Well, the death march continues with the Edmonton Oilers in St. Paul, trying to keep up with the Minnesota Wild. Overall the team didn't do too badly. There is obviously chemistry developing, players are finding their game and their roles, and with less pressure on each player coach Renney even tells them "Calm down, just go play fellas."
There are five games remaining, all five against division rivals. The Oilers had another game where they beat their opponent for shots, but just couldn't find the win. Like many other losses, this was a team effort. There were some players that stood out and had good nights. Tom Gilbert had a goal and an assist, Linus Omark had a goal and looked solid, Ryan Jones played his physical game and drew a penalty that gave the Oilers opportunity, even if they couldn't complete their chances.
I wish I could tell you the game started out won a high note. I wish I could tell you that things looked good from the start. Well I could tell you that, but then I'd be lying, if by start I meant longer than the first seven minutes. Theo Peckham was called for tripping, the Oilers braced themselves to have a successful penalty kill, but here's where the Oilers' got extremely unlucky. The puck bounced off of the skate of Ladislav Smid and past Nikolai Khabibulin. Power play goal for Minnesota with credit to Antii Miettinen. 35 seconds later, another bounce off of a defenseman's skate. This time, Jeff Petry from Marek Zidlicky. Khabibulin appeared to make more of an attempt to stop the puck but instead the puck ricochet off of Petry's skate changing direction by about 40 degrees and straight through the five hole, 2-0 Wild.
In order to regroup the Oilers, who had been leading in shots before the first penalty, coach Tom Renney called a time out. Jordan Eberle soon after took a tripping penalty, but sat the entire two minutes. Crisis averted, even if just temporarily. The Oilers did get a lengthy chance on the power play when Ryan Jones received a high stick to the face after completely a clean check on Antti Miettinen. As Jones was bleeding the Oilers were assessed a four minute power play. Ryan Jones appeared to have jammed the puck in, with Niklas Backstrom outside of his net, attempting to play the puck, breaking the Oilers' goalless streak. The light went one, but the referee quickly called no goal, it seems the puck had been kept out right at the line, and the Oilers didn't get a shot on net the entire 4 minutes of power play. The period closed out 2-0 Minni, shots tied at 9.
The second period started with far more disciplined for both teams. The Wild's Brad Staubitz at 6:23 scored with a terrific forward to forward to forward play, much like you would see in rugby, without the forward passing part. Khabibulin was once again fooled and beat. Go team!
Pierre-Marc Bouchard slashed Theo Peckham, but we know Peckham, he's rarely innocent. Peckham took a roughing penalty for himself. With coincidental minors, it was 4 on 4 hockey, for a few seconds at least. Jim Vandermeer stands up for his teammates when needed in a fight and also will make agressive hits when he gets angry or frustrated. Vandermeer got a little too agressive, hitting Antti Miettinen from behind while trying to clear the puck from the boards was assessed a cross checking penalty, with a minute remaining in the coincidental penalties.
When was the last time you really marvelled at a slap shot? Martin Havlat from the point let his shot go, top shelf on Khabibulin, 4-0 Wild. It was a beautiful shot, perfect follow through and everyone's heads turned to follow the puck on its flight. As noted by the Sportsnet commentators, this is now the 5th time these two teams have met this season and every single time, the Wild have scored 4 goals. Will this hold out for the sixth and final meeting? I'm going to say yes, hoping that this team will prove me wrong.
Chris VandeVelde took the Oilers next penalty, this one questionable, for holding. Thankfully, VandeVelde sat the entire two minutes. Huzzah! Things got even better after that, the Oilers cured nearly 116 minutes of play without a goal when Tom Gilbert scored with his slap shot from Ryan Jones and Magnus Paajarvi and on the power play no less. The penalty closed out, 4-1 with the Oilers leading in shots, 13-10.
Liam Reddox is the little guy who tries really hard to a lot of Oilers fans. After making some poor decisions and reads of the play early in the second period, Reddox found speed and open space and charged to the net. This one looked close, it could have been a goal! As you were about to leap out of your seat, Backstrom followed the play and denied the couple of attempts Reddox was able to make. Ryan Jones was tripped at centre ice by Mikko Koivu, giving the Oilers their second power play of the game. Sadly, it was now 6 minutes with the extra man, and six minutes where the Oilers were still searching for a goal.
It's still astounding that Linus Omark, with his passing skills, his tenacity with the puck and his try level doesn't score more often. I tend to forgive him as many of the Oilers are struggling to score. Well, score Omark did with five minutes remaining in the third period taking the Wild lead down to two goals. Ladislav Smid took an interference call at 15:11, but the Oilers somehow managed to keep the Wild to their 2 goal lead. Nikolai Khabibulin left his net for the extra attacker, but that wasn't enough. Cal Clutterbuck had a chance, shooting at the open net but sent the puck just wide. On the same play, Gilbert Brule was assessed a tripping penalty trying to stop Clutterbuck from scoring, with 20 seconds remaining in the game.The Oilers closed out the period, 4-2 and leading with shots, 13-3 for the final frame.
16, it has now been 16 failed attempts, looking for a win in the greatest NHL arena I have visited so far, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul Minnesota. At some point the Oilers will win in that building. Clearly it is not this Oilers team.
The Oilers had played nearly two hours, two games, without a goal before this match-up. All that can be forgotten now that Tom Gilbert has scored a power play goal. The goal may get credited to Teemu Hartikainen as Gilbert believes that Hartikainen tipped the puck before it crossed the line. When asked after the game, Gilbert said he thought it was Hartikainen's and that it really didn't matter who was the last to touch it, all that mattered was that someone scored.
The Oilers took six penalties, but only allowed one power play goal for the Wild. At the same time, the Oilers earned 4 minors and 1 double minor and were able to score one goal. Funny how one is good for the Oilers, but when the tables are turned its horrible. Ultimately the special teams were pretty good. As a team, they won 44% of their faceoffs, so much better than 30%.
It really bothers me that Khabibulin "didn't have a chance on the first three goals." As said by Louie DeBrusk. Khabby had a chance, maybe not the best chance, but still a tiny chance. At this point, it feels as though the Sportsnet broadcasters feel that badly for Oilers fans. When Andrew Cogliano told Bob Stauffer "Other than those two goals, I thought Khabby played well." That was something that made sense. True, Cogs was likely meaning that those two tip in goals shouldn't be counted against Khabby rather than he felt they were too soft. It's fun to imagine what else could be meant by some of the player quotes. Khabby did make a couple of amazing saves, but as I've said before that's his job. He needs to astound us every game, not the whole game, he is allowed to let one or two past him. Overall though, we're supposed to be happy he's on the team. Aren't we? Maybe it's just NHL neighbour envy syndrome right now.
"We had a really good start to the game. Then they scored their first one that was off of a skate, and then they scored their second one that was off of a skate. That being said, there are some coverage issues that have to happen before you get a bad break at your net. Certainly we didn't measure up quite like we needed to under those circumstance. Not the kind of start we wanted." Were coach Tom Renney's response to the game. It was easy to see that the Oilers did play the game hoping to win as they started, but it took them a while to pull it all together again to even score their couple of goals. Renney feels that this team still stands a chance to win at least one game before the end of the season "We're not packing it in, we're not quitting in any games."
As Brule is not back in the line-up and ready to play (he survived this game) the Oilers will have to have another look at their roster. Two players, Ryan O`Marra and Chris VandeVelde were called up on an emergency basis. Now that the Oilers will have more than 12 healthy skaters, one will have to go back. However, when asked about plans to send a player back "We'll take the troops to Vancouver and respond to the situation as needed." No concrete answers. It's hard to say which player might be sent back, but it certainly wouldn't be Hartikainen. A betting person might say O'Marra, but who knows what happens behind those closed doors.
Speaking of Brule, he made hits, he had a physical game and even went 55% for faceoffs. Brule has had a less than stellar season, even given his ailments and injuries. One game will not make up for things, but it is a welcomed improvement. It was due to Brule's hard work that the empty net goal by Clutterbuck was denied. "I knew there wasn't much time left in the game, and I didn't want to get a minus. So, I took his feet out." Brule laughed as he recounted the final minutes of play. It's doubtful the two would get into much when they meet again before the end of the season, but it will be interesting to see how this might play out. Renney said that he will give Brule a Mulligan on the decision, but that the tripping play did not need to happen as it was clear the puck was not going to cross the goal line. Ooooh, intrigue!
Next up are the Vancouver Canucks on Hockey Night in Canada. The best team in the league versus the worst team in the league. We know that you are biting your nails in anticipation and not making other plans for your Saturday night. What if that is the one win the Oilers get before the end of the season though? Do you really want to risk missing it?
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Ryan Jones
★★ - Linus Omark
★ - Tom Gilbert