If you think I'm being overly dramatic in the title, I'm not. The Oilers currently sit 13th in the conference with a 6-7-3 record. That's a 45 point pace and it's going to take at least 54 to make the playoffs. That means the Oilers basically have to go 19-12-1 over their last 32 games and hope that the 5 teams ahead of them all do worse. It also doesn't help that they've basically gassed this 5 game home stand which, for the record, saw them play their first 4 games against teams below them in the standings. You can't make the playoffs in this league losing 3 out of 4 games against teams that are chasing you, because all of a sudden you are chasing them.
The game itself was a typical Oilers - Wild game. Not a heck of a lot happens offensively in either end, the Oilers inevitably break down defensively which leads to the winning goal, Niklas Backstrom has a solid game and something happens involving Cal Clutterbuck.
When Ryan Smyth retires, February 21st should be a civic holiday for the people of Edmonton. He’s obviously not what he was even 2 years ago, but he’s still a very useful hockey player. His goal was an incredible effort, first to dive and cause a loose puck, then to get up and bury the wrap around. It was a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable game.
Theo Peckham found his way back into the Oilers lineup, playing just over 18 minutes, paired with Mark Fistric. The two somehow allowed Matt Cullen to go in on a breakaway (and score), despite being set up in good position at the Oilers blueline. He also took a 3rd period penalty just after the Wild scored to go up 2-1.
It seemed like as soon as Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry turned the corner and started playing better, Schultz squared fell apart. They were victimized for 2 more goals last night, the first being an unlucky play where the Wild forechecker (Matt Cullen) happened to be in a good spot to read a bit of a broken breakout and was able to get to the puck first and hit a streak Setoguchi before the Oilers could recover. The second Wild goal was just a bad pinch by Nick Schultz. He was late making his decision (in fact, I don’t think he even stopped the puck from crossing the blueline), and he did it without having any forward support coming out of the zone. The resulting 2 on 1 wasn’t played particularly well by Justin Schultz either. Cullen is a left hand shot coming down the right wing and Schultz basically let him walk into the prime scoring area for an excellent shot. Justin Schultz has to do better job forcing the puck carrier a bit further outside while still taking the passing lane away.
Every time I watch Matt Cullen play, I’m amazed that he doesn’t get more points than he does. Maybe he just does this against the Oilers, but I’ve always found that he seems to get the puck in dangerous areas of the ice. He could have had 4 goals tonight if he was a bit luckier.
Point totals aside, the Gagner, Hemsky, < insert player > line just isn't working. They are getting shelled by the possession metrics and it isn't even close. I don't know if it's the 2 of them or if it's the fact that they keep getting saddled with rookies who aren't quite ready for that role. I like that Krueger swtiched it up a bit by swapping Yakupov with Eberle but I don't know if it's enough.
Despite the hysterical cries from the state of Minnesota, the Taylor Hall hit on Cal Clutterbuck was definitely not knee on knee. He got him with his hip in his thigh (which I thought was obvious, but twitter thinks otherwise). That being said, I have a huge issue with hip checks in the first place. I don’t like them and the reason is your first point of contact is often below the waist.
The main difference between getting up after one of these hits and writhing on the ice in pain is the angle you are skating. If you are skating head on the point of contact is often spread across your thigh area and pushes both of your legs back (absorbing the blow). This is why you see a lot of guys go up and over on a hip check. You run into issues when you are cutting across and absorb the impact on one leg. Your one leg is skating forward and your other leg just suddenly stops and the entire impact is in your one thigh.
So here’s the thing… we know that it wasn’t kneeing (Hall used his hip), and we know it wasn’t clipping, which refers to hits delivered at or below the knees. At best it was interference, but even then it’s a grey area. We talk all the time about “finishing your check”, which is hockey code for hitting the guy after he gets rid of the puck. Clutterbuck looks like he touched the puck when he kicked at it, and Hall hit him just over a second later. This makes even interference a debatable call on this play (unless Clutterbuck never touched the puck).
I get that the refs have to make a call based on how they see things in real time, but I don’t see how the NHL can suspend him.