Tonight's viewing experience was strangely calming. I had to catch this one on replay, and knowing the outcome certainly helped, but other than four big saves by Tyler Bunz and two by Chris Carrozzi, the pace was gentle and ended with the Oilers choking the life out of the third period like they were Minnesota Wild.
Rather than fall behind like they did against the Vancouver Canucks, the Oilers grabbed a 1-0 lead on a rebound goal by Chase Schaber. Once again, the official scorer called this one unassisted, but it was a rebound without a change of possession, so I'm not sure why the ruling is unassisted. Ryan Lowery made it 2-0 on a "shot with eyes" as Kevin Quinn loves to call it. Lowery's goal came on a power play that was the result of a Jets vs. Sharks (Broadway, not Penticton) style scrum and for some strange reason there wasn't a fight in the midst of heated tempers and exchanges.
Bunz faced only 12 shots combined in the first and third periods, but faced 11 in a second period that combined the worst of firewagon hockey, shinny, and Edmonton Oilers' defense circia 2009-2011. Martin Gernat was victimized a couple of times by quick cross-ice puck movement and Ryan Lowery and Brandon Davidson were both caught out of position multiple times. On top of that, we were forced to watch yet another staged fight between Brett Ferguson and Jordan Depape. Luckily for the Oilers' defense, Tyler Bunz was their to bail them out. Even though he was facing a barrage, he kept the Jets off of the score sheet in the second period, turning away shots to the corners and maintaining a calm demeanor. There was very little scramble to him, and even when forced to make two acrobatic saves, one on Winnipeg first round pick Mark Scheifele, he still seemed somehow efficient in doing so. He was solid last year in this tournament and he seems to have picked up where he left off. After that the Oilers buttoned it up and squeeze the life out of the Jets.
The third period was more like the first, sloppy play on both sides, but slanted away from the Oilers' end. Martin Gernat laid a Rob Blake-like hip check on Ben Chiarot as the latter entered the zone, though on a second look, Gernat could have been whistled for the hit, it was low and at the knees. Tyler Pitlick drew a couple of penalties and showed off his forechecking ability and skating ability. The first penalty could have been problematic, considering it was a stick under his skate while he was turning, but he bounced up quickly. it was a sign of his recovery to see confidence in his ankle on the play. Bunz made two more great saves, including a nifty pokecheck to thwart a 2-on-1. And of course another completely unnecessary fight, this time by invitee Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and defenseman Cody Sol.
Tyler Pitlick's effort and skating was exciting to see. His production in Medicine Hat has been questioned, but watching him on the forecheck and carrying the puck, Pitlick's talent and skill level is obviously high and he can skate . Another season in the WHL would be ideal, especially if he can play centre like he did tonight.
Tyler Bunz was marvelous. Through the first two games, the Oilers have been backstopped by some outstanding goaltending, and though it's only two games in a rookie tournament, it's nice to see some competency in goal at the lower levels. It doesn't extend to the big club, but that's not a feeling Edmonton fans have experienced since Curtis Joseph. Olivier Roy gets a chance to prove himself first in his professional debut this season while Bunz might be the second Oilers WJC goalie in a row. Who knows what happens to them at the next level (see Deslauriers, Jeff) but with these two and the two Finns, there will be competition for minutes in the Edmonton system and that's exactly what a team should push for.
Taylor Fedun has been a treat to watch thus far. Though his age advantage likely contributes to most of his superior play, the intelligence and calm movements suggest a player who may have a shot. It helps that he carries the puck with a tranquil demeanor, a la Jay Bouwmeester, and defends with a deft touch, but Fedun's greatest asset thus far has been his ability to retrieve the puck and get it moving in the other direction seemingly effortlessly.
It's his second game in a row here and I know Martin Gernat is full of try, but he's got a very long way to go. He's been exposed a couple of times and he's been swept under the rush a number of times. However, he's a late-round project and he's probably on the five-year plan to the NHL, so this is to be expected.
Jeremie Blain and Brandon Davidson didn't play like they were WHL veterans on their way to ELCs. I expected to see them play a patient, heady, and physical game while moving the puck well, but both seemed like they were a step behind the action. Perhaps I'm unfairly comparing them to Taylor Fedun, but like in last year's Penticton Tournament, I'm not impressed by either one.
According to Bruce McCurdy, the Oilers are a cursed team and if he's correct, the curse isn't going to come to an end any time soon. Ryan Martindale left with a hip flexor injury tonight, adding him to the list of walking wounded: Travis Ewanyk, Colten Teubert, and Milan Kytnar.
And last but not least is the fighting. The staged fights were at the forefront of this game, as they were against Vancouver and as they've been in every prospects game thus far. Both fights, Ferguson-Depape and Vannieuwenhuizen-Sol were staged and three of the four fighters are camp invitees. It's a growing trend in these tournaments - a camp invitee or some drafted knuckles want to make a statement so they fight. It's just like last year:
The game itself was a grind filled with awful flings of fisticuffs. I like a fight as much as anyone but I like a fight with a little meat behind it. Two guys squaring up because they want to fire up the team or maybe avenge a previous wrong. These were fights between people looking to impress, trying to get fans to remember their names so maybe they'll get a longer look at training camp even if they have hands and heads of cement.
It's also a bit disconcerting to see how excited the official Oilers' Twitter account becomes when the prospects fight. Whoever is in control of the account gets far more excited for fights when compared to the account's reaction to goals.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Taylor Fedun
★★ - Tyler Pitlick
★ - Tyler Bunz