On a night when Taylor Hall was at his best, his teammates weren't.
Consider yourself lucky to watch the NHL during the Taylor Hall era. While Hall isn't in Sidney Crosby's league, Hall lives in a league just below that, as one of the best players in the league. The term "take over a game" is broadly used, and usually badly used, but last night Hall didn't take over a game - he owned a game from start to finish. I wonder how his linemates and opponents aren't caught watching Hall two or three times a game, given his propensity to do amazing things on rushes and chances he creates.
He's a special player, the best Edmonton has had since Chris Pronger, and the best forward Edmonton has had since Mark Messier and I hope Kevin Lowe dosn't find a way to waste his peak with the Oilers.
Taylor Hall, Tayor Hall, Taylor Hall. The guy is an amazing hockey player who makes plays at a top speed that no one else in the NHL can make. I compared him to a bird of prey last season - he swoops around neutral ice and the offensive zone, he blows by defensemen (ask Erik Johnson and now...all of the Stars) he generates shots and chances like almost no other young player in the league. He's amazing to watch, and though his goal came on a fluke shot, he deserved at least one, maybe two or three goals for his performance last night. He's a force of nature.
This feels strange to say, but Ben Eager played the best game I've ever seen Eager play, even though his line was smoked all night long. I had the benefit of watching the game on replay, and already saw Tweets about his performance, so I had an eye out for him. It was strange to read Tweets from smart guys and watch that line suffer beating after beating, but even so, Eager was physically dominant on the ice. Not physically dominant by way of checks or hits - but by way of speed and space. His backcheck was outstanding - some of the best by any Oilers' player this season. He used his speed to close on people and force them into decisions they didn't want to make. He used his speed and size on the forecheck to create confusion on breakouts. His linemates weren't up to the task, but that's not Eager's fault. Eager isn't the only player that gets a pass because of poor teammates tonight.
Sam Gagner played an up-and-down game. He had some amazing chances, but also made some bone-headed plays, capped by his late penalty to negate a power play. A lot is riding on Gagner right now and his line is being outchanced and outshot. If they're going to keep their heads above water, Gagner has to be better, especially in his own zone. He wasn't getting much support from his defense last night, but when his line was caught in the zone, Gagner wasn't up to the task to get into the cycle and force a guy off of the puck or ride a guy out of the cycle. Shawn Horcoff steps in and does the work himself. Gagner isn't there yet..
Justin Schultz is an exciting young offensive player, but for the third straight game, he was exposed for his lack of strength on the boards and down low in the zone. His inability to break a cycle or step into a forward below the circles led to some prolonged sequences in his own zone and helped contribute to Yakupov, Gagner and Hemsky getting pinned in the zone twice.
Mark Fistric is supposed to be a defense-first guy who hits the tar out of people. Unfortunately, he's actually a hit-hunter who wanders the defensive zone looking for the big hit and is quite often caught out of position, a la Theo Peckham. Against the Blue Jackets Fistric went hit-hunting in transition and both times it led to chances against. Against the Stars, he went hit-hunting three times while he was supposed to be playing low in his own zone or in the slot. Someone needs to put a shock collar on him and zap him every time he tries to go on walkabout looking to plaster someone. Fistric was out of position so often that I'm giving Jeff Petry a pass for the worst game I've ever seen Petry play. I'm struggling to understand why Theo Peckham was replaced with Theo Peckham.
Chris VandeVelde probably won't get another NHL game.
Never again should Ralph Krueger have last change and give Jamie Benn and Jaromir Jagr the opportunity to abuse Corey Potter. It was bad enough when it happened once, but when it happened multiple times, and Kruger did nothing to get away from it, I start to wonder what sort of strategy Krueger has in mind for this team. Is he doing this on purpose so that the GM will take notice and get him two more actual NHL defensemen?
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Ben Eager
★★ - Eric Belanger
★ - Taylor Hall