I'm a hard guy to please. When the Oilers lose, I'll complain about how this team isn't built very well. When the Oilers win, I'll complain about how every win makes it more likely we'll need to endure another season of those same builders and at the same time lose a little bit of ground in the fight for draft position. Tonight, it was the latter. The Edmonton Oilers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 tonight, and were clearly the better team all night long. The kids were running wild, the young shut-down duo of Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid did an excellent job defending against Rick Nash and his compadres, and Devan Dubnyk posted the shut-out. That's good.
The Oilers are also now ten points clear of the Blue Jackets and within seven points of five other teams (including the best team in the league). Of their last twelve games, only two are against teams with a goal differential better than +5, and fully half are against teams with a goal differential of -15 or worse. That doesn't make them slam dunk wins for the Oilers, of course, but there's certainly a decent chance that we'll see the Oilers finish out the season well. If it happens, that likely cements another year of Steve Tambellini. That's less good. Maybe even downright not good.
So while I thoroughly enjoyed the game (hockey is fun to watch, and the Oilers have some very creative players), and throughly enjoyed the process of winning (it's great to see the guys who will be part of this team for years doing well), I don't really enjoy seeing those two points go up in the standings because it likely just prolongs the period of time that we'll be waiting for excellence to be installed in the manager's chair.
It's an odd feeling. It also makes me think about the players. A lot of them are no doubt playing for that next contract. Others are playing for their teammates. Still others are playing for pride. But the bottom line is that they all know that this season is done for them no matter what. For some of them, it's the third year in a row that they'll have known that for at least the last two months of the year. And yet they all find a way to sacrifice their physical well-being day in and day out for team goals like winning as many games as possible. I'm serious when I say that I find that impressive.
Some more detailed notes on the game itself after the jump.
Notes from the First Period:
- Ryan Jones had a very eventful period. He was on a line with Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, which of course meant that his job was to get into a position where they might bounce something in off him. Things started very well. Jones was excellent crashing the net on the first shift of the game, and that line really set the tone for the period. But Jones was more noteworthy for a couple of gaffes later in the period. The first was his hilariously awful breakaway at about 10:15 (he didn't get a shot off), and the second was later in the same shift when he whiffed on a 2-on-1. When you've embraced the tank, that kind of thing is hilarious.
- With about 15:00 to go in the period Ales Hemsky made a wonderful play to gain the zone and then showed great vision to dish the puck off to Taylor Hall after he'd made his play. It's little things like that that make Hemsky so much fun to watch even when he's not putting the puck in the net. Those two had another nice sequence with about 1:40 to go that led to a much better scoring chance. Hemsky picked up the puck deep in the Oilers' zone, and hit Hall in stride at the red line. Hall used his speed to force the defender to back off, and then stopped after crossing the line. Hemsky was coming hard so Hall left him the puck and it was suddenly Hemsky carrying the puck with speed. That enabled Hemsky to drive wide and then find Hall open in front. They didn't score, but it was a great play.
- Not a specific play, but I've really noticed Jeff Petry's physical play lately. He's drawn a lot of comparisons to Tom Gilbert over the last several years, but that's one area where Petry is already better. The thing I like most about it is that unlike the guys who have physicality as their calling card (Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton, Colten Teubert), Petry is able to play a physical game without putting himself out of position.
- The first goal of the game came from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who was in the right place at the right time to get the puck, and then made his shot count. Jordan Eberle had just blocked a clearing attempt, but Aaron Johnson quickly recovered and separated Eberle from the puck before he could make a play. Unfortunately for the Jackets, Derick Brassard overskated the puck, which gave Nugent-Hopkins a chance to grab the puck, and he quickly cashed.
- Eyes are weird. When I saw the replay of Cam Atkinson getting clipped in the mouth by Taylor Hall, I could have sworn that Hall missed him entirely. And then it was four minutes because Atkinson was bleeding from the mouth. Guess I was wrong!
- Louie Debrusk comments on that power play: "But there's too many good players on Columbus not to generate a few more chances on the net." Hahahaha. Nope.
- Just after that penalty was killed off, Nugent-Hopkins got Ryan Jones syndrome. With about six minutes to go, he received a great pass in the slot from Jordan Eberle but whiffed on it. That sent the puck wide, but luckily, right onto the stick of Taylor Hall. Hall jammed it toward the net, and while it didn't go in and came straight to Nugent-Hopkins who had a wide open net. He promptly whiffed again.
- Devan Dubnyk wasn't particularly busy in getting the shutout but he did manage to make things a bit tougher on himself than they needed to be. His best save of the game probably came with about 8:30 to go in the third when he stopped Cam Atkinson from point blank range. Of course, he only needed to do that because he'd kicked Atkinson's original shot back toward the slot. Jordan Eberle didn't do him any favors by tipping it into an even better shooting position, but it wasn't exactly stellar placement from Dubnyk to begin with. That said, he made a great save on the play and earned the shutout.
- With a negative mention of Eberle above I feel compelled to say something positive because the guy is just a joy to watch. With about 11:00 to go in the game he made Aaron Johnson a pylon and then got a pass out to Hall in front that was sadly tipped on its way by the Jackets. Still, just a fun guy to watch because he's always thinking about how to create a scoring chance for himself or someone else, and he has the ability to think quickly enough to be creative.
- Another guy with that ability is Ryan Whitney. The movement still needs work, but the guy sure does think the game well. After an Omark steal with about 10:30 to go, Whitney joined the rush. He saw the play developing well enough to know that if Omark passed him the puck, he'd immediately send it to Smyth. It was done so quickly that you'd think it was a set play. But it wasn't. It was Whitney analyzing what was in front of him in about three seconds and making a great choice. Smyth missed the shot, but it was still a great play.