikka Kiprusoff so badly that Kiprusoff is still wondering why his groin is so sore. Also missed on the disallowed goal was the blatant slash on Dustin Penner's leg, but I guess when the referee is too busy trying to disallow a goal, he's got no time to watch for penalties.
The first period also saw the return of Ales Hemsky as he was full of magic, undressing defensemen and making Tim Jackman look like Tim Jackman, who, for some reason, was killing penalties for the Flames.
Nikolai Khabibulin came out shaky and struggled to handle the puck and control the puck, but kept it together long enough to make nine saves as the Oilers outshot the Flames 19-9 in the first period. Outshooting any team not named the Blue Jackets by ten shots was shocking for any Oiler fan stuck watching this team for the last four seasons.
Tom Renney took the night off, rolling his 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 with the Alberta Waltz back and bigger than ever. He even rolled his power play lines 1-2-3-1-2-3.
The Oilers were able to hide the defense that should have been exposed by drawing five penalties in the first and continually putting the pressure on Calgary's horrific defense.
The only line that didn't look fantastic was the Pääjärvi - Cogliano - Brule line who showed lots of flash and dash, but little interest in their own end. Pääjärvi did stand out, backchecking consistently, motoring right on by Calgary puck carriers. Renney moved Andrew Cogliano to the wing after starting the evening 0-2 in the faceoff circle, and Gilbert Brule responded, going 5-6 on the dot. Cogliano would later slide back to center, and for the duration of the game, he was 5-3 in faceoffs. This line did come up with the only goal of the first two periods when Brule beat Kiprusoff - although I think Kiprusoff should have had the shot - to put the Oilers up 1-0.
The second period was the diametric opposite of the first. The Flames outshot the Oilers 18-7 and made the Oilers look like the team most 'sphere pundits expected. The period didn't have to be so bad, but in the early going, Khabibulin gave up two enormous rebounds to keep long periods of offensive zone possession going for the Flames. He was also caught, ONCE AGAIN, behind the net without the puck and ended up scrambling and flailing to get back into the goal, while the Flames pressed the defense. Renney needs to chain Khabibulin to the crossbar with one of those giant Rottweiler chains so he can't wander out of the yard. The Oilers don't have a defensive group that can easily move the puck from a neutral possession situation up and out of the zone, so 22 foot rebounds are bad news in the long run.
Calgary chose not to cough the puck up every time they touched it in the second, and they were able force the play onto the Oilers and sustained long stretches, but a shaky Khabibulin was able to keep the puck out of the net.
In the second, I noticed that Hall had abandoned the backcheck to an extent and Horcoff was working his butt off in the defensive end to cover for him. I also noticed the defensive deficiencies of the Cogliano line. The line does not have the skill set required to win pucks from their opponents.
The Oilers tried to blow the roof off of the joint in the third. Though the third was the most balanced period in terms of shots on goal, 10-7 Calgary, the Oilers carried the play and finally cashed in on their chances. The first goal was breathtaking. The Oilers were in the midst of killing off Magnus Paajarvi's silly hooking penalty taken at the end of the second period when the puck came free to Jim Vandermeer, who I had previously criticized for poor puck handling. He found the puck, looked to spring Shawn Horcoff up the middle, thought better of it and calmly threw the puck off of the wall rather than trying to force it throught the center of the ice, sending Jordan Eberle on a two on one with Horcoff. Eberle darted into the zone, hopped over the now-prone defender then dipsied, doodled, deked, ducked, dragged, and roofed a short-handed goal on the backhand. It was a ridiculous display of hands and coordination.
A little over a minute later, Gagner's own-zone work paid off when Ladislav Smid gained possession of the puck in the defensive zone and fed Gagner up the middle. Gagner left the puck for Hemsky charging up the right wing and Hemsky chose to shoot on the odd-man, rather than pass. Kiprusoff 's glove was not up to the task, the second goal that was directly on Kiprusoff. It's possible that a shot from Hemsky completely surprised Kiprusoff, but Hemsky made the decision to shoot more often in 2008, so this shouldn't be a surprise. I don't think it was, Kiprusoff was just poor.
After that, Nicklas Hagman took a ridiculous hooking penalty on Steve MacIntyre of all people and sent the Oilers on a power play. Scott said in the game thread, "When Steve MacIntyre is drawing penalties, the team is having a good night." Shawn Horcoff won the following faceoff, went straight to the net, and created a glorious screen for Jordan Eberle who fired a wrister into the screen, off of Horcoff's leg and in. While the crowd went crazy for Eberle's supposed second goal, the subtlety of Horcoff's work was once again lost on fans and the play-by-play crew. It was perfect play for the center on the faceoff and created the scoring chance.
With the game out of hand, it got physical and violent. After Raitis Ivanans attempted to remove Pääjärvi's lower jaw with the shaft of his stick - the ref looked the other way again, naturally - Ivanans was fed his lunch and the better part of Steve MacIntyre's four knuckles in a late-game fight. Ivanans went down hard after a wicked right cross from MacIntyre and the training staff was called onto the ice. Typically an on-ice injury is tough to watch, but Ivanans is trash as a player. He's a goon, but not even an honorable goon in the Georges Laraque / Steve MacIntyre mold. Ivanans is Derek Boogaard-lite, taking runs at people, hacking and slashing and even high sticking, like on Pääjärvi tonight. He's not dirty like Alexandre Burrows, but if he's going to run around dishing out cheap shots, he better be prepared to have his face broken. He's got one of the worst penalties drawn / penalties taken ratios in the league, and for good reason.
The scoring chances (they're back thanks to Dennis King!) tell the story of the game, and it's kind of scary. The Oilers' top two lines absolutely dominated the Flames at even strength in the first and the third periods and the Hall - Horcoff - Eberle line had it's butt kicked in the second while Taylor Hall was off sightseeing.
A healthy Shawn Horcoff. He played like the Horcoff of old, goal line to goal line, doing a boatload of covering and positional work for Taylor Hall and being the Horc we all know and love. The C looks fantastic on Horcoff and if he can stay healthy he should have a great year.
Sam Gagner was 7-6 on the dot and looked in charge all night. He wasn't spectacular like Hall and Eberle, but he ended the night up 6-0 in the scoring chances department to go with Hemsky's 8-0 and Penner's 6-1. The Oilers first line won't get the headlines from now until the Florida game, but they were the best the Oilers had to offer by a long shot tonight.
Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney played excellent hockey. I wish Gamecenter had the game posted so that I could pull a couple of stills out, but both of them were effective, Gilbert more so in his own end, making slick play after slick play to gain possession, win battles and move the puck. He's quiet and doesn't HIT SOMEBODY but he's an excellent player.
You would think that getting tossed around like a rookie would have been enough for Robyn Regehr to avoid Dustin Penner, but no. After hitting Ales Hemsky again tonight, Regehr found enough bravery to try and run Penner, again. Regehr got a running start at Penner, again, and collided with him, again, and went down in a heap, again.
Tom Renney using damn-near everyone on the penalty kill.
Jarome Iginla did some things that turned Mark Lee on, though given Lee's obsession with Iginla, this isn't saying much. Iginla wound up and took a couple of big shots on goal, but that's about it. Maybe it was an off night, or maybe Olli Jokinen is cursing him again, but Iginla reminded me an awful lot of Stephane Richer tonight. He cherry-picked, floated, and didn't go to the net. He was content staying outside and attempting to shoot the puck through a wall, which he's capable of at times, but it's not the game the Flames need, especially short-handed like they are. Still, it's great to watch him stink.
Jim Vandermeer on the puck. Outside of the pass off of the boards to spring Eberle short-handed, Vandermeer handled the puck like a grenade covered in KY. Thankfully, though, Mike Peca's whipping boy was on hand to override Vandermeer's mistakes. Jay Bouwmeester turned the puck over on a consistent basis and in all three zones.
Outside of Kevin Weekes, CBC's broadcast crew was sub-par. I wish Weekes would slow down and explain his points rather than speak as quickly as possible and try to get as many words out as he can in 10-15 seconds. Other than that he's okay. He tends to forego criticisms and praise nearly everyone, but he knows what he's talking about. The rest of them - blech. Scott Oake blathered on about what a shock it was that Peckham made the team out of training camp (when it was never in doubt) and Kelly Hrudey... agreed with him.
Calgary's defense was terrible. Garth Paulson said in the game thread, "So wait, Sarich and Staios are worse than the D the Flames dressed tonight? Woof." It's the forwards for Calgary that are injured, so what in the world was wrong with the defense? They coughed the puck up, they ran around chasing the play, they looked intimidated by a bunch of kids that still aren't shaving regularly. Calgary will get better, much better, when they get their forwards back, but if this is the defense that they're going to roll with, good night.
The worst effort of the night was clearly from the clowns dressed in stripes. The refs missed three obvious penalty calls tonight, a slash on Penner's breakaway/disallowed goal, a blatant hook on Shawn Horcoff, followed by a trip as he tried to get back to his feet, and the high stick from Ivanans on Pääjärvi. The final non-call led to MacIntyre rectifying the situation and Ivanans dropping like a rock. An unconscious rock. Bring in the scabs, I say.