Edmonton - Chicago post-game: Mismatch

Trade deadline day is always fun (if you don't mind long stretches of sheer boredom while panels of "experts" opine about nothing), but why on Earth does the NHL schedule games that same night? They're always anticlimactic, and often short-change the paying customer with a substandard product.

Such was certainly the case Wednesday when the already-overmatched Edmonton Oilers went into Chicago to face the powerful Blackhawks with 4 raw rookies on their blueline and another one between the pipes. This situation, already grim with injuries to Nikolai Khabibulin, Sheldon Souray and Ladislav Smid and the Monday trade of Denis Grebeshkov, was exacerbated by a couple of deadline-day trades. The Oilers dealt a pair of veteran defencemen in Lubomir Visnovsky and Steve Staios, for a couple of blueliners who had no opportunity to make it to Chicago in time for the game. Thus the Oilers called up NHL neophytes Dean Arsene and Johan Motin to join the trio of rooks called up earlier in the week: D Theo Peckham, D Taylor Chorney, and G Devan Dubnyk. With just 56 games of NHL experience among them, all 5 were playing in the AHL last weekend.

The Hawks meanwhile honoured six players who played in the final four of the Olympic Games last weekend. The pregame ceremony included zero Oilers not because the Hawks were being rude, but because the Oilers had no such players dressed for the game. Oiler Olympians Visnovsky and Grebeshkov had both been dealt, while Ryan Whitney had not yet arrived. Seeing this disparity led me to predict a 6-0 scoreline. The score wound up a little closer than that at 5-2, but the game itself was as onesided as I've seen all year.

Final shots on goal were a lopsided 47-14. At even strength the Hawks attempted 65 shots, the Oilers just 18, for a net Corsi of -47. With the singular exception of the Penner-Gagner-Nilsson line the Oilers were overwhelmed at every turn. Even with an AHL blueline behind him, Gagner somehow was on the ice for 10 shot attempts for and just 6 against at even strength for a well-nigh-astonishing Corsi rating of +4; while he was on the bench the same numbers stood at +8/-59 = -51! Penner posted a +1 by this metric, and Nilsson a still-respectable -4. The only other Oiler in negative-single-digits was Arsene at -8; he had had the foresight to show up when the game was already half over, due to travel issues. The other 14 Oiler skaters all clocked in between -13 and -21 by this metric.

By scoring chances things were hardly better. Dennis King at MC79hockey logged the low-event first period as an even steven +4/-4; but after that it was all one-way traffic. The second period saw the scoring chances at 17-2 Chicago, with the Oilers somehow capitalizing on both of their chances to take a 2-2 tie to the room. The third period featured more of the same, a 15-1 edge for the Hawks, who managed to convert 3 of those chances to win the game going away.

Particularly overmatched was one Taylor Chorney, the guy seemingly tabbed by the Oilers to succeed Denis Grebeshkov on the blue. Well, "succeed" is the wrong word, implying as it does actual "success". Not so much for Chorney: in 16:03 of even strength play tonight, shot attempts were 21-2 against; shots on goal 14-1 against; goals 3-0 against. Chorney is now -13 after just 23 NHL games this year. In case you think this is a fluke, he is -20 in 32 AHL games. In 2008-09 Chorney was a team worst -29 in 68 GP in Springfield, while he posted a most impressive -4 in a 2-game big-league tryout. The man is a Minus Machine.

Speaking of which, my man Patrick O'Sullivan posted another -2 tonight matching last night's output, and it was a well-earned -2 given his Corsi of -20 on the night. POS has developed a little separation on Shawn Horcoff for the league "lead" in minus, and now stands at -32 for the season, the Worst minus total ever achieved by an Oiler in the 30-year history of the franchise. Besides another night of even-strength failure, O'Sullivan also contributed directly to the Hawks' powerplay goal that put this baby to bed, when he made a beautiful touch pass to Chicago's Dustin Buffalo on the edge of the crease. He should try that on our powerplay.

On the bright side, Devan Dubnyk performed pretty darn well in holding the Hawks down to single digits. A couple of pucks strangely found the middle of the net, but Dubnyk made a large number of good-to-excellent saves, showing good lateral movement in the process. The kid may never win an NHL game - he's been thrown to the wolves quite a few times already - but he deserves props for his effort tonight. In fact, effort wasn't the problem throughout the line-up ... the issue here is talent. Or lack of same.

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