Edmonton - Detroit Post-Game: Moreau-nic

So, Devan Dubnyk has a win and a deserved one at that. Congratulations to Devan and his family. Even Patrick Roy had just one win at some point in his career, although admittedly he didn't play ten games before getting it, and if this had been Patrick Roy's era it would have been a tie.

It's a proud moment for a good guy and a decent prospect and will receive some well-deserved attention from the media. A shame, for it will overshadow perhaps the more important sub-plot of tonight's melée against the Red Wings: the immense, almost shameful capitulation of the Oilers in the third period, the reaming they endured which was worse than you expect even from a thirtieth-place team against a determined opponent. It beggared belief. The shots in the third period were 17-3 Detroit, and that significantly flatters Edmonton, who spent 19:30 of those twenty minutes pinned back in their own end without respite. Save Dubnyk, every Oiler was at least bad. Only Marc Pouliot and Tom Gilbert could even aspire to be mediocre.

It is a sure contender for the worst period the Oilers have played all season, and if not for Dubnyk proving once again that he is at his best when his team is at its worst it would have brought shades of Jeff Deslauriers's fateful first in Vancouver, seemingly so long ago, when he allowed something like eleven goals on four shots or whatever the hell it was. The team was so dreadful in every category it seems almost cruel to pick out one particularly fetid turd from the sewage system of the Edmonton Oilers.

Cruel and yet deserved. For Ethan Moreau, a man who has done so little for us in the last three years, turned in the worst period I have seen any Edmonton non-goaltender play since...

...ever?

It was not merely that he couldn't complete a six-foot pass, though he couldn't. He didn't muster so much as a shot on goal, although hell, that's not news. He even managed to stay out of the penalty box primarily because Greg Kimmerly and Dan Marouelli shoved their whistles into their jocks (a total of six penalty minutes were dished out all game). But for the first time, an NHL millionaire played the game worse than I would have.

It's like he thought he was Larry Robinson, about to lug the puck out of the zone to start a big rush, except if Larry Robinson was a complete idiot. Mere minutes into the third he got on the short list for most hysterical gaffe of the season when he got the puck behind his own goal line, turned on a time, and putting on what few jets he has left drilled Tom Gilbert from behind into the goalpost while still carrying the puck, turning it over and leading to a superb Red Wings chance. Or trying to dance the puck out of the zone, turning it over at the blue line and leading to an entire shift of Red Wings bombardment. He had skaters to pass to and could have just cleared it out himself with the sort of chip shot that comes so naturally on a hockey rink players don't even have to be taught how to do it. Instead, he went one-on-two with a Detroit forward and the boards, and because he's awful he did not win.

Then there was his singlehanded culpability on the tying goal with a fraction of a second left. Cruising in the slot, idiotically, like he thought the Red Wings would be courteous enough to serve up a soft pass right onto his stick blade so he could be the big damned hero. Covering Henrik Zetterberg, or rather not covering Henrik Zetterberg, since one of the NHL's premier forwards had so much room to maneouvre they could have run a Formula 1 race through the gap. Standing about, letting Zetterberg go cross-ice to Pavol Datsyuk. Not moving to cover the stupidly wide open Brian Rafalski setting up shop on Dubnyk's doorstep and who is, technically, Moreau's man. Then giving Zetterberg a big ol' Ethan Moreau crosscheck to the back of the head. "See, coach? I'm doing something!"

I'm not by nature a cynical man, but that period truly convinced me that Ethan Moreau is deliberately costing us hockey games. Nobody who was ever good enough to play in the NHL could ever do that badly on a hockey rink by accident.

 How can I be so downcast after a win, after a guy I liked picked up the W that will hopefully turn his confidence around? Seeing Dubnyk rejoice after he stopped Valtteri Filppula in the shootout ought to have been a moment of pure joy. The kind of thing we all want to see in sports and hardly ever do, the unambiguously happy athlete who isn't worried about how the media perceives him or his next contract or his shoe endorsement but that, finally, he was weighed in the balances and not found wanting in the slightest.

But I was still choked over Ethan Moreau, and that's really not fair to Dubnyk. He was tremendous. Thirty-one saves on thirty-three shots. The first goal by Patrick Eaves he perhaps should have had but nobody could really blame him for it, and the last goal by Rafalski would have beaten Hasek in his prime. It is only the second time in his career he has started a game and posted a save percentage above .900, which is one of the most horrifying stats on a team full of them. But aside from that one tremendous period last week against the Toronto Maple Leafs, this was Dubnyk's best NHL performance yet.

That's the thing that gets me about Devan Dubnyk, and to a lesser extent his comrade in futility Taylor Chorney. Intellectually, I acknowledge the value of a statistical approach to hockey. Looking at things from a purely rational standpoint, I appreciate how important the numbers are to sort out human biases and help determine what really wins hockey games. But from the moment I first saw him as a member of the Stockton Thunder three years ago, Devan Dubnyk has looked like ought to be a serious hockey player. It's not just the size and the build, but the poise and the puck sense that's obvious even on television. There are plenty of awfulgames on Dubnyk's log, but he has not yet had one of those Jeff Deslauriers implosions, where his mind is reeling and he's completely rattled and pucks dance merrily through his five-hole. He seems capable of addressing each shot with the same poise that he addressed the previous, which on one hand is a shame because he's a lousy goaltender but on the other hand is encouraging for his long-term prospects.

It was also gratifying to see Andrew Cogliano strike again. I am a Cogliano pessimist and would have sold high on him last summer given half an opportunity. Even now, fans around the league seem to rate Cogliano well and he comes up in lots of trade hypotheticals. But a goal, an assist, a winning faceoff record, a decent game for a team not full of them, and Cogliano's strung together a few pretty nice nights in a row. I'm not saying I'm excited, but I certainly am pleased.

Something else that would be pleasing would be to see Sam Gagner a little more. One of the Oilers' only bright spots all year, Gagner spent too many shifts with the likes of Zack Stortini and Chris Minard and too many others being juggled around. He finished even in 14:42 and probably deserves the Nobel Prize for that.

Of course, tonight helped the Calgary Flames in their playoff push. And it was bad for our Fall for Hall aspirations. And it was an ugly brutal win that led to my accusing our captain of match fixing. But isn't it nice to have two more points to celebrate, if only for a little while?

The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:

18th Star: C Shawn Horcoff. One-Armed Shawn is fast becoming an honoured member of the Over the Hill Gang. On previous reprehensible Oiler teams, Horcoff got credit from the knowledgeable fan for keeping his head above water in spite of the awfulness of his comrades. This year, Horcoff is still facing the toughest opposition but he is being humiliated. Tonight was no exception: a losing faceoff record, particularly in the third period. -1 and it easily could have been worse. Two pretty awful penalty minutes. He was stuck playing a tonne of own-zone defense with Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani - if that line were milk, you'd read the date on the carton and throw it out. But part of the reason they were in the own zone so much was that Horcoff could not, to save his life, clear that zone.

Some of us pencil Horcoff as the first-line centre of a hypothetical rejuvenated Oilers lineup that might make a playoff charge next year. Some of us put him as Gagner's deputy but acknowledge his value. But at what point does Horcoff take another step back, become a third minutes guy who takes on the enemy second lines and kills penalties and provides veteran leadership? The role that Ethan Moreau would fill, if Ethan Moreau weren't useless.

19th Star: D Aaron Johnson. Welcome to the Reverse Three Stars, Aaron, and may this be your last visit. I'm an outspoken fan of your work since being traded, and even tonight I think you were better than Steve Staios would have been. But you went out on a pairing with Theo Peckham, you were both -2, and Theo Peckham looked an awful lot better than you did. Peckham was still bad but he was keeping it simple, standing guys up at the blue line, and at worst making himself a slow-moving bollard that it at least took some effort to avoid. You did very little of that and got in the way a bit too often.

Again, Aaron, I'm a big fan, but I don't want to see you back on this list, 'kay?

20th Star: L Ethan Moreau. Yeah, aggressively and perhaps maliciously sending the team you captain into the shitter will get you that.

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