After a convincing 2-0 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Edmonton Oilers enjoyed the plaudits of their hard-earned victory. Obviously the team got good games from its gritty defensive presenses like Eric Belanger and Ladislav Smid, but the real workhorses were veterans like Shawn Horcoff and Ales Hemsky (who completely ran Philadelphia's show) and of course the kids, as Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Sam Gagner were each effortlessly dominant. Sure, the first period was a little rough but Edmonton stuck with it. The Oilers owned the faceoff circle and, after the game, Steve Tambellini reportedly met Ales Hemsky in the dressing room to talk about a contract extension.
I don't know how Scott Bakula and I leaped to this parallel universe, but I like it.
Normally, when the Oilers get a decisive win, it's because all their dice came up boxcars and they just put every puck in. Not tonight: they had a little luck on their side but they mostly won by being better than Philadelphia. Sure, Jordan Eberle's goal had a bit of stink on it, but he did a load of work to set it up and Ilya Bryzgalov made a couple dandy saves to even things up.
What's been the Oilers' secret these past two games? Is Ralph Kreuger, he of the diamond penalty kill, secretly a genius? Had Ryan Jones been dragging down the team, cackling like a madman as he poisoned Ales Hemsky's water and told Eric Belanger that all great defensive centres skate in slow, lazy circles? Is Nikolai Khabibulin such an awful goaltender that he drags all a team's other players down to his level?
Obviously the Oilers aren't really a good team, even with Ryan Jones scratched. They're just lottery trash on a hot streak and my biggest relief is that we're so close to DFL that this isn't going to convince Steve Tambellini we should trade Jeff Petry for Gord Mark to load up on veteran depth for the playoffs.
I'll take it; with this team you shouldn't be embarrassed to skate around with a trash can and pretend it's the Stanley Cup.
The first period was dull, dull dull dull; well, the first five minutes were pretty good as the Oilers came out, put a few shots on Ilya Bryzgalov, got the job sort of done, and then spent so much time in the penalty box the timekeeper probably thought they were flirting with him.
The best part of the first period was when Jody Shelley, who's such a cementhead the Royal Air Force tested bunker-busters on his skull, liked Corey Potter so much he decided to keep him and tried to push Potter through the Zamboni gates into the visiting dressing room. Come to think of it, the horn had long gone by that point so it was no longer the first period. The best part of the first period was the first intermission.
Edmonton was a little lucky, as Philadelphia didn't quite have their sights straight. The Plexiglass took a pounding, like the Flyers were trying to do their pal Daryl a favour by shaking Literally Crush apart. But Jacob Voracek had only himself to blame when he turned a breakaway with Dubnyk beaten in one direction until the puck rolling off his stick in the other direction. Niklas Grossman could have had a couple goals by himself when Dubnyk's iffy rebound control put him out of position, but consistently shot wide. Philadelphia's vaunted offense had their fair share against Edmonton, but the hockey gods were in an uncharacteristically good mood.
(Philadelphia also took an uncharacteristic beating in the faceoff circle. Partially that's the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins factor, in that we had the advantage of not having him. But we probably can't credit the Nuge with Eric Belanger winning 12 out of 14, or Sam Gagner winning 11 out of 16. Thanks, Danny Briere!)
In the second, of course, the Oilers put the game away, because as I said this is a parallel universe. Taylor Hall's finish was a thing of ridiculous sublime skill, with his body going one way and the puck going another and his shot having to go in a third direction between the other two and about half a second to react, not only does Hall release an accurate wrister but he releases an accurate wrister that's being chased by the hounds of hell and explodes into the back of the net past a limply flailing Russian pad. You could put me on the ice and give me three hours to release a shot that good and I wouldn't even come close. Man alive.
Other shoutouts? Sam Gagner, for being the dominant centre we all hoped he would be a few years ago. Except instead of outchancing the opposition 25-24 and picking up 140 points a year, he's winning the race to every puck, grinding it out down low in spite of being fun-sized, and making life so easy for his linemates I think I saw Jordan Eberle sneak off for a hot dog. Not to take anything away from Eberle, of course, who is now learning to hustle and fight hard with the best of 'em and picked up an unassisted goal on which he did virtually all the work, from stylishly hauling the puck into the zone to less-stylishly corralling a turnover and finishing it off.
Devan Dubnyk had a shutout. He was okay, I guess. Can hardly have done better. But let's talk about more forwards! When the hell did Eric Belanger remember how to play hockey? I've missed most of our games the past few weeks; did he suddenly turn good again or was it a gradual transition? Did somebody strap him into a chair A Clockwork Orange-style and show him video of his Minnesota days with Beethoven playing in the background until he was conditioned to stop sucking?
And the defenders! Wow! Okay, so Tom Gilbert still has one leg and Ryan Whitney still has half that, but Gilbert didn't embarrass himself and Whitney generated some nice offense even though a farmer was standing just behind the Oilers bench watching Whitney with a loaded shotgun and a determined expression. Ladislav Smid played very well, obviously, as did Petry, whose confidence on the puck in his own zone is officially approaching "audacity". Corey Potter and Andy Sutton were also present. (That's the best review they're ever going to get.)
I was about to call that "sixty terrific minutes of hockey". It wasn't, of course; it was often boring and the Flyers played down to their opposition. But hell, the Oilers soundly beat a team much better than they are. That's hockey perfection in my books.