One of the great thing about the Oilers' "little teams that could" on the late 90's and early aughts was how hard they played, even when they were severely outmanned from the opening drop. They had good coaches, great speed and played with more desperation than a drunken fat man looking for a diner. Even though fans knew they weren't cup contenders, those teams were easy to love. They had one line that was a bonafide threat and a whole bunch of role players capable of playing NHL minutes, though not always well.
Tonight was like 1998 all over again. The little team that could was in Buffalo and they were playing their butts off. They had one line (Hall - Gagner - Hemsky) doing all of the offensive work and a whole of role players playing with tired desperation. Even though they played in Chicago last night, the Oilers came out and dominated play in the first period. Their legs seemed fresh and when they weren't, they put their heads down and plowed through anyway. The forecheck was so good, Buffalo intermission panelist Mike Robitaille called Edmonton the best forechecking team the Sabres have seen. Even though they were missing Tom Gilbert, Ryan Whitney, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, it didn't matter. Jeff Petry was handling the puck as much or more than Gilbert and was doing so effectively. Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner were flying in open ice and every one of their shifts ended in the Sabres zone. Taylor Hall was his typical Cannonball self, exploding into the offensive zone, swooping around the neutral zone, waiting for his chance to create a scoring chance.
It was fun to root for these Oilers. Then Tom Renney happened.
Ales Hemsky was whistled for goaltender interference in the second period, but it wasn't even close. Hemsky was skating around the top of the crease and may, or may not have allowed his sweater to brush Ryan Miller, who dove to the ice like he was shot in the achilles. The refs bought it and blew the whistle, much to the consternation of a confused Ales Hemsky. If all a goaltender needs to get calls for the rest of the season is to is get run by Milan Lucic, sign Khabibulin up.
Tom Renney single-handedly lost this game for the Oilers. His line-matching decisions were inept, to put it lightly. After the Oilers took the lead on the Hall goal, the Sabres tied it up on a goal by Jason Pominville. Opposing the Sabres second line was Josh Green, Shawn Horcoff and Teemu Hartikainen. Renney inexplicably threw his fourth line over the wall without the Sabres fourth line on the ice. But of course mistakes happen, so we can give him a break. Five minutes into the second period, the Sabres took the lead on a goal by Jordan Leopold, assisted by Drew Stafford with Derek Roy on the ice. Opposing the Sabres top line was Josh Green, Taylor Hall and Teemu Hartikainen. Renney inexplicably threw his fourth line over the wall without the Sabres fourth line on the ice. Why?
After the Oilers tied it on Gagner's goal, in the second, the Sabres went ahead with five minutes to go on a goal by Drew Stafford. Opposing the Sabres top line was Josh Green, Ryan Jones and Shawn Horcoff. Renney put Josh Green out as the center (remember, Horcoff can't take faceoffs) against the Sabres top line with five minutes to go in the third period. The same Josh Green that just arrived in from the AHL. Two minutes later, the Sabres extended the lead to two goals on a Nathan Gerbe goal. Opposing the Sabres top line was Josh Green, Ryan Jones and Shawn Horcoff. Again.
Now, I have no idea if any of these goals were Hartikainen or Green's fault, and I don't care. What I do care about is that Renney is back to his 2010-11 ways. He isn't matching lines and he doesn't care if his fourth line is getting skewered. This isn't the first occasion that he's had his fourth line on the ice in the third period of a close game, either. I can understand why Shawn Horcoff couldn't take a faceoff tonight - he's got another shoulder issue. What is Tom Renney's excuse for getting his fourth line out against top six competition on a regular basis? Does he have a sprained frontal lobe?
The Copper & Blue Three:
★★★ - Ales Hemsky