The last meeting between these two teams didn't go exactly as I thought it would, and well, neither did this one. Most of us are completely okay with that. The Oilers can't and won't lose every game this season and this was just a reminder of that. When word broke that Marian Hossa would be in the lineup, the announcement added a little more to the belief that this game would be the exact opposite of the last one, a 7-4 Oilers blowout. I could see Fernando Pisani celebrating an impressive hat-trick as the anthems were sung.
I really enjoy watching games played in Chicago, as the United Center remains my favourite arena that I've visited thus far. Even as an opposing fan, I felt the electricity in the air when the pipe organ started up -- it was truly an amazing experience. You can see more and more jerseys in the crowd, the city of Chicago is behind their Blackhawks in a big way once again. I know you have heard ad nauseum how the Oilers are sort of like the Hawks a few years ago, or at least are trying to do a rebuild similar to what has happened in the Windy City. Let me remind you though, the Oilers didn't have the longest cup drought, and Oilers games have been televised for a very long time. Blackhawks fans truly are something else. I admire and respect them.
Onto to game -- this was a pretty tame affair for the first 45 minutes. When I asked some friends how it is that the Oilers can once again shown up for less than a period, the answer was "daylight savings time might be throwing them off." There were very few whistles and opportunities for special teams until the second period, but even then it didn't lead to any scoring. The final minute of the third period some calls against the Blackhawks were obviously missed, but you have to expect some home town calls at times like that. The big story in the first period was John Scott and his sticks that shattered seemingly constantly, and finding out that Theo Peckham is Angela James' brother. I love hearing about hockey families that aren't Sutters.
Zack Stortini wasn't horrible in his fight, despite what I'm sure many of you were thinking. He jumped onto the ice to meet up with Scott who was ready for him after the two came together in a previous tête-à-tête. Yes, results are more important than effort, but if you keep putting in the effort, eventually it will work out once or twice. At least there's an Oiler out there engaging the opponent physically, rather than leaving it to Hemsky, Hall or Gagner. No one wants see skilled players taking risks that can lead to a concussion or other injury because of a fight that they didn't need to be in.
Jason Strudwick actually had a pretty good game. He kept Hossa from scoring on a golden chance and did so without taking a penalty. Tonight, it was top blueliner Tom Gilbert's gaffe that led to Fernando Pisani finding the back of the net in the first period, and the usual goats Strudwick and Jim Vandermeer performed rather well. Given their past performances, Oiler fans need to celebrate good defensive plays when we see them, it will be a very long season without doing so.
The penalty kill tonight -- wow, what a difference! Usually the Oilers are guaranteed to give up at least one goal while short-handed, but tonight they managed to keep Chicago off of the scoresheet. It wasn't always a thing of beauty, and they certainly gave up some scoring chances, but its nice not to see the scoreboard change the minute someone takes a seat in the sin bin. The Hawks power play wasn't at its' best and they missed two wide open nets, but again, minor victories.
Nikolai Khabibulin also looked good in net, and at times he was outstanding. By "at times" I of course mean the final period when both teams woke up and decided to really get their feet moving. He was alert, he followed the puck, he kept the Blackahwks from scoring, which I'm sure we can all appreciate. There were times where he was obviously out of position, and he still struggles with playing the puck, but it was never anything like that goal by David Moss. *Shudder* Of course in the third period Khabibulin was perfect when the pressure was really on.
Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule had good chemistry together tonight in their third game playing with Dustin Penner. Brule went 60% in the face-off circle tonight and depending on how bad Shawn Horcoff's injured leg is, Brule might shoulder the additional responsibility on the dot against the Hurricanes. Gagner managed to score late in the third because he was at the right place at the right time, tapping home a marvelous feed from Dustin Penner after Ales Hemsky and Jason Strudwick moved the puck with perfect efficiency coming into the zone. Taylor Hall is showing that his comfort level is increasing with each game as he continues to learn to make the smart play. Hall missed a scoring chance after chipping the puck over Corey Crawford and off of of the post on a rebound, but he still had a great game and despite the line juggling tonight, he showed he's able to play with a number of different players. I like the idea of the Hall - Gagner - Hemsky line, and I think they just need a couple of games to get their feet under them before we can pass judgment on them. Penner also had a great game, his interest in playing well showed through tonight.
This game has me wondering though. There are always teams that the Oilers just cannot seem to beat; the Nashville Predators, the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota. Then, there are also teams that the Oilers tend to do well against. Perhaps, just maybe, the Oilers are starting a new trend for themselves this year? Maybe the Oilers have found a team that they will have the confidence to beat going forward and I don't think any of us would mind that very much after being pummeled by the Blackhawks over the last two years.
We do have another four games on this roadtrip to look forward to and we'll just have to wait and see if the Oilers continue to be improve or if the next will be a step back. I'm grateful for the win, it's way too disheartening for players and fans alike to lose multiple games in a row, and it looks like that is exactly what will happen a few times this season. So at times like this, let's take the win and smile. Now, I'm off to pack my bags. You'll be seeing me in Raleigh. Well, you'll be watching the actual hockey game and not looking for me in the stands but either way. GOilers!