The Oilers came to Calgary for the second of back-to-back games for the third time in three meetings, and will leave Calgary with no points to show for their efforts yet again. Effort, of course, probably wasn't the problem, but this certainly wasn't the best game that the team has played. The Oilers were outshot 34-21 overall, and 22-11 while the game was tied, and I'll be very surprised indeed if Dennis King ends up telling us that the Oilers reached double digits in scoring chances.
Some of the problems came behind the bench. Magnus Paajarvi was a healthy scratch in order to get Darcy Hordichuk into the lineup, which is a poor decision no matter what, but even poorer when you've got Ben Eager in the lineup to provide whatever it is that goons are supposed to provide already.
The bench coaching also wasn't close to as diligent as it had been the night before. Last night, Smyth, Horcoff, and Hemsky were entrusted with a heavy load, while the kids were let loose in the offensive zone. Tonight, things were much more egalitarian. There was even one instance in which Tom Renney decided to go with Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Gagner for a DZ draw after a commercial break. Of course, Brent Sutter took that opportunity to get Jarome Iginla on the ice, a match-up that he was able to get for most of the game, something that would be easier to forgive if Horcoff didn't have the easiest end-zone start differential and Gagner the toughest.
But nothing describes how the night went better than the signature too-many-men penalty with five minutes to go, and Tom Renney's subsequent thinking-but-not-really-thinking decision to have Darcy Hordichuk serve the minor - I know he'd be my pick to join a rush coming out of the box. Jeepers. Some observations on specific plays and players after the jump.
Notes from the First Period:
- Just so Derek isn't the only one here banging this drum, Ryan Whitney is looking awfully slow, and it's a problem all over the ice. It obviously doesn't help him get into the play offensively, but it also hampers his game defensively, especially since he's not used to it. At least with a guy like Andy Sutton, he knows his limitations. Right now, Whitney doesn't.
- Ladislav Smid has developed into a really calm defenseman. There was one play in the middle of the period where Smid grabbed the puck in the high slot in the middle of a scramble and skated back into the corner before playing it off the glass and out. A really nice play to relieve the pressure when that's exactly what was needed.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has a long way to go in the defensive zone, but one thing that will help is his ability to think the game. At about the mid-point of the period he was stripped of the puck in the corner, but followed that play by marking a different player on his way to the net and denying that player access to the puck. His ability to process information quickly as situations change is so valuable, and with more experience, I'm confident that he'll excellent in the defensive zone.
- After Shawn Horcoff missed a pass from Ryan Smyth on a two-on-one, the play moved quickly the other way three-on-two. Horcoff came back as hard to even things out, but seemed to get a bit confused with the defenders on which guy to take and the Flames ended up with a nice chance. Still, I think Horcoff deserves credit on the play rather than scorn. If Smyth comes back hard too, there's no problem on the backcheck.
- In his first shift of the period, Ladislav Smid showed why he's a really good defensive defensemen. Most of the guys with that moniker really struggle to make quick decisions with the puck, but Smid doesn't. The puck came back to him three or four times in the same sequence and he made quick and varied decisions. When it was a pass, it was on the tape.
- I like the third line. With guys like Ales Hemsky, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the team has a lot of players looking to make things pretty. (That's not a complaint; they often succeed.) This third line doesn't do it. The game plan is simple and consistent. You get it deep and you get it to the net. They earned a couple of chances doing just that.
- Proof that Tom Renney doesn't believe in all traditional hockey wisdom: after Tom Kostopoulos scored (on the power play! Tom Kostopoulos!), Renney put the fourth line out for the all-important "shift after the goal". They got absolutely smoked.
- Speaking of traditional hockey wisdom, the relationship between drawing penalties and diving is crazy. Drawing penalties is good, which is why Iginla gave out high-fives when he was "tripped" near the end of the second period. Diving, however, is bad, which is why he decided to give Eric Belanger a face-full-of-glove for what he thought was a dive in the first. Which isn't to say Iginla is a bad player. He showed tremendous smarts by finding the soft spot above the slot on Calgary's second goal, and executed perfectly when he got the pass.
- During the first shift of the third period, Brendan Morrison beat Ryan Whitney to the inside and managed to get a backhand on net from the slot. Whitney seems like a great guy, so I'm hoping for his sake as much as the team's that his play this year isn't the new normal.
- The Oilers weren't getting things done, so Tom Renney decided to mix up the lines, and ended up with Ben Eager playing alongside Eric Belanger and Ales Hemsky. For me, that's got to be one of the weirdest combinations of the season.
- After Hemsky got back with Smyth and Horcoff, he had his best shift of the game. Not much came of it (in fact, he was eventually the cause of the puck leaving the zone), but he had the puck on his stick and was working to create offense. But that shift was about it from him. The CBC boys were jabbing him all night, and that often results in a tendency to look to look for the opposite of what they're saying, and while I've generally liked Hemsky's game this year, I don't think he was very good tonight.
- With five minutes to go, Theo Peckham was under no pressure and made a terrible giveaway that led to a near-breakaway, but his partner bailed him out. I feel like Peckham gives us one of those every game.