The best part of this photo is the look on Pekka Rinne's face as he glares at Ales Hemsky. Photo by Frederick Breedon
Sometimes luck is a wonderful thing. Take tonight, for instance. The Edmonton Oilers were outshot 44-20 and blocked 16 more shots. And they won. How'd that happen? Let's cut to Gene Principe and Ales Hemsky:
Principe: "What do you attribute the puck going into the net to?"
Hemsky's been the best Oiler for over a month now, but over the last six, he's been snake-bitten. Hemsky and "...hit the post." have become a phrase as common as "peas and carrots". Hemsky cashed in tonight and the harlot known as variance paid him handsomely and repeatedly.
It wasn't just the goals, either. Hemsky skated like he was a 21-year-old again, darting, driving, handling the puck, passing, shooting -- playing like that kid who blew the doors off of the league in 2006. This Hemsky, the healthy one, is the guy the Oilers paid $5 million for, and this is the true Hemsky. He's been in form since February and he's a joy to watch.
Sam Gagner and Teemu Hartikainen teamed with Hemsky to overwhelm the Predators' top line and second pairing. Gagner worked hard in all three zones throughout the game (he was robbed of an assist on Hemsky's third goal) and Hartikainen was the guy Barons' fans have talked about for two seasons.
The young gunz!1 played against the Predators' second line and top defensive pairing and became a low-event line. Of course twitterers (tweeters?) immediately suggested how difficult the running was against Weber and Suter and how Hemsky had it easy. Of course, those twitterers (including some prominent 'sphere members) were silent on the same as the young gunz!1 racked up points through the early season. I would say that recognition is the first step to match-up realization, but I know it's more likely to be one-way recognition.
Devan Dubnyk was...sturdy. I still have issues with his lateral movement, but like the Edmonton Media wrongly says about Khabibulin, Dubnyk "gave them a chance to win." Young Jonathan Willis was dead-on when he talked about the pecking order in Edmonton, but he's going to need some help. On one hand, he's capable of giving up 5 goals to Toronto one night, but on the other, he can make 40 saves against a playoff team the next. Get him a reliable partner and he might still be a legitimate goalie for the future.
David Legwand scored with 7 seconds to go in the first period. In doing so, he torched both Ryan Whitney and Nick Schultz, though I think in Schultz's case, it was a matter of him trying to cover for the impending blown assignment by Whitney. I said it in the game thread and I'll say it here - I don't know how much more Oilers hockey I can take if it's going to involve Whitney standing in the defensive zone, hoping the puck pops free to him. If not, he's going to wheel around slowly and head towards the puck.
In the end, the Oilers still need two real defensemen (Ryan Murray need not apply) and at least two real forwards plus a goalie better than Khabibulin (though nearly every non-Toronoto NHL regular is) just to be competitive next season. Not to win a cup, or even just a playoff round, but to be competitive.
& The Ugly:
In the realm of all possible lineup combinations, Darcy Hordichuk over Linus Omark is especially stupid. Sure, Hordichuk scored tonight, but Tom Renney's allegiance to bad players is disheartening. I don't think a coach will matter to this team until they have more NHL Veterans and more depth, but Renney's complete failure with Omark, Anton Lander and Magnus Passjarvi in favor of less skilled, but larger and punchier players has been an ongoing source of frustration and in what is chalked up as a "development year" by those who defend Tambellini, a disgrace as far as player development goes.
The Copper & Blue Three:
★★★ - Sam Gagner
★★ - Devan Dubnyk
★ - Ales Hemsky