DETERRENCE. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
If I'm honest, the Edmonton Oilers had more than two problems in this game.
The first problem is that the team isn't very good. How many scoring chances did we give up off of random attacking zone mistakes? Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, and Taylor Hall all rooting around for the puck in the same corner, allowing the puck to squirt out and go the other way 4-on-2 for a Los Angeles goal. Tom Gilbert charging up to pinch, fanning on the puck completely while out of position, and getting burned on the ensuing odd man rush. Tom Gilbert doing pretty much the same thing to get burned again on another odd man rush. You probably get the point. This team played like I think: always ambitious, but intensely disorganized and full of glaring mistakes that makes the whole enterprise a waste of everybody's time.
The second problem is that this team is being run insanely. Take Steve MacIntyre, for example. He played 5:51 and made about a turnover every second. The fact that MacIntyre plays while Zack Stortini, an actual hockey player, sits in the press box is entirely bewildering. Except, of course, that these are the Los Angeles Kings! Home of Michal Handzus, who famously dislocated Ales Hemsky's shoulder early in the year, and Drew Doughty, who hipchecked Taylor Hall to the collarbone after Hall was caught crouched and admiring the delicate patterns of frost on the Staples Center ice. Surely a great heavyweight like MacIntyre would be a solid deterrence or, at least, an avenging angel who would dismember any poor soul that dared to mess with an Oiler.
Nope. Instead, MacIntyre just played like the failure he is. No hits, no fights, no vivisections. Doughty was so intimidated after cleaning Hall's clock that he scored a lovely goal in the third period, and Handzus was so terrified of being crushed by Edmonton's awful retribution that he nearly went knee-on-knee with Hall late in the game.
Deterrence? The only people the Oilers deterred in this game were their fans. The positives were there, hidden in the subtleties of the game, but the negatives were enormous, throbbing red lines, more gaudy than the purple and gold jerseys our vanquishers wore.
How many times does the "goons prevent injuries!" myth have to be exploded before people stop believing it? Steve MacIntyre hasn't prevented balls in either of his stints as an Edmonton Oiler. On a night like this, where the Oilers were being outmuscled and their star players were being thoroughly walloped, MacIntyre was unable to prevent anything. Even when Hall had his clock cleaned by Doughty, the only revenge came courtesy of Dustin Penner, who tried to rip Doughty's head off and eventually had to settle for knocking Wayne Simmonds out of the game. It was pretty cool, but it wasn't the sort of work you needed a goon around to do. Penner provided both power, pugilism, and a pretty nice goal when he slipped a cheeky little shot past Jonathan Bernier from behind the goal line. Good luck with that, MacIntyre.
I harp on MacIntyre because he was both ineffective as a player and indefensible as a lineup choice. He was, however, far from the Oilers' worst player in this one. He didn't even crack the reverse three stars, and wasn't really in contention. This loss was not a team effort: rather, the team was dragged down by a few real dogs and got some pretty decent games out of players who aren't usually core contributors.
Take Jeff Petry, or as I like to call him "Good Defense Man". For a rookie who wears a number in the fifties and only got called up after everybody else got hurt, it turns out Petry can bloody well play! He had a nice moment in the first period where he was marking Ryan Smyth behind the goal. Smyth's been around the block a couple of times and made better players than Petry look like a moron, but Petry was smart enough to play off Smyth without giving him too much room. Smyth was behind the goal and Petry was hanging around the puck, keeping Smyth from getting out and dangling his stick as if to tempt Smyth into trying a pass to Drew Doughty, near the corner. Smyth took the dare. Quick as a viper, Petry got his stick up and but for a weird skip off the ice would have picked Smyth's pass right off and turned the play up ice.
Petry does the little things right, and for a player of his experience that's a very big thing. My man Taylor Chorney also had a fine night on the blue line: freed from the shackles of the Jason Strudwick Experience, Chorney is an effective, sensibly unambitious defenseman who occasionally goes on attacking forays that left the Kings bamboozled and, naturally, led to Ladislav Smid running the power play because this team is run by morons.
MacIntyre aside, most of the crappy Oilers did all right for themselves. Liam Reddox picked up a dandy second assist doing a lot of the dirty work on Andrew Cogliano's goal, Jean-Francois Jacques made a couple hits without getting the puck but was mostly sensibly conservative, and Colin Fraser won more faceoffs than he lost (heady stuff for an Oiler). There was some good stuff in this game. For all my typical Sturm und Drang about how awful the Oilers are and there's no happiness in the world anymore, we did pretty well for a team that lost by three to a hapless club that just signed the future Kurtis Foster to a multi-grillion dollar contract extension. We even out-shot the Kings, and that doesn't happen every day.
So why did we lose big? Boy, do I ever have the recurring segment for you?!
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: D Tom Gilbert. My ragging on Tom Gilbert for wimpiness is a bit of a running joke. After all, he's not a physical defenseman and he makes a lot of money, therefore he must be useless. It's the law of the universe. So why do I put him 18th star on a night when, with the Oilers involved in a line scrum after the Doughty/Hall hit, Gilbert actually showed enough sandpaper to get involved and start grappling with some unthreatened but at least not unmolested Los Angeles King? If I pretend to hate Gilbert for not standing up for his teammates, and Gilbert stood up for his teammates, surely I should be giving him my imaginary Norris vote!
Well, I don't actually hate Gilbert for not standing up for his teammates. I dislike Gilbert because, in spite of his reputation as an effective first pairing defenseman, Gilbert spends a lot of time in awful high over his head. This game was no exception. Nary one of Tom's many, many pinches into the attacking zone went well, and two of them directly led to Los Angeles goals. Worse, the more he failed the more Gilbert pressed, charging again and again and constantly putting the rest of his teammates in horrible positions. Gilbert finished -4, which is not the easiest thing to do, and didn't make a single play of worth.
But Gilbert was all right in his own zone most of the time, and there are worse sins in hockey than gunning desperately for a goal when you're losing on the road. So yes, in spite of that panning I just gave him, Tom Gilbert is only eighteenth star.
19th Star: C Sam Gagner. Gagner was Gilbert without the good bits. They were both -4, it's true, but Gilbert played a lot more than Gagner so Sam finished well behind in the "minuses per minute" measurement I just made up. Gilbert also generated a pile more offense (i.e. Gilbert generated any offense whatsoever) and wasn't saddled with trying to win faceoffs: Gagner was down in Andrew Cogliano territory by winning five of thirteen draws.
Gagner was like Gilbert, except a little bit worse at everything. And also they do completely different jobs at entirely opposite positions, yeah, yeah, details. The point is that if I'm impartial, I can think of a few good plays Gilbert made, a few times he held the zone or made the right read and at least generated some offensive spirit. Gagner did not have a single one of those moments, and by the way somebody was worse than him.
20th Star: D Kurtis Foster. My Favourite Foster is really starting to get on my nerves.
Part of it's not his fault. Why do the Oilers keep running the power play through his CANNONADING DRIVE? When the puck comes to Foster at the point 5v4, you know one of two things are going to happen: he's going to shoot, or he's going to screw up. You don't even need to defend that! How often do good NHL goaltenders get beat by hard, unscreened slap shots from distance that are telegraphed with a wind-up so exaggerated it's from an '80s video game? And it's not like Foster can pass, or stickhandle, or skate, or in any sense mix things up so the Oilers might score a power play goal sometime this century.
Most of it, though, is definitely Foster's fault. The utter inability to contribute at even strength. The hapless skating that gives Los Angeles scoring chances they did nothing to earn, followed by imbecilic head-up-ass defense which allows the Kings to whip passes between his skates. He doesn't even hit hard, not really, since he's always so far out of position that he can't even make it to the player in time.
I don't like Kurtis Foster. He had an awful game. He did nothing right. He hardly ever does anything right. I know it's hard to tell sometimes when I'm being serious and sarcastic, so let me be absolutely clear on this point: Kurtis Foster is the worst regular player on the Edmonton Oilers. And he'll never get any better.