So many stories going into this game. The traditional, tired story lines: Oilers' lack of power play goals, poor penalty kill, Khabibulin with his 14 game pointless record, and the 30th place ranking in the NHL.
Steve Tambellini addressed the team Monday behind closed doors. He told the team that it was OK for them to win, that the top pick isn't that important. Well that's what we've been told. Wins would be nice going forward, but like so many of you, I want something to cheer for or about. I want to see goals, I want to be wowed by rookie play and I want to see signs of player development not just frustration.
Whether it was the pep talk by Tambellini, the current crippled state of the Dallas Stars, the extreme frustration felt by the Oilers' themselves, or some combination, this game was exactly what the Edmonton Oilers and their fans needed. Apparently this is also something that the San Jose Sharks' fans needed too.
So it seems the bad play as of late from the Oilers has broken Sportsnet. Lovely. Through the Dallas feed, then the Sportsnet, the first period was a lot better than it could have been. Mind you if you are Bruce McCurdy you were confident that this would be a win this morning and so were delighted with the results. Jean-Francois Jacques has finally started looking like the player he is supposed to be. I thought that Jacques should have been sent down before Zack Stortini, but Jacques might have gotten the message that he might be on the move if Gilbert Brule returns on Thursday. Jacques was actually hitting and playing a physical game. We'll have to see if it was enough.
Nikolai Khabibulin had a few good saves in through the first twenty, his most notable on Brenden Morrow. Kari Lehtonen didn't have the same results with the Oilers best scoring chance. Trevor Daley was called for a hooking penalty on Jordan Eberle, but this one was different from a traditional Oilers power play, the Oilers got a shot on net! OK, I kid, but 4 seconds after the penalty expired, Jordan Eberle scored with a perfect pass from Sam Gagner beside the net, and Oilers fans were elated! The Oilers had the lead for shots, beating the Stars 11-7.
The second period was even better, and who would have seen that coming? The Oilers were able to take the momentum and energy from the first period and keep that going, well after approximately 7 minutes at the beginning of the period when the Oilers were unable to get a shot. Mark Fistrik took the Star's second hooking call of the night, but what happened next was truly a mystical experience. On the Oilers power play, and a feed from Tom Gilbert and Shawn Horcoff, Taylor Chorney scored his first NHL goal. That's right, a slap shot from the right hash marks, through a [small] crowd and in the net for a power play goal. The first since the January 26th game against the Dallas Stars when Dustin Penner broke the last power play goal drought. Chorney joins Eberle in the first NHL goal scored at home for the 2010-11 season.
The Oilers soon had a third power play, but the Stars successfully killed their too many men penalty. The Oilers were giving the puck to Chorney, his shots just didn't make it through. Shawn Horcoff took the next penalty for tripping. You had to know that because the Oilers had a power play goal, they were going to allow a goal while on the penalty kill. Loui Eriksson easily split the Oilers defence and surged through the Oilers' zone to beat Khabibulin but without much speed, making it a 2-1 game.
The Oilers had their fourth power play on the night when Tom Wandell was called for tripping. Shawn Horcoff with 30 seconds left on the man advantage, with a tape to tape pass from Ales Hemsky got the Oilers second power play goal of the night. This is what fans needed, this is exciting, this is something to cheer about.
The fun didn't end with the second period, and it didn't take long to get better in the third. Twenty eight seconds in, Ales Hemsky, the Hemsky we vaguely remember with a feed from Shawn Horcoff and a slick backhand shot made it 4-1 Oilers. It is almost a full moon, but there has to be something else. Yes, maybe the temporary, hobbled state of the Dallas Stars, but still.
Jacques took the first penalty of the third period for interference. I love watching Oilers games on Sportsnet because the commentators are clearly Oilers fans. When the Oilers are winning, and everything Kevin Quinn and Louie Debrusk says makes you want to believe that the Oilers are a great team things are good. When the Oilers are struggling and the commentators are trying to convince you that everyone's play is exceptional, it's hard to take. It seems that there are still exceptions when the Oilers are winning. Kevin Quinn seems to believe that Jacques has been doing his job all along, and that the interference call on Jacques was unfortunate but bound to happen because of the style of game Jacques plays, I would really like to know when Jacques has been playing this style of game earlier this season. Mind you, this is the same team that has not seen anything wrong with the play of Khabibulin at any point, in any game all season long.
The next penalty was another call on an Oiler. Jordan Eberle was called for holding, so the Oilers' penalty kill went to work for only the third time of the evening. Remarkably, this was another successful kill, and the Oilers soon after received their fifth opportunity on the power play when Mark Fistric was called for cross checking. Lightning would strike not once, but twice in Rexall Tuesday night, and it seems that would be all. The Oilers would have to be OK with just two power play goals. Not even a late slashing call on James Neal (15 seconds left in the period) saw the Oilers get that elusive third power play goal. Of course I kid, two is far more than any of us could have asked for, or were expecting.
So, the Oilers won just their second game at home of 2011. They score not one, but two power play goals. Khabibulin breaks his 14 game pointless record and starts a one game winning streak. Taylor Chorney scored his first NHL goal. These were the major story lines for the game, and all of them were easy positives, no stretching, no grasping, ripe for the picking.
Khabibulin looked alert and for the most part was in position. He made important saves and gave the players in front of him confidence. Of course, this is his job. Fans should not be overly impressed after this one game, it will take more than that to change the minds of Oil Country. For this one night however, we should take it. There are still two more years on the Khabibulin contract, and very little chances that another team will be calling Tambellini hoping to make a deal for the Bulin wall.
The Oilers' allowed only a single goal while on the penalty kill, one out of three. Not the best, but not the worst.
The Oilers' power play had been the worst, literally, the worst in the NHL. It is still the worst in the NHL, but the Oilers scoring two power play goals on the night is nothing short of a miracle. Whatever it was that the Oilers had been practising with the power play, they had better keep it up and build on it. The team is still not getting enough shots on net from the points, and there needs to be a body in front of the net all of the time. True, if the Oilers had more big bodies to put in front of the net, not Dustin Penner alone, it would make that situation slightly easier. It takes confidence to release from the point, and hopefully this game will add to the confidence tank.
In Chorney's first game back with the big club, he looked as though he had been given a second chance. He played a well timed game, not constantly looking for the perfect pass or shot all of the time, just releasing. It paid off for him with his first NHL goal, so that was a very good thing.
Shawn Horcoff was sorely missed by the Oilers when he was out due to bronchitis. The Oilers overall went 42% for face-offs, and Horcoff was 43%, 6 for 14. Not his greatest performance, but he did take the pressure off of other centres with less experience. Horcoff was a play maker and a role model on the ice too. This team needs veterans to show them the way. Especially veterans who can score a goal and get two assists on the night.
Sam Gagner was 7 for 12, 58% and the team leader for the night after Penners' 1 for 1. Gagner made some great passes and showed good puck control. At this point, Gagner is showing improvements and consistency again. Of course, it's easy to say that pretty much all of the Oilers had a good game when it results in a 4-1 win.
Magnus Paajarvi is continuing to get less and less ice time. With just 10:38 for the night, Paajarvi seems to be getting the short end of the stick. This is likely due to the health improvements we have recently seen. Either way, he is at least facing tougher competition that he would be seeing in the AHL.
The three star selection for the evening was tough! The media selected Khabibulin, Chorney and Horcoff. Really, the whole team deserves a star in my book, this win was huge for the mental health of everyone involved, player or spectator. You very likely have a different group of three, or a different order in mind, but does it really matter?
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Ales Hemsky
★★ - Shawn Horcoff
★ - Taylor Chorney