There are things to be excited about with the Oilers this season. Taylor Hall is progressing before our eyes and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle, while they still have a long way to go, are plenty of fun to watch. Add in Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry who have by now made believers out of most fans and there are some bright spots for sure.
The problem is nights like tonight in Anaheim. Nights when the Oilers beat themselves. And not with rookie mistakes, those would on some level be acceptable, but with complete defensive lapses that leave you wondering what the players were even thinking. Or more likely that they weren't thinking and that was the real problem. It's these nights that take the shine of the hope of a better future.
Tonight's example of a bleak future comes in the form of Ryan Whitney who had two turnovers that lead directly to two Ducks goals in the last four minutes of the game. Whitney managed to be on the ice for every goal against tonight (I will give him a pass on the first goal though, more on that in a bit) and finished -3 despite starting only one shift in the Oilers end of the rink. He's clearly a shadow of his former self and yet there is no reason not the expect the Oilers to start next season with him in a similar role, a role that he can't play.
There might be reasons for optimism but when you watch a player like Whitney and you realize he isn't going anywhere this summer, like most of the defence, you have to think that there is just as much reason to believe that this team is no closer to being a contender today than it was when the rebuild started 1,833 days ago. And that is a damn depressing thought.
Things got off to a slow start with the Ducks registering the first shot of the game at the 5:46 mark of the first period; the Oilers wouldn't get a puck on Jonas Hiller until the period was nearly half over. Despite the slow start the Ducks would still generate a number of scoring chances during the period, ten in total including shots from Cam Fowler and Teemu Selanne that beat Nikolai Khabibulin but not the post behind him. By comparison the Oilers had one scoring chance during the first twenty minutes of play and only four shots on goal. Aside from the early going when both teams looked asleep the Ducks were the better of the two teams by a fairly wide margin.
The Ducks scored the only goal of the first period with one second left on an Ales Hemsky tripping penalty after all four Oilers out killing the penalty - Ryan Smyth, Shawn Horcoff, Andy Sutton, and Nick Schultz - decided to go for a change at the same time with the puck on Fowler's stick at the far blue line. The Ducks don't have one of the leagues best power plays but with a five-man advantage they were not surprising able to convert when Jason Blake knocked home his own rebound while crashing into Khabibulin.
On the replay you can see all four Oilers head to the bench after Smyth flips the puck down the ice during the penalty kill and not one takes a look down the ice to see where the puck is before heading off the ice. With all four offenders being veterans that's a mistake that is simply unforgivable. As Dawgbone pointed out on Twitter in a perfect world only one of the forwards should have gone for a change on the play and certainly neither of the defencemen.
As ugly as that line change was I would be willing to bet that Tom Renney had something to say about it between periods. Perhaps with some choice four letter words for emphasis. If that is what happened then the message was received because the Oilers came back in the second period and looked like a real NHL team. In a much more entertaining period the Oilers kept Hiller plenty busy with 22 shots on goal, a total only two short of the team record for a single period. But even with all those shots they were unable to be the Ducks goalie until the twentieth minute of the period when Schultz found Horcoff with a slap pass in the slot that the Oilers captain deflected over Hiller to tie the game at one after 40 minutes.
Before the Horcoff goal the Oilers received an injury scare when Saku Koivu put his stick between Hemsky's legs and then pushed him to the ice, Hemsky fell awkwardly on the play immediately grabbing his right knee and after reaching the bench went directly down the tunnel. But Hemsky, who had to this point played a very good game alongside Taylor Hall and Sam Gagner, wasn't gone for long and was back on the period before the end of the period and seemed no worse for wear in the third period. Certainly good news.
In the games final period the play finally balanced out with the Oilers holding a slight advantage in scoring chances despite being out shot 11-10. The Ducks grabbed the lead when Selanne took advantage of a very out of position Corey Potter and found Bobby Ryan near the Oilers blue line giving him a partial breakaway. Ryan showed off his speed on the play staying a step ahead of Ryan Whitney who tried in vain to intercept him but given his lack of mobility had almost no chance before lifting a backhand over Khabibulin to give the Ducks the lead. Selanne's assist on the play tied him with Jari Kurri for first place among Finnish players and 19th all-time.
The Ducks would add to their lead late in the third period when Ryan Whitney, who presumably flashed back to the 2009/10 season when he played for Anaheim, made a nice bounce pass off the boards behind the Oilers net to Niklas Hagman who wasted no time finding Corey Perry in the slot for his 32nd goal of the season leaving the Oilers in a deep hole with less than four minutes left to climb out and try to salvage a point.
There was a glimmer of hope minutes later when Selanne got whistled for the Ducks first penalty of the night sending the Oilers power play to work. 1:01 into the penalty Ryan Nugent-Hopkins found Jordan Eberle at the side of the net. Eberle's quick wrist shot beat HIller and cut the Ducks lead to one with 1:46 left to play. But any hopes of a dramatic comeback were quickly extinguished by another turnover from Whitney, this time at the Ducks blue line with Khabibulin skating to the Oilers bench for the extra attacker, gave Perry another easy goal and sealed the win for the Ducks.