Whoever came up with this "playoffs" idea had it right. The fans of the teams that are worth watching, get to keep on watching, at least for a week or two. Those of us whose teams aren't fit to watch, no longer have to.
Alas, this season's end comes months too late for long-suffering Oilers fans. The Oil's last gasp came way back on December 11, when they roared from behind to beat St. Louis 5-3 and put an exclamation point on the magic carpet ride that was a 5-0-0 road trip. Alas, that was to be their last Real road win of the season! 24 road games since then, 20 regulation losses and 4 overtime ties. (Oilers did officially win 2 of the 4 shootouts, if you count those, but they didn't win at hockey in a single one of those 24 games) Add to that a long futility streak at home, and as the old saw goes, there was nowhere else to play the games.
Four months to the day after that seasonal high point, the Oilers limped into Anaheim to close out this sorry season, and limped out on the wrong end of a 7-2 beatdown. The game encapsulated the Oilers season in 60 minutes: uneven effort, horrid goaltending, miserable defence, popgun offence, breakdowns, breakdowns, breakdowns.
It was a season that started not without promise just six months ago. WTF happened? Let's start by comparing the line-up from the season opener with the one that closed the season tonight.
Jacques - Horcoff - Hemsky
O'Sullivan - Comrie - Stone
Penner - Brule - Cogliano
Moreau - Gagner - Stortini
Souray - Visnovsky
Grebeshkov - Gilbert
Smid - Staios
Moreau - Horcoff - Pisani
Penner - Potulny - Cogliano
Comrie - Stortini - O'Sullivan
Jones - Pouliot - Linglet
Whitney - Gilbert
Strudwick - Chorney
Arsene - Johnson
Just 8 players (bolded) played in both games, and virtually all of them saw their roles change significantly over the course of the season. (Ethan Moreau on the first line? Egads) Of the other 11 guys who opened the season, 8 - Khabibulin, Souray, Smid, Hemsky, Jacques, Stone, Brule, and Gagner - are hurt, and most of them have been for quite a while. The other 3 - Grebeshkov, Visnovsky, Staios - were purged in the three days between the Olympics and the trade deadline. Others came and went, or came and got hurt; in all the Oilers went through 40 roster players over the course of the 82 games. Unfortunately nowhere near enough of them were qualified NHLers.
A few observations of tonight's wind-up after the jump:
Let's start with the miracle stat of the night. Patrick O'Sullivan posted an impressive +2 to close out the season. Yeah, that's right, +2 in a 7-2 loss. Never mind that one of the plusses came 2 seconds after he jumped on the ice and 2 zones away, that's just a detail. With his impressive showing that included a team-leading 3 giveaways, POS raised his plus-minus rating to a still sorry -35, the worst in the history of the Oilers. Nobody else has ever posted as low as -30, although this season O'Sullivan was just one of a dozen Oilers who were -15 or worse. He had company, for sure.
Among the biggest offenders - or smallest defenders, as the case may be - was Taylor Chorney, who finished the season with another dreadful game, posting -3 to finish the season at -21 in just 42 GP. Chorney posted impressive home-road splits - he was Even in 20 home games, but -21 in just 22 road games. His partner Jason "Also In Frame" Strudwick was more consistent (-2 yesterday, -2 today) but he was just as bad. Pat Quinn saw fit to reward them by putting them out together on the last powerplay of the season, and they rewarded him by allowing a brutal shorthanded marker, the 278th and last goal allowed by the Oilers this season. That's fully 15 goals worse than Toronto, the 29th best defensive club.
Alas, that shortie cost Dustin Penner his chance of becoming only the second player and first human to lead the Oilers in goals, assists, points, and plus. Penner finished the season at +6, one behind Hemsky and Whitney. Of course the team leaders only played 41 Oiler games between them while Dustin played the full 82. To have a plus of any size is a spectacular performance on this club.
Meanwhile, the new fourth line of Marc Pouliot between Ryan Jones and Charles Linglet each finished up -3 in under 10 minutes of work apiece. Tough night at the office. Pouliot had a few good moments along the way since finally recovering from his extended bout of pubitis, but tonight wasn't one of them. Jones looked OK at times, but Lingling's cup o' coffee tasted even worse than Tim Horton's. 5 GP, 0-0-0, -5. That's zero-sum accounting at its harshest.
Of course not all of tonight's minuses were entirely deserved, as Jeff Deslauriers ended the season with a real stinker. He was beaten seven ways from Sunday, and almost all seven ways were bad. The first goal was a nice quick shot, but after that pretty much all the goals had an odour to them. There was one long floater from the point that beat him high glove, one greasy rebound, no fewer than three goals high to the short side (two blocker, one glove side) and another through the five hole while he was dropping. George Parros of all people beat him with a long wrist shot that found the inside of yet another lost post. Then when it couldn't get any worse, Kyle Chipchura notched the shorthanded tally to close out the scoring on a play which saw JDD using his catching glove to grab the goal post FFS, and the shot hit his arm and went in. I don't think I've ever seen that one before, mind you I've only been watching goals and goalies since 1963. That stinker completes the video catalog, and this off season JDD will release his instructional video: 38 Different Ways to Sieve One In. Chapter 38: "How to finally figure out how to not lose your post, and potential consequences."
On a positive note, the club's only decent defence pairing, Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert, produced again, Whitney posting 1-1-2 while Gilbert notched one assist. That Gilbert's game completely turned around after Whitney's arrival can be seen in the remarkable fact that he scored more points in his last 11 games (16) than he did in the first 71 (15). Hopefully Tom will get an invite to play for Team USA at the Worlds. He was one guy heating up as the season wound down.
Another bright light was my man Zack Stortini. Playing centre between the defensively weak Mike Comrie and the defensively nonexistent Patrick O'Sullivan, Zorg played a real strong two-way game. His night's work, a solid 14:27, featured 5 of the Oilers' 10 blocked shots, a couple of those where he really sold out to make the play. Blocked one with his hand that hurt, dove to block another dangerous shot with his upper body, then later on that shift almost crashed face first into the boards in the offensive corner battling for a loose puck. In Game 82, when a whole lot of teammates had mailed it in, this clumsy bugger was playing his heart out; it's the only game he knows. At the good end of the ice he contributed 1 shot, made a beautiful pass which Comrie just failed to convert, and created some mayhem on the edge of the crease which contributed to Comrie's goal. He went a tidy 8/12=67% on the dot, and wound up the night at +1. Incredibly, that raised Zorg's season total to +3. That's no mean feat for a guy playing 77 games for a club with a -70 goal differential; let's just say it wasn't the Stortini line that was costing us games.
The most positive note of all is that this long, sorry season has finally drawn to a close. Let the reeling begone; let the healing begin.