He's not making a save, he's clenching. - Derek Leung
They are beaten and battered, but so is Colorado. Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky carried the Oilers to a comeback win.
Let me preface this entire recap with words of caution. Everything that just happened in this game happened against the Colorado Avalanche. They are one of the worst teams in the league right now. They're missing two top line forwards, two of their top four defensemen and a couple of other supporting cast members. If the Oilers don't lay a beating on them, it should be a concern. In fact, if the Oilers can't lay a beating on this team, they might as well plan that Palm Springs golf getaway right now.
Having said that, everything that happened in the first period doesn't happen if Justin Schultz is healthy. I initially called the two goals against "The worst 30 seconds of his career", but I watched the replays and realized that Schultz was in a tremendous amount of pain. He couldn't turn his upper body, wanted nothing to do with contact, either throwing or taking hits, and didn't even try to shoot over the last 30 minutes. The guy most well-known for power play prowess never even looked up when he got the puck on the power play = he just fed it on to the half-wall. So if Schultz is healthy, the two goals against in 30 seconds never happen. The bang-bang chances against early in the second never happen. The Avs don't score four, they probably score one, especially considering Jeff Petry was having problems moving laterally as well. But Schultz was out there because the Oilers defensive depth is measured in microns and because Schultz in the press box meant a bottom three of Whitney, Potter and Fistric.
So it was a rightful beatdown and a beatdown that probably ends 4-1 on an Oilers' team with depth. Good stuff all around, except playing the young defenseman when he's unable to move freely.
Taylor Hall, Tayor Hall, Taylor Hall. As dominant as he was against Columbus, he was better against Dallas. And he was better than both of those games against Colorado. I realize that he's not dominating teams others might call "good", or "competent", but he's been in another league lately. He didn't cash on a goal tonight, but it didn't matter. Every time an Avs defender turned around, Hall was on top of him. He was wrecking transition play, he controlled the zone, even when he didn't have the puck. I don't think the average Oilers fan realizes what they're watching.
The Oilers other world-class forward was spectacular as well. Ales Hemsky had two brilliant goals, and adding in his four but fors, he might have scored four goals. He was dangling with the puck and had a number of outstanding sequences with his new and already old winger Hartikainen. The power play is certainly more dynamic with him out there, though the next guy looked nearly as strong on the power play.
Sam Gagner won 9 of 16 faceoffs, picked up two more assists and ran the power play like baby Ales. If Hartikainen is hurt, Krueger needs to find another left wing for Gagner and Hemsky, and it can't be Paajarvi. Gagner and Paajarvi go together like oil and water and there aren't many left wings left for them, so it looks like Smyth. Of course that leaves the bottom six in disarray...
On a night when his defensive partner couldn't move, Nick Schultz had to be everywhere, and he was except on those two goals against. Schultz was chasing down pucks that Badger normally chases down. He was playing a hybrid rover/sweeper thing during his shifts and played it extremely well. I wouldn't count on that strategy to pay off long term, but it's nice to know Schultz is able to pull off a performance like that.
I'd love to know why Ralph Krueger thought Laco Smid and Mark Fistric were a good idea. Neither one can handle the puck on exits and neither one is an adept passer. I wish I had a screen capture of Smid sitting behind the net waiting for a forward to circle back and get the puck with Fistric standing guard at the front of the net in case, I really have no idea why he's in front of the net, rather than on the side wall in a place where Smid could use him in an emergency. But that's the beauty of that pair - neither one carries the puck so they're lost without their puck-carrying partners. Krueger eventually put Petry and Smid back together and banished Fistric to the Whitney pairing.
Is this the point now that Steve Tambellini gets off of the pot and gets defensive help, seven months too late?
I think I'm just going to leave a permanent paragraph in this spot dedicated to Ryan Whitney. We've exited the orbit of "frustrating to watch", we've left "infuriating to watch" in the rear view mirror. At this point, Whitney is not an NHL defenseman. I know he's "sublime with the puck" and "incredible on the breakout", but he can't move on defense and can't pivot without hopping into the air. He made four critical mistakes, one on each of his first four shifts. Shortly after that Ralph Krueger mercifully pushed Whitney down the depth chart and saved everyone the pain of watching.
My favorite Oiler, hell my favorite professional athlete, left the game tonight after injuring his shoulder. Teemu Hartikainen struggled through last season with a shoulder injury and though it didn't require surgery then, re-injuring that shoulder is bad news. He played a couple of fantastic shifts before the injury and looked like he could play the left wing for the 89-83 line. I hope the injury is either one of those "stingers" everyone talks about or, if there is any kind of separation, it's in the other shoulder.
The Copper & Blue Three Stars:
★★★ - Nick Schultz
★★ - Ales Hemsky
★ - Taylor Hall