I don't think I've ever been as excited for the end of the season. Come to think of it, I doubt the Oilers have either. Certainly, the skaters on the ice this afternoon were eager to get the hell out of Dodge.
Unfortunately, that left Devan Dubnyk in a rather vulnerable position. He was in goal, you see, and around about the puck drop in the second period most of the Oilers seem to have decided that they'd done their job for the day and could go back to fantasizing about Ethan Moreau getting into an accident with farm machinery or whatever the hell it is they do with their spare time. But poor young Dubnyk, unlike many of these idiots, has something to play for: he is only twenty-three years old, we both know the Oilers couldn't move Nikolai Khabibulin even if they wanted to, so it comes down to whether next year's backup will be Dubnyk, Jeff Deslauriers, or neither one.
And the Oilers, as a group, decided that this amazing young man between the pipes did not deserve their best effort. Mike Comrie was generally solid although not always that intense. Tom Gilbert, Fernando Pisani, Ryan Whitney, and Marc Pouliot, among the regulars, gave their all every shift. Everyone else? There for the post-game meal and no other reason.
So Devan Dubnyk faced a total of fifty-five shots from a team that, lest we forget, is a fairly marginal playoff club more known for defensive fortitude. Somehow, through some miracle of athleticism and talent and, bluntly, luck, he kept the barn doors closed until midway through the third period. Then the Kings got their rightly-deserved goals, the game went to a plodding overtime, and in the shootout Ryan Potulny and Shawn Horcoff combined to put Los Angeles out of their misery after Dubnyk robbed Jack Johnson blind and made an easy pad stop off of the late, lamented Ryan Smyth.
One game left, and if our players dog it in Anaheim tomorrow like they did today, there's no limit on what horrors might unfold.
Poor Dubnyk never seems to have it easy. The Oilers have never allowed fewer than twenty-six shots in a game Dubnyk both started and finished, and a lasting memory of this season will be an increasingly weary young goaltender kicking out pucks as the Oiler defense skates around with their thumbs up their butts. He doesn't always help himself, of course, but he did this game and has lately: in his last six appearances, one has been abysmal (hello, Dallas!) and the rest have been varying degrees of terrific.
It's easy, almost irresistible, to focus on Dubnyk, one of the few positives in a meaningless game we had no right to win. But on another night the stories could have been quite different. The Oilers' five-on-three in the third period was probably the worst example of the genre I've ever seen, and I was around for the 2006 playoffs (where I made a signature image for the old Oilfans board entitled "Craig Simpson's 5-on-3s Made Easy".)
The ineptitude on display tonight transcends the worst of the Craig Simpson years. The Oilers not only failed to get a shot on goal, they failed to even gain the zone during fifty-four seconds of two-man advantage. Mike Comrie, he of the bagging a brace tonight, got stood up at the Kings blueline and wimpily turned the puck over like he'd never meant to dare oppose the mighty Kings three-man defense. The Oilers hardly even tried to dump it in. Well, they may have, it was hard to tell because their puck control was so loosy-goosey as to be non-existent. But they probably didn't, and those fifty-four seconds ticked away marked only by my howling laughter at how transcendently terrible the team of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey had become at getting puck possession when you outnumbered the other guys by two.
But a funny thing happened on my way to the lunatic asylum. Jarret Stoll's penalty ended and the Oilers ran out their nobody players to kill off the rest of their one-man advantage. Marc Pouliot was there. Charles Linglet. Aaron Johnson. I think I saw a bit of Ryan Jones. These forwards were surprisingly effective, getting something resembling a cycle going and moving the puck the right direction. Aaron Johnson even started things off with a clever little pinch, battling in the offensive corner while Pouliot stood on the blue line looking after affairs. It didn't score or generate a five-bell chance, but it was pretty nice.
Of course, Linglet had earlier humiliated himself on Edmonton's own penalty kill, rushing to get into the play rather than rushing to the bench after a 5-on-3 had become a 5-on-4 and being posterized by Dustin Brown on Los Angeles's long-overdue powerplay goal. And those three forwards in question played were, with Zack Stortini, the four least-played skaters in the Oilers lineup. My boy Pouliot was even on Corsi, 50% on the faceoff circle, had a tough set of assignments in the defensive zone, and was surrounded by teammates playing hysterically badly and he only got in 12:40 of game time, which just goes to show that Pat Quinn is
completely fucking senile watching a different game than the rest of us coaching the Oilers his way.
Linglet was pretty awful, though, so Quinn gets a pass on that one.
I have a fun game I like to play sometimes. I say to myself "which Oilers, in their current role, would I take on my hypothetical team that's going to win the Stanley Cup?" I'd welcome Pouliot, of course, as almost the anthropomorphic personification of the ideal high-value low-event fourth-line centre when healthy. Zack Stortini was invisible tonight but as a cheap fourth line ruffian who is also good at hockey he has few equals. Dustin Penner is definitely worth having although he, too, was bored out of his skull (aside from one lovely sequence in the first period where he slammed Justin Williams into the ice on a Kings rush in the most blatant uncalled display of interference I've seen for some time, then skated away as if nothing was wrong). I'm generally down on Tom Gilbert but it's been hard to argue with his play lately.
That's my list. Everyone else is either the wrong player or in the wrong position making the wrong money.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three:
I'd like to take a different tack to the Reverse Three Stars for this one. Rather than tell you which of these awful players are the awful-est and be typically sarcastic when explaining why, I'm going to take you through the event which, more than anything, personified why the nineteenth and twentieth stars got to where they are today.
There are about three minutes left in the third period. The Los Angeles Kings have killed the Edmonton Oilers and are having their way with the body, yet the good guys still hold a 3-2 lead thanks to Devan Dubnyk's heroics. Our two intrepid losers have hopped over the boards about thirty seconds ago. This isn't a terribly long shift for them: they both stayed out for 2:16 back in the second period. Which perhaps makes their ensuing failure all the more dramatic.
There are two of them, an old one and a young one. The old one skates into the corner to take on tonight's Master of the High Events, Fredrik Modin, in a race to the puck. Fredrik Modin is very slow and a long way out. So far out that Devan Dubnyk actually skates most of the way to the puck, as if to ask the old one "you got this? I can take, this, man. You sure you've got this one?" But the old one ushers the goaltender back, and of course nearly loses the race to the puck, just grappling it away from his opponent who, lest we forget, is still Fredrik Modin.
The old one manages to do his job, somehow, getting it to Dustin Penner who slings the puck around the boards to Andrew Cogliano who tries to take it out. But, this being Andrew Cogliano, he turns it over, actually giving the puck up as he sees a hit coming from Wayne Simmonds and letting it squirt out to Rob Scuderi at the point.
Scuderi bombs in a slap shot, which Dubnyk saves but kicks out a long rebound on. Now. This is where the young one comes in. The old one is in no position to help, as he is standing alone in front of Dubnyk essentially screening his own goaltender. The rebound kicks out past the old one, but the young one is not in position to gather the rebound. So he can use his not-inconsiderable speed to go after Michal Handzus, bearing down on that puck like a runaway freight train. Or he can get his stick out and try to interfere with Handzus, or he can yell to the old one "you useless piece of shit, pick up your man". What he can't do is exactly what he did: lunging out, leaving his feet, and trying to poke a bouncing puck on choppy California-in-April late-third-period ice while putting himself completely out of the play whatever might result even if he does manage to hit the bullseye and actually make meaningful contact on that puck.
He does not make meaningful contact on that puck, and it winds up right on the stick of Handzus. The old one is still there, in pretty much the exact position he was before, seemingly unaware that there is, in fact, a hockey game on and that he should probably so something about the Slovakian in that prime scoring position.
He is also still screening Devan Dubnyk, but the old one is very old and no longer skates so well or, apparently, at all.
He leans towards Handzus, putting shoulder to shoulder as Handzus turns to shoot. What, precisely, the old one expected to achieve with this is between him and his coaches. He winds up achieving very little, and Handzus puts the puck between Dubnyk's legs. Overtime.
They are your nineteenth and twentieth stars. They are the worst defensive pairing in Oilers history. They are making me old before my time. They were also out for the previous goal, which was perhaps even more slobberingly poorly executed but also less convenient narratively. They are Taylor Chorney and Jason Strudwick.
(18th Star: F Charles Linglet. Sorry, Chuck. Maybe there's a reason you were a 27-year-old American league lifer until this season.)