The Edmonton Oilers have spent a lot of time over the last six seasons developing young players at the NHL level, something that turns out a lot of games like tonight's 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars. There are some exciting plays for the good guys, stretches where the Oilers look firmly in control, and large swaths of time where the bad guys aren't getting anything done. And then it happens - there's a catastrophic mistake, which with this team's goaltending, has often meant a puck in the back of the net.
The goaltending wasn't a problem tonight, but some of what ails this development process has been inadequate veteran support (lest we forget, I present "The Shift"), but a big chunk of the problem has been just plain bad players. Ladislav Smid has made the transition into a capable defender, but others (like Taylor Chorney and Theo Peckham) definitely have not.
With Jeff Petry, it looks like the Oilers will have another success story, but, my oh my, there are games when it doesn't seem like it. Whenever Petry was caught out there with Corey Potter, tonight was one of those games. A closer look at some of Petry's offensive defense on the Dallas goals as well as some other observations on tonight's game after the jump.
Notes from the First Period:
- At about 12:16, the Oilers had a great scoring chance short-handed. It began with Michael Ryder missing a pass to Alex Goligoski in front. The puck then came to Horcoff who was guarding his point. Normally that would be Goligoski, but unfortunately for Dallas, the point he was guarding was being manned by Mike Ribeiro at that time. Ribeiro skated toward Horcoff in a half-hearted attempt to strip the puck, but ended up skating right by, putting him way out of position. Both Ryan Smyth and Nick Schultz, who started out behind Horcoff, identified that and broke up-ice. The other defender, Stephane Robidas, recognized the problem and backed off considerably. That allowed Horcoff to hit Smyth with a great pass as he entered the neutral zone before heading to the bench. Ribeiro, meanwhile is caught flat-footed just watching the play develop and makes basically no effort to get back. Goligoski, by contrast, is frantically trying to catch up. Robidas is pointing at Schultz the whole time before eventually committing to Smyth. Sadly for him, no one caught Schultz, and Smyth gets the pass across for a really good scoring chance. If Schultz had got the puck to the top half of the net, it was a goal for sure, but even still, Kari Lehtonen made a great save. Nice play for each of the Oilers. Terrible from Ribeiro.
- The only goal of the period was scored by Michael Ryder and it was a beauty. Dallas was working on what looked like a set break-out. The defender passes from deep in his own zone to a winger at the red-line who then will drop to a forward coming with speed through the neutral zone. The play caught Corey Potter who pinched to take the man at the red-line. Ryder came with speed and blew by him. While this was happening, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was still skating back (he had been the lone forechecker), Jordan Eberle was heading to the bench on a change, and the third Dallas forward had set a pick on Ryan Jones at the Oilers' blue-line (it probably should have been interference, truth be told; it's an obvious pick), which gave Ryder all kinds of space through the middle of the ice. That left Jeff Petry to defend the rush and he got absolutely schooled, probably because he was flat-footed in the slot when Ryder crossed the Oilers' blue-line. Dubnyk made a valiant effort, but needless to say, he wasn't exactly expecting Ryder to pull a breakaway move on him at that time.
- There were a couple of times that Ales Hemsky got the puck near the line in the defensive zone, and in an effort to make a play, tried to handle the puck instead of making sure it got out of the zone (one example comes with about 4:25 to go). It never cost the Oilers in that period (that I noticed), but it is the kind of play that will increase scoring at both ends of the ice. When it works beautifully, the Oilers will get a chance in transition. When it fails miserably, then it'll be the opposition moving in for a chance.
Notes from the Second Period:
- That hit by Teemu Hartikainen at about 17:30 was a Jordin Tootoo special. Hartikainen got off the bench and went full-tilt from the blueline into the corner before jumping into Alex Goligoski who was facing the boards after he'd already passed the puck. Goligoski looked pissed, and rightly so, but the Oilers can certainly use a bit more of that in their lineup.
- The Stars' second saw the Oilers doing a lot wrong. Ladislav Smid had come to pinch along the boards pretty deep in the offensive zone, which is fine I suppose, but he didn't win the race to the puck. In the ensuing scramble, Ryan Jones was higher and battling with Ribeiro. He actually won the puck, but his effort to put it back deep didn't work. Both Jones and Smid then attacked the puck, but Ryder beat them and flipped it toward the line. Jordan Eberle was covering the blue-line, but was thinking offense, so when the puck got by him, it was a clear two-on-one for Dallas. Petry was the defender and had Ryan Nugent-Hopkins coming back hard. Sadly, Petry and Nugent-Hopkins didn't communicate very well. Ribeiro had the puck and Petry tried to defend the pass originally, but when it got through, he shifted his attention to Loui Eriksson instead of sticking with Ribeiro. This seemed to surprise Nugent-Hopkins who ended up caught between the two Dallas forwards. He tried to scramble across to Ribeiro, but Eriksson made the return pass too quickly and it was in the back of the net.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had a great period on the power play. On the first sequence from 10:10 to 9:40, Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on the half-wall three times. The first time, he hit Jordan Eberle with a cross-ice pass. The second time, he again went through the box to Ryan Whitney at the far point. The third time, he tried another pass cross-ice to Eberle, but it was broken up. Three dangerous passes, and he connected on two. On the second sequence from 4:50 to , Nugent-Hopkins had the puck on the half-wall times. The first time, he didn't see anything he liked, so made a simple pass back to Whitney right behind him. The second time, he went cross-ice to Eberle; the pass was tipped so that Eberle didn't receive it cleanly, bu the Oilers maintained control. The third time, he found Gagner in the high slot for a one-timer (which was blocked). The fourth time, he skated back toward the blue-line so that he would have a clear path to Whitney who was open for a shot with traffic in front. The fifth time, he curled into the scoring chance area and took a shot. The sixth time, he got the defender to bite on his shot and then passed to Gagner in the high slot for another one-timer (which had a clear path to the net, but missed). The seventh time, he was under more pressure and tried a simple pass back to Whitney, but he misjudged where the defender would be, and Whitney couldn't bail him out with a save. He made a variety of choices from the same position depending on what was available. He also made those decisions quickly, which kept the Stars off-balance. It was a lot of fun to watch.
Notes from the Third Period:
- Dallas opened the scoring in the third period as Jeff Petry's difficult evening continued. He went behind the net to gather a puck, but he whiffed on his attempt to push it up the boards. Loui Eriksson grabbed it in the corner. Corey Potter came across to take Eriksson but got beat badly. Petry and Sam Gagner were both guarding territory in front of the net, but didn't actually mark anyone, which gave Eriksson a clear pass to Ribeiro, who had a clear pass to Ryder, who had a clear pass to an open net.
- The officials didn't have a strong game tonight. It seemed that it was often the innocuous stuff far from the scoring chance area that was getting called while illegal plays to prevent scoring chances were being let go. Two egregious examples belonged to Sheldon Souray who first rode Eberle's stick with a disgusting hook at about 13:20, and then plowed Teemu Hartikainen into the ice from behind five minutes later. The Oilers didn't lose because of the officials, obviously, but it was one of the more inconsistent jobs I've seen from the refs recently.
- Steve Ott is a really detestable player. That sloughfoot at the end of the game on Ryan Jones was completely ridiculous. It's unfortunate that Jones didn't get up and chase him down for some fisticuffs. Not much to lose at that point in the game, and you know that the league isn't going to punish him.