Edmonton - Tampa Bay Post-Game: My Linus is Bigger Than Yours

This was a shootout that had just over an hour of dudes skating around at the beginning of it.

Oh, I mean, I'm sure it was a pretty exciting game. I mean, the shots were, er, 41-23 Tampa Bay. That was probably kinda cool to watch. But to tell the truth, I didn't actually watch this game I'm about to review. Not a second. I spent most of it sleeping, actually. So, what do you want to talk about? (whistles)

(Okay, it's not that bad. I caught the replay on GameCenter. Most of the replay. Chunks of the replay. I watched the goals and scanned around for big hits. Listen, I'm at work. You're lucky you're getting any analysis more cogent than my farting onto my keyboard.)

Having established my peerless credentials for reviewing this game, I'm going to stand by my initial sentence. The Edmonton Oilers spent most of this game getting thoroughly worked by the Tampa Bay Lightning. They started regulation decently, wound up on their back foot, earned a loss, and didn't get it. I'm not complaining. The hockey gods owe us one. But neither am I going to willingly dwell on sixty-five relatively suckalicious minutes. Minutes which were end-to-end action, except for the fact that one end seemed to be a lot larger than the other end and we were pretty much completely unable to clear the puck.

That story is the same old desultory nonsense. Let's talk about something new. Let's talk about the fact that, even in a game where they're outshot almost 2-to-1, the Oilers are improving in some small, sure ways. There was a little promise in this game even aside from the result.

Being a slave to convention, I can't start a review of this game without examining the new kids on the block. Ryan O'Marra is, I suppose, no longer that new a kid on the block but for our purposes he qualifies. O'Marra was traded to the Oilers in 2007 as part of a rental package for some forgotten left winger, and since then he's spent three full seasons in Edmonton's minor league system. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but he's played somewhere around 300 minor league games and scored something like four points. His reputation is as a scrappy agitator who's good at defensive hockey, but given that he's heavily below even in his career AHL plus/minus, I've always questioned that reputation. Obviously I don't watch him play that much, but the results have never been there.

That said, in his first three NHL games last year, O'Marra looked neither good nor bad. And neither good nor bad was pretty good for that stank-ass team. Last night, O'Marra got his first career NHL goal, which would have been a lot cooler if it weren't of the "own" variety, accidentally tipping in Randy Jones's slap shot from in front of the blue line. But he got his second career assist as well, setting up Taylor Hall's goal, and given that O'Marra's only previous assist was on a goal from friggin' Colin McDonald, he's certainly getting used to setting up a wide variety of player.

I can't say O'Marra was good; not really. In addition to tipping in Jones's goal, he was also one of those culpable for allowing the Lightning to keep the puck in the zone so one-sidedly. But I do like the kid's play. The thing about O'Marra is that he plays smart, even though he's relatively limited as a hockey player. Being not all that fast and not very strong in spite of his size, O'Marra hasn't got a lot to work with but he does his best. I didn't catch him out of position too often, although I wish he was less enthusiastic to go behind the net and try to glue guys to the boards. More importantly, he doesn't get too ambitious, try to skate through opposing players or nerve staple any Tampa Bay forwards to the boards without getting the puck (the Jean-Francois Jacques Special). The one time he did try to get clever was on his second two-on-one with Hall: it would have been a sweet move from O'Marra to get a goal if he were good, but he isn't and instead the puck went behind the goal where Hall scored anyway. Should have just wristed it and taken his chances, even if it worked out. Lesson learned, I hoped.

I bet that O'Marra saw what happened and wasn't blinded by the end result. He's a smart kid. O'Marra sucks, but he sucks harmlessly. Give him some experience, put him out against fourth liners, and I bet he does okay. He's a poor man's Liam Reddox, but he's also a centre. His is the sort of suck I can live with.

Also, some Swedish Rob Schremp showed up, apparently. I don't know. Did he do anything in this game? Maybe he was a healthy scratch. I didn't notice either way, I guess.

I'm kidding. Of course I'm kidding. Linus Omark was on a line with O'Marra to start, which might explain why their games were so similar: one assist (on a completely different goal, mind you: I'd have put long odds on that happening before the game), couple mistakes, and a -1 that was thoroughly deserved and yet vaguely promising.

All that crap I talk about Omark being too small for the NHL without the mental game to back it up came true, at least for one game. When Omark had the puck, which wasn't real often in his eleven minutes of ice time, he'd try to challenge a Tampa Bay player and he'd get his lunch fed to him. Sorry, shortstop. Better luck next time. It was pretty much the first NHL game you'd expect from a guy like Omark who thinks he's all that but, right now, hasn't got the experience or the knowledge to back that up. Unlike O'Marra, he played a tricky game and tried to impress guys and get results. He still didn't come out too badly because, for all his arrogance and lack of size, Omark is clearly good: a combination of skill and elusiveness allowed him to make up for a lot, and nobody could accuse Omark of a lack of effort. He backchecked pretty hard, even if he didn't do it very well, and was always looking to cover up his own errors. The kid tried. Moreover, when he got a chance on the power play he looked awful good setting up Tom Gilbert's goal: he's a really shifty bugger and he was able to squeeze between gaps in the Tampa Bay coverage a couple of times to keep the play alive.

Playing Omark and O'Marra together on the same line seems like a bad move to me. I don't just say that because they could not be more different players if they tried, but because of their mutual lack of experience. Both players are 23 years old (Omark a few montsh older than O'Marra), but they've got a pretty marginal amount of NHL experience between them. Omark is a veteran in Sweden and Russia and O'Marra has plenty of time in the North American minor leagues, but those are both long leaps into the NHL. O'Marra and Omark, while playing decently, very seldom played with each other even when they were both on the ice. They're teammates on the Oklahoma City Barons, but there was no chemistry there. How could there be? They were both trying not to get run over.

In general, I liked the kids, but those weren't the only highlights in regulation. Theo Peckham continuing to be the gum in the Nuts and Gum pairing with Tom Gilbert, although if he was going to take two minutes for gently caressing Martin St. Louis I wish he'd have gotten his money's worth. Dustin Penner and Magnus Paajarvi's little bit of wheeling and dealing that wound up with Paajarvi cranking a slap shot past Dan Ellis's glove that left Ellis wondering the same thing I was wondering: "Magnus Paajarvi can take a slap shot?" Actually, the whole performance of the Paajarvi - Andrew Cogliano - Penner line was pretty cool: two speed merchants and a sumo wrestler. Lightning, Lightning, and some serious Thunder. It worked, though I'm not quite sure how. I also enjoyed Louie Debrusk complaining about Taylor Hall not shooting enough, because if there's one guy who could give 10-goal rookie Taylor Hall shooting advice, it's Lou friggin' Debrusk.

And if you notice I haven't ragged on Nikolai Khabibulin once in this post-game... well, there's a reason for that. I still hate the guy, don't get me wrong. It'll take at least a Conn Smythe trophy for me to stop hating him. His goaltending was of a sufficiently high calibre, though, that even I can't bring myself to insult his drunken, rebound-giving-up rubber carcass. Not a lot of five-bell saves, but there were a few and I don't blame him for any of the goals against. You can't stop the unstoppable shots, and you can't get the BIG SAVES when you're not given the opportunity. Khabibulin gave the team a chance to win, and luckily the team took it.

Overtime was sort of grim, apart from Peckham making Steven Stamkos's life miserable (there's a sentence I didn't see coming at the begining of the season). Then the shootout came. Oh mercy.

I know Omark's goal is going to get the headlines. In fact, it already has. The Tampa Bay Lightning, perhaps goaded by the local media, bashed Omark's goal as "disrespectful". Certainly, the spin move at centre ice seemed superfluous. On the other hand, it worked. Ellis seemed discomfited when Omark came in: the fake slap shot caused Ellis to freeze completely and Omark could not have had an easier time knocking the puck in afterward. Had Ellis kept his head and not allowed himself to be distracted, he wouldn't have had a real hard time stopping Omark (who didn't put much on his final shot). Instead, he had stars in his eyes and Omark took him to school.

In truth, I liked Jordan Eberle's move more. Omark beat Ellis with deceit. Eberle beat Ellis with the "ain't nobody gonna stop this" deke. Swung left, which Ellis followed well. Stick-faked, left leg kick, but Eberle knocks the puck to the puck to the right with the heel of his stick. Again, Ellis followed it, but Eberle's hands were too quick and he extended too far. Eberle got around Ellis's pad and pow, goal. Omark scored a fine, fine goal, but it only worked because Ellis let himself be beaten. It would have taken Dominik Hasek to stop Eberle on that chance, and even he would have had to work at it.

That's it. That's your win. Couple rookies scoring highlight reel goals (and Hall came close, too: Hall missed Ellis's five-hole and would have buried it if he'd carried the puck right Ellis's pad). Nikolai Khabibulin putting in a no-sarcasm excellent game. Two points, in the bag, and the Western Conference victimizes the East once again.

I'm going to skip the Reverse Three Stars again today. Was it because I didn't actually watch the whole game? Well, if I'm honest, yes. But it's also because I want to go out on a high note, not a low one. The hockey gods gave us a game we didn't deserve to win, but they also gave us a show. Let's just enjoy it for today.

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