Any wins you can get without your best player are big wins. It’s amplified when you’re playoff hopes are in danger in a shortened, competitive season. Just to heighten the drama, do it when you get down 2 goals to a team you are chasing for the playoffs.
The Oilers were full value for this win. They were a bit unlucky to be down early, especially since I thought they had the better of the chances in the first 2 periods. The only real downside is that Phoenix was able to pick up a loser point.
Oilers in general had the better of the play for most of the 1st, but he Phoenix goal was the result of a terrible zone exit by Ales Hemsky. Justin Schultz sent the puck around the boards to Hemsky who got closed off at the top of the zone. Instead of chipping it out or sending it back, Hemsky tries a little spin move and turns the puck over. Sam Gagner and Teemu Hartikainen had a chance to force the play at the blueline and neither did. They proceeded to let the Coyotes 4th line hem them in and then score. By eye, this line has run into most of its problems because of poor zone exits and this was another example of that.
When you don’t watch him for a while, you can forget how fast Ryan Jones is. There is good Ryan Jones and bad Ryan Jones and tonight was good Ryan Jones. He was playing in all 3 zones (though he was cheating at the Phoenix blueline for that 2 on 1 and the following sequence). When you’ve got a guy who can handle the puck and has some wheels like he does, you need him to help the puck in the D zone. The issue for him is that his counting numbers suffer, so he ends up cheating for offense.
Ryan Smyth is no Taylor Hall and it was obvious in how much time that line spent in the offensive zone, but he filled in well enough and has showed over his past few games that he can still be a top 6 player. I’d like to see Krueger try him on a line with Gagner and Hemsky and see if he can get that line back into the black. I thought Krueger did some great bench management when he sat Smyth for a shift or 2 after he played a bunch on the PK and PP in the 3rd.
The difference between .940sv% Nikolai Khabibulin and .890% Khabibulin is whether he stops the rebounds he kicks out. I don’t think I’ve seen a goaltender less willing to use his stick to deflect pucks into the corner and it inevitably results in a lot of rebounds that other goaltenders don’t give up. I counted 9 shots that were into Khabibulin’s body that ended up bouncing into a dangerous area. He also got a bit lucky with some quick whistles as there were at least 2 where the whistle was blown while the puck was still loose.
Nail Yakupov is touted as a big time goal scorer, but he’s going to make a lot of hay in the NHL doing what he did on the Jordan Eberle goal. He won a race to the puck, and like all the great offensive players, knew what was going on behind him. A lot of players simply curl to look for a play in the slot or behind the net and Keith Yandle was playing that. Yakupov sold the curl until the last second where he did a little touch backhand. That play wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago because Yandle would have had his stick all over Yakupov’s hands.
The last 2 Oiler wins have seen an important 3rd period goal scored by a guy who hadn’t played much. Magnus Paajarvi scored against Colorado and Teemu Hartikainen did it against the Coyotes. The touch pass by Smyth was fantastic, as was the initial pass/shot by Justin Schultz. The Oilers have stopped relying on the half boards setup with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and their PP has been less predictable and are generating better chances.
I’m not sure I like the Oilers going with 4 forwards on the PP in OT, and I don’t think I would have said that aside from the Pronger season. The group generated some good chances, but the Coyotes didn’t really have to respect the play from the point, so they cheated their triangle more towards their net.
The goals by Gagner and Eberle in the shootout are basically unstoppable. The little fake shot Gagner put on gives him so many options because almost every goalie will bite a little bit. He faked it and then made a move to get Mike Smith moving one way, then he just cut back. The only way a goalie stops it is if he doesn’t bite on the fake shot. Eberle went about it differently, he made a forehand fake and went backhand and put it right in the top of the net. Not a lot of guys can get the backhand up like that. Khabibulin stopped both shootout attempts, by simply reading the play. Mikkel Boedker stayed on the right side of the ice and Khabibulin just stayed with him. David Runblad sold shot all the way and didn’t put it anywhere near high enough.