Wednesday January 26th seemed to be a great day to be an Oilers' fan. Sports shows, both television and radio were discussing favourite Wayne Gretzky memories to celebrate The Great One's 50th birthday. At the same time, many people were looking at the current day Edmonton Oilers and the youngest rookies, of course with Taylor Hall getting the most attention. It does seem a little early to be comparing Hall and Gretzky, but people were comparing Hall to Messier earlier this month, it's just bound to happen. Yes, Wednesday overall seemed to be a great day.
Since most of the afternoon was spent listening to memories of great hockey legends, I found it interesting that the Oilers would play the Dallas Stars that night. The Dallas Stars have to be one of my strongest hockey memories as a youth. The goalie chant "Bel-fore" and the Oilers seemingly always in a life or death situation playing the Stars is something that has always stuck with me. There seems to be a real rivalry that becomes more and less important through the years. I wouldn't say that the Stars are a team the Oilers can't beat, because they can, they are just a team that the Oilers seem to have to compete and battle with.
I wonder how the people of Dallas and surrounding area felt? This was a fairly early start to the game, but from my experience the people of Dallas love a party. They tailgate and have a party on the large "patio" in front of the American Airlines Center (which is my favourite arena so far) before hockey games, so why did the lower bowl look so empty? The final attendance numbers released were 13,875 and it did appear that more fans had made their way to the rink by the end of the game.
The game started out by reminding us that Nikolai Khabibulin has lost his past 10 straight starts. Not a win for the Oilers starting goaltender since December 16th. On the other end of the ice, Kari Lehtonen who is seventh in the league for wins.
Jamie Langenbrunner took the game's first penalty for interference on Sam Gagner. The Oilers' power play continued to suffer, but fans can be relieved that the Oilers did manage to get two shots on net during the man advantage.
Heading directly for the net from the bench, Adam Burish put the Stars on the board with a goal that as ray Feraro said, Khabibulin should have stopped, especially since the puck bounced off of the post and in. I have to agree with that assessment. Khabibulin looked like he had difficulty reading the play and reacting. Maybe he's just feeling a little rusty and whatever kept him out for so long might still be an issue. It might be the bottlenecking at the top of the lottery list that made the Oilers coaching staff decide to ice the lineup they chose, or it just may be the group that at the last practise looked as though they would be the most effective. Also, the Oilers are paying Khabibulin a lot of money, so to have him sit on the bench too often might just seem silly.
As soon as the goal was scored, the TSN feed informed us that the Stars are 22-2-1 when scoring first. Super awesome.
There were fights, and soon after the Dallas goal. Shockingly enough, Steve Ott was not involved. The whistle blew as the puck dropped for a face-off at centre ice and Jim Vandermeer and Krys Barch immediately started fighting. The linesmen weren't as patient as many Oilers fans, and broke up the fight after Vandermeer had Barch on the ice, momentarily. Although some might not, I'm an Oilers fan, and I give the win to Vandermeer. Perhaps because the first fight didn't last very long, Colin Fraser and Matt Niskanen started fighting right after the first fight. In this one, even being an Oilers fan, I have to admit that Niskanen was the victor. Neither fight sparked any further scoring in the period, but even if it did, more fights were still likely to come.
The second period started out where the last one ended. The pace of the game continued to be quick, hits were thrown, players were beaking and Dustin Penner was quickly called for hooking. On the ensuing Stars power play the Oilers got about halfway through before looking like they were in trouble. Unable to effectively clear the puck, Khabibulin directed the puck to the side where it was quickly picked up by Brendan Morrow and fired into the net to make it 2-0 Stars.
Apparently going for a natural hat-trick, Morrow scored his second on the night when the Oilers slowed down and seemingly no one was in position. Jim Vandermeer didn't anticipate the play and was too late to get in between Morrow and the Oilers net, while Khabibulin could not shift to the open side of the net in time either. So, that's right, 3-0 Stars.
The Oilers did not roll over and sleep at this point. Ladislav Smid may or may not come across to you as a player that likes to trash talk, but according to many Oilers players he does. It was not surprising to see Smid get tied up with a few Stars players. Nothing of consequence happened, just some shoving and taunting. The next fight would be between Zack Stortini and Krystofer Barch and it was long at a 1:25 in length. The win should go to Barch, but neither player hit the ice. The positive, if this can be seen as a positive, was Barch getting an extra 10 minute misconduct penalty for taunting Stortini as they two were separated. During the fight, Stortini was protecting his face and neck as Barch threw some hooks. So, as Barch was being escorted away, he covered his face and continued to speak to Stortini. I'm sure we can imagine what sorts of things were being said, ultimately it doesn't matter though. It was 4 on 4 hockey.
In a seemingly odd and short incident Sam Gagner dropped the gloves with Brian Sutherby. Gagner had been checked from behind, and had something to say about that. When both players turned to face each other, Sutherby hit Gagner again, but this time hitting his chin. Ouch. There wasn't a fight, just some dropped gloves and some conversation.
Continuing with the fights and physical play, Theo Peckham cross checked Brad Richards and James Neal took offence to that and skated over to show Peckham he was not happy. This is was not a long and involved fight, but it did put both players in the box. Neal also received a 2 minute instigator penalty as well as an unsportsmanlike conduct. This put the Oilers on the power play.
Going into Wednesday night's game, the Oilers were 0 and 19 on the PP in Dallas. Dustin Penner's power play goal from Taylor Hall and Shawn Horcoff was the first scored by the Oilers in Dallas since November 2008 and put the Oilers back into the game with the score now 3-1. The Oilers excitement didn't end there however, Khabibulin trying to unnerve the Stars offence was called for tripping with one minute remaining in the period.
By the end of the period there were 15 penalties called, 7 for the Oilers and 8 for the Stars. Some were coincidental, some were majors some were minors, but it still seems like a lot.
The third period started with the Stars still on the power play with a minute remaining. The Oilers successfully killed of the Khabibulin penalty, which Hall served and play continued. I was beginning to think that the fights and penalties of the second period, of course that is the point when the play changes pace. Ladislav Smid took a 2 minute elbowing penalty and at the whistle, Jean-Francois Jacques took a roughing penalty during the skirmish that resulted from Smid's elbowing. Somehow in all that happened, Gagner was also assessed a 10 minute misconduct and left the ice for the dressing room. This gave the Stars a 5 on 3, and Oilers' fans heartburn or reasons to hit the bottle. Of course I kid, it's not all that grave, the Oilers were not protecting a lead, and they were not within one so Oilers fans just took a deep breath and hoped for the best.
Midway through the 5 on 3 kill for the Oilers, Morrow was assessed a 2 minute minor for slashing on Khabibulin as he dove for the puck at the goaltenders feet. On the same play Khabibulin looked like he was going to drop his glove and fight Morrow. Instead, he just hit Morrow and was given a roughing penalty. Thankfully that did it for penalties for the night. The Oilers did successfully kill off the remainder of the Star's power play, and Oilers fans should be pleased with that.
So there you have it folks, the final game before the All-Star break and the Oilers walk away with another loss. Though my prediction for a winning streak did not come true, with two power play goals on two games, the Oilers have a streak there.
Okay, take aways and positives for the night. Lets start with the bad news first shall we? The Oilers dropped to 31% overall for faceoff wins. Ouch, that is getting harder to swallow. The best for the night, going one for one each were Zack Stortini and once again Ryan Jones. Talk about your versatile players! The worst for the night was Sam Gagner at 13% going 1 for 8. After that, you're looking at Shawn Horcoff with 23%, or 3 for 13. Andrew Cogliano and Colin Fraser's 38% for the night suddenly doesn't look quite as bad so there is our first positive.
Shots for the night had the Oilers ahead, 35 to 21 for the Stars. The Oilers are still having some issues beginning plays with puck control but seem to be making the most of their time with the puck.
The Oilers definitely played with heart and determination. There were some penalties that the Oilers should not have taken, and I question why no Stars player received a penalty when two Oilers received minor penalties and one received a misconduct. As our Bruce McCurdy said "were they arguing with themselves?" The Oilers did make the most of what they were given for the night however, only allowing one goal while on the penalty kill.
The last time the Oilers played the Stars it seemed as though the Oilers let the Stars slow down the speed of the game most of the time, of course that was just my opinion from the stands. In this game, both teams seemed contented to allow the game to occur at a quick pace, minus all of the stoppages for physical play. There is definitely bad blood between these two teams, and this will surely continue through until the next meeting. Where was Steve Ott I say? That guy likes to talk, and chirp, and taunt and yet he was not involved in any of the fights and he was not a major player in any of the minor altercations. What gives?
Despite the speed of the game, I found it strange that Linus Omark and Magnus Paajarvi did not have stellar games. With a fast paced game, the skilled Swedes should have been able to dazzle the fans and scored some highlight reel goals.
Overall the Oilers had a good showing, even if the score didn't go their way. With nearly a week off the Oilers will now be able to rest, practice and regroup for their next game, one against the up and coming Los Angeles Kings.