Last night in Washington the Oilers didn't play very well and lost. Tonight in Pittsburgh the team played better, but unfortunately they still lost. Following the script of too many other games early in this season there was a soft goal allowed by the Oilers netminder, and on this night a single goal ended up being the margin of victory. That probably stings a little. But coming in the second of back-to-back games, and on the road in Pittsburgh no less, I'm sure this is a moral victory for the Oilers. Or a learning experience. Or something like that. I think I've seen this exact same game a few hundred times in the last few seasons and I'm really not sure, or just don't care what it's supposed to mean anymore.
The day started out well enough with news that the exiled Nail Yakupov would be back on the ice for the Oilers after two games spent watching from the press box. And then just before game time it was announced that he'd be skating with quality line mates in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and David Perron. This is what a lot of fans had been hoping for. Give Yak top quality line mates and watch him explode. That's not quite what happened though. Tonight Yakupov looked out of place and almost uninterested at times. He finished with 5 Corsi events for versus 18 against. The raw total of -13 and his Corsi percentage (22%) were both team lows on the night.
Yakupov's evening closely matched the Oilers first period. The visitors were completely dominated by the Penguins, who outshot the Oilers 15-4. The Corsi events in the first period were just as lopsided, 22-9 in favour of Pittsburgh. But the score was just 1-0 somehow. The lone goal of the period came off the stick off Pascal Dupuis who was on the receiving end of a Sideny Crosby pass from behind the Oilers net. Dupuis' shot found it's way through a couple of Oilers before beating surprise starting goalie, Jason LaBarbera.
The Oilers started the second period with a brief 18 second two man advantage, followed by 1:17 of 5-on-4 power play time. The Oilers failed to convert during the power play but were quite active attempting six shots and getting four through to Marc-Andre Fleury. And four seconds after the power play ended, Ales Hemsky jammed home a loose puck that was sitting in the crease behind Fleury tying the game at one a piece.
Even after the tying goal the Oilers continued to carry the play. Just look at the slope of the line representing the Oilers in the Fenwick chart at Extra Skater to get an idea of how strong the team's play was early in the second period tonight. Unfortunately they couldn't convert the good play into another goal. Instead, it was the Penguins who scored next when a shot deflected by Crosby squeaked through LaBarbera and was knocked home but Chris Kunitz. This was actually the second time tonight a shot had dribbled through LaBarbera, the other, in the first period, he fell on before it could get across the goal line. In the second period he wasn't so lucky.
Before the end of the second period the Oilers would once again tie the game when Jordan Eberle scored his second goal of the season. Before the goal, Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Mark Arcobello had the Penguins scrambling around their own net. In a five second sequence Eberle missed the net, then Hall's attempt was stopped by a diving Fleury, before Eberle found the rebound at the side of the net and then scored on a backhand from the slot. This trio was the Oilers best forward line tonight, and even though this wasn't the prettiest goal I've seen, it was nice to see them rewarded.
In the third period the pace slowed down a little. Possibly a byproduct of the Oilers having played the night before, or perhaps just a strategy by both teams to play a slightly more defensive/safe game in the final period. The lone goal came on the power play from Evgeni Malkin who was the recipient of a rather lucky play where Paul Martin partially fanned on a shot from the point, only to have the puck end up going right to Malkin. Since both of the Oilers positioned between Martin and the net, as well as LaBarbera, had committed to the shot from the point Malkin had a fairly open net to shoot at, and unfortunately for the Oilers that's not an opportunity that he missed very often.
After the Malkin goal the Oilers still had 12 minutes to try and even the score and didn't generate much of anything, which might have been the most frustrating part of the game. I know they'd played the night before, but a team down a goal has to do more than generate a measly two shot in the last 12 minutes of a hockey game. It wasn't a game that the Oilers should have won, it was a game they could have won though. Seems like that's been a recurring theme this season.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars
★★★ - Ales Hemsky
★★ - Jordan Eberle
★ - Taylor Hall