The Edmonton Oilers on a long winning streak! It couldn't last and indeed it didn't.
But aren't teams on six-game winning streaks supposed to end with a bang? The Oilers could charge into Phoenix, lose 9-8 on five Shane Doan goals while getting 160 shots, then Nikolai Khabibulin does 160 shots on "After Hours". All around the NHL, sound observers nod and say "yes, that team lost heroically. They were men as men could be. And Taylor Hall didn't skate around uselessly while flapping his stick like Jani Rita with a head cold at all!"
Instead, the Oilers' loss was more awkward than a Scott Oake interview. Forty minutes of utter lameness, while Devan Dubnyk conceded a goal so dopey Mike Morrison is going to sue him for copyright infringement. The Oilers didn't seem entirely certain there was a hockey game on; the Jailbait Line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, and Taylor Hall were in full-on "third period of a World Juniors game against South Sudan" mode. I'd say they "lacked effort" but that implies that effort was a possibility. It would be like accusing a knob-hockey team of lacking effort.
And all this against the Phoenix Coyotes! Yeah, they're fifth in the West, but they're backstopped by Mike Smith, one of their better defensemen is Adrian Aucoin, and their leading scorer is Ray Whitney! They're overachieving like they're the Edmonton Oilers or something. The Quebec Nordiques-in-Waiting had such a pedestrian crowd out on Dollar Beer Night that their hilariously-named arena reverberated with shouts of "LET'S GO OILERS!"
Edmonton didn't even have the decency to lose Toronto Maple Leafs-style. If the game had ended 7-0 Phoenix I could have at least worked up some righteous anger. Instead Edmonton was lazy, and then they were losing, and then they clawed back a couple surprisingly enterprising goals when the Coyotes had all-but-stopped giving a toss. However, they weren't thoroughly incompetent. There were few moments of old-school eye-gouging horror which made the past four Oilers seasons so awfully memorable. Given the injury situation a few mistakes were excusable, while depth players like Corey Potter and Colten Teubert managed to keep their heads up.
It wasn't a horrendous game. That might have been the most horrendous thing of all. Even when the Oilers aren't all that bad they still manage to be the most frustrating team in the world.
So all good things came to an end, and they don't always come to an end with much dignity.
I should address the two Oilers' third-period goals, which were neat enough that they almost made up for the rest of the crap. Theo Peckham once scored ten goals in 53 OHL games, and he scored a lot of them the way he did tonight: cruise in front of the goal, get his stick on a shot in front of the goalie, and bingo bango bongo, faster than you can say "Mike Smith sucks" Magnus Paajarvi has a rare point and Teddy Peckman has a rarer goal. It's not often that NHL teams have defensemen cruise in front of the goalie, which is odd since defensemen tend to be big guys with good stick-eye coordination. Whether Peckham's goal was a designed play or just some heads-up hockey from Peckham and Paajarvi, it was nice.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins's goal was a pretty unremarkable poaching job: rebound bounced out towards Nugent-Hopkins at a bit of an angle, he swiped at it, and bingo bango bongo, faster than you can say "Mike Smith still sucks even though this goal actually came before the one I was previously talking about", the young first overall pick has his sixth. Why is this notable? Certainly not because it was a nice goal (heavens no!) and not because the marker spurred the Oilers on to fight for an equalizer.
It was good because it was the only decent moment the Jailbait Line had. Dennis King gave the kids a scoring chance differential of +2 to +3 and while Dennis is a bright guy I'm not sure where all those chances for came from. I mean, did they get many scoring chances? I don't recall them giving many up either; just lots of useless farting around and letting Phoenix have the puck too much. They actually played like some people think Linus Omark plays. Watching them was like watching the development of syphilis: there were no moments of utter dread but, when all was said and done, you're sick and insane.
Actually, that's a reasonably good metaphor for the whole game. No Oilers played conspicuously well: Potter, Peckham, and Teubert did their best, considering, but that's really not the greatest praise, is it? And no Oilers played conspicuously badly. Not that that's going to stop me.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: FW Lennart Petrell. Welcome to the Reverse Three Stars, Lennart! It's a tough assignment, being a rookie NHL forward asked to kill penalties, even against the Phoenix Coyotes. And it's an assignment that Petrell, on this night at least, blew wide open.
Petrell got the error on Phoenix's final goal when he felt the spirit of Steve Staios compelling him and, with the puck on his stick, tried to limply ring it off the boards to clear the zone rather than, oh, I don't freaking know, clearing the zone. For the rest of his penalty killing extravaganzas he mostly turned around, spinning in the wind as the Coyotes passed him to pieces. Petrell played less than ten minutes of hockey and I noticed him for almost every one of them: not in a good way.
He didn't get a lot of help. Eric Belanger was so statuesque the Oilers are going to put him on a plinth in front of the new downtown Greenwichvillageplex. Still, Petrell was the least competent and, therefore, gets the horns.
19th Star: D Ladislav Smid. Giving up a couple of penalties in what was once a close game, playing twenty minutes and basically relying on the forwards to bail you out, and looking at all times like he's about to impose himself on the game without ever quite doing it. It's the Ladislav Smid experience!
I was once a massive Ladislav Smid fan. I thought he looked like a young Barret Jackman and was going a long way towards erasing the stench of the trade that brought him here. Maybe it's the injuries, maybe it's the team, maybe he's just peaked... but since those days Smid hasn't gotten any better. Tom Renney seems to give Smid more responsibility almost out of habit because that's what you do with young defensive defensemen, and Darryl Reaugh keeps pumping Smid's tires, but the kid's 25 years old now! He's older than me and I'm not an NHL prospect! And on this night, I might have been a better choice on the blueline.
20th Star: FW Taylor Hall. Let's face it, Taylor Hall gets marked harder for being Taylor Hall. Throwing that dumb pass in the last minute which would have led to an empty-net goal if not for Nugent-Hopkins's lovely save would have gotten anyone onto the Reverse Three Stars, of course. But other than that he was just crappy. Not terrible, not turnover-prone. He didn't juggle the puck like Michael Jackson's baby or take out Ryan Smyth with an errant slap shot or demand a trade to Winnipeg. He just sucked.
And the Oilers needed him to not suck! Nugent-Hopkins was doing reasonably, Jordan Eberle was at least trying to create chances, and Taylor Hall was mentally in a Hudson's trying to bang some bimbos. He was concentrating less than he did on that open-book boating test he failed twice.
So if Ben Eager played Taylor Hall's game... and actually, come to think of it, he pretty much did... he'd have gotten away with it. Instead Taylor Hall played it. Twentieth star for you. Score a hat trick next time, dummy.