Here's the sort of season the Edmonton Oilers are having.
Jeff Deslauriers just played his 39th game of the season. No, don't hang yourself, I'm going somewhere with this. In those thirty-nine games, Jeff Deslauriers has three shutouts. That's one shutout every thirteen starts, playing behind a defense that needs all sorts of introduction.
In his best season as an Oiler, Hockey Hall of Famer Grant Fuhr averaged a shutout every 18.75 starts. Andy Moog never had more than one shutout in an Edmonton season. Bob Essensa's best Edmonton mark was one goal every nineteen starts. Of all the goaltenders of consequence in Edmonton's long NHL history, only Curtis Joseph and Tommy Salo posted shutouts more frequently than Jeff Deslauriers.
Why yes, I am saying that Jeff Deslauriers is, by one context-insensitive measure, the third-best goaltender in Edmonton Oilers history.
Come to think of it, since the Grebeshkov trade, have the Oilers had even a mediocre performance from their goaltending? Devan Dubnyk very nearly stole the show against the Nashville Predators in a losing effort and Deslauriers has shut the door, including his shutout tonight and a ballsy shootout victory late last week. Perhaps they were just playing possum all the time, hoping to Fall for Hall and convince the fans to let Tambellini trade some useless veterans making too much scratch. Maybe Steve Staios was even worse than we all suspected. Maybe Lubomir Visnovsky was the problem all along. Maybe Denis Grebeshkov shared that LSD blotter a little too freely in the dressing room.
What I'm saying, expressed a little more concisely, is, mathematically impossible though it may be, PLAYOFFS!
The Oilers did a lot of the things today that we always hope that they'll do but with which they never oblige us. Robert Nilsson, for example, tried. Not all the time but often enough, seeing up Marc Pouliot's goal and sending spasms of joy through the half-dozen remaining members of the Marc Pouliot fan club.It was Marc's fourth goal of the season, which in eighteen games puts him on pace for eighteen goals from the fourth line in a full eighty-two game campaign. Not that Marc would ever be able to play a full eighty-two game campaign, but it's a lovely thought.
Dustin Penner was nigh-invisible and the Oilers won without him. That hasn't happened since... well, a long damned time.
And the defense! Aspects of surprising tolerability there! Jason Strudwick was the Oilers' worst defenseman but he wasn't completely awful! Taylor Chorney kept it simple and reaped his just rewards, and Theo Peckham impressed me with poise and battle and courage and all those other things mediocre writers use to describe defensive defensemen who are just quietly effective without jumping to elbow guys in the face like Dion Phaneuf. The rest - the actual NHL defensemen, the men like Tom Gilbert and honestly I forget the rest, mere faces in the endless parade of mediocrity - neither stood out for their excellence nor stood out for their brutality, which, wiser men than I have said, is the mark by which to judge a blueliner.
Is it significant that, this very night, former Oiler Lubomir Visnovsky scored a highlight-reel goal, and his team lost? With small-sample-size rationalizations like this, I should work for the Journal.
It is difficult to think of an Oiler who was worse than "annoyingly inactive". Dustin Penner fell into that category with a vengeance. Mike Comrie. Ryan Potulny had one five-bell chance, pictured above, and muffed it, not achieving much otherwise but seemingly clearing the traffic in his own zone (I don't have the Corsi numbers and am certain I will be proven humiliatingly wrong). The Oilers just... played good hockey. They outshot New Jersey to the tune of 35-22, which is the kind of thing that usually happens to Edmonton.
It was disorienting. I feel kind of dizzy. Didn't that team trade for Ilya Kovalchuk at the same time we were dumping our decent defensemen for spare parts?
Finally, any post-game report would be amiss without mentioning two highlights for the Oilers, the Great White Hope and the Great White Fear. The latter scored another goal, the game-winner, making us dread even further the albatross of a contract Gilbert Brule is destined to be gifted, like manna from the gods. And the former picked up one of the hardest-working second assists in hockey, looked bedazzling playing on a line with Mini Magic Nilsson (who will make himself disappear) and the Oft-Injured Marc-Antoine Pouliot (his full legal name), and kept the vaunt of the New Jersey Devils bottled up like so much sludge in their rivers.
It was beautiful, and it's not often you can say that about a team that played the Jacques Lemaire-helmed New Jersey Devils. I feel tears pricking at the corner of my eyes.
And to all of those who whine that this has hurt our Fall for Hall-ability? Shove it. You play to win the game. You play to win the game.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: F Zack Stortini. A classic case of this award being given almost by default. Stortini wasn't bad. But he wasn't intimidating, he didn't make goofs like Andrew Peters afraid to take runs at guys, he took a silly holding penalty in the first period, and so on. His one TSN moment was a rather nasty injury he inflicted to old Oiler and friend to children everywhere Dean McAmmond. It's harsh on Stortini, I admit. Most of the games the Oilers have played, a performance like that would have been our tenth best insted of our third worst. The poor bastard.
19th Star: F Andrew Cogliano. Another rather awkward choice. He got an assist, for one thing, although it was basically by being present when Patrick O'Sullivan and Gilbert Brule hooked up. But his line showed very little apart from the goal and Cogliano was a critical reason why, seldom getting involved in the play and spending too often looking like he was thinking about heading to Hudson's and drinking with the douchebags.
Cogliano also gets docked for his horrendous faceoff performance: two wins, seven losses. Yes, it's Andrew Cogliano, his faceoff ineptitude isn't news. But Marc Pouliot spent most of the game playing out of position on the wing, won his only draw, scored a goal, and is a better faceoff man than Cogliano by a factor of a googol. It's true that Andrew Cogliano isn't a particularly motivated winger. But he's an even less effective centre, and if Pat Quinn is playing the kid on the dot just to massage his ego it has to stop now.
20th Star: F Dustin Penner. Mostly covered above: he just didn't seem to care today. He hasn't seemed to care much in the new year, and it's worrying in those rare games when his teammates are predominantly busting their asses and looking for the two points. Is he just taking the Fall for Hall really, really seriously? A guy like Penner will always be judged somewhat harshly because of his obvious gifts, and on a night when his comrades stepped up he stepped back. That's glaring.