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Senators 4, Oilers 2 -- player gradings

I have offered to assist in David Staples' latest project over at Cult of Hockey, namely to grade the Oilers' players on a game-by-game basis. This is a collective effort, I'm just one member of a team of markers.

The scoring system is as follows: 10, perfect game; 9, extraordinary game; 8, great game; 7, good game; 6, above average game; 5, average game; 4, below average game; 3, bad game; 2, terrible game; 1, trade this player or send him to the minors.

It's been my "pleasure" to grade both of the Ottawa games, two of the most disappointing losses of the season for Edmonton. Need I add, regulation losses. I left the building angry and disappointed after the Sens snapped their 12 game road losing streak at our expense in late December, and hoped the Oilers would be chomping at the bit for some revenge last night.

Not so much. The Oil started going backwards right off the opening faceoff, and somehow conspired to send Spezza in alone for an unassisted breakaway goal just a dozen seconds in. That constituted a Senators franchise record for fastest goal, but didn't even match the Oilers' seasonal mark of fastest GA. That one opened the 10-goal floodgate to Buffalo, and while last night didn't disintegrate to that degree, the Oilers never got back in this one either.

While Oilers are, in theory, a better team than Ottawa, there's no doubt which squad was the better on this night. These statistics don't lie:

Final Score: 4-2 OTT
Shots on goal: 32-26 OTT
Shots at goal: 57-43 OTT
Faceoffs: 28-23 OTT
TakeAways: 13-7 OTT
GiveAways: 12-4 EDM

Combining those last two, Ottawa's margin of 25-11 in the turnover battle speaks volumes about which team wanted the puck more, and which protected it better when they had it. Oilers played OK in the physical aspects of the game, matching Ottawa's 26 hits and blocking 15 shots. Ottawa's skill guys had a dominant game and our top guns came up short in a Power vs. Power match-up, while our 2-3-4 lines could only saw off against their underwhelming counterparts.

Ladislav Smid - 7: Ladi was the top Oiler to my eye. He's evolving into a commanding presence on the blue, increasingly calm and confident with the puck, and a punishing hitter as Shean Donovan can attest. 4 hits, 3 blocked shots, and contributed to both Oiler goals by drawing the penalty that led to Gagner's PP goal, and then assisting on Sam's second late in the third to extend his point streak to three games (0-4-4). Kept the sheet clean at the defensive end, and was full marks for his +1.

Shawn Horcoff - 3: Won the opening faceoff, and everything went downhill from there. Quickly. Didn't seem to have his hands going at all -- 6-10, 38% on the dot, both of his attempted shots missed the net, and his most creative pass whistled past Kotalik's stick a foot off the ice. Hard to fault him on Spezza's goal, but on Comrie's he 1) lost an offensive zone faceoff, 2) chased the puck for awhile, 3) took the (cheap) delayed penalty on Heatley which allowed Comrie to come off the bench for the 6v5, 4) didn't get the call when he touched the puck in the corner, and then 5) watched helplessly as his man Spezza fired a great feed that Comrie finished off. Later was on the receiving end of a huge collision between Stortini and Volchenkov and went off gingerly. The hard minutes are taking a toll.

Andrew Cogliano - 6: Had his skating legs going better than I've seen from him in awhile. Got a few chances for his efforts but couldn't finish a one of them, including a golden opportunity for a game-changing 3-2 goal off a nice Penner feed that he pretty much whiffed. A rare excellent game on the dot (7-2, 78%).

Patrick O'Sullivan - 5: Played OK on a line with Pouliot and (mostly) Gagner, holding his own in scoring chances (+6/-6) and shots (+10/-9). Unfortunately his first shift on the PK unit went badly, with O'Sullivan's giveaway on a poor clearing pass leading directly to Campoli's game-winner. I guess he fits right in with Oilers' PK.

Ales Kotalik - 4: Didn't stink, but his line got owned, as he was on the ice for all three even-strength goals against. Showed a little bit of chemistry with the other Ales, had 2 of his line's 3 shots, and a couple of hits.

J.F. Jacques - 6: I like what he's bringing, which last night was 9:49 of solid fourth-line grinding. 1 hit, 2 blocked shots, and Oilers outchanced the Sens 4-2 with JFJ on the ice.

Steve Staios - 7: A strong effort. Oilers outshot Ottawa 15-8 with Staios on the ice, outchanced them 10-6, and outscored them 1-0. Attempted 4 shots and blocked 2. Led the charge into the scrum in the final minute when Campoli took liberties with Cogliano, which is worth a point in my book.

Dustin Penner - 5: Not much working offensively just now (0 shots last night, 0 points in his last 8 games). Played a fairly physical game with 4 hits and lots of puck battles deep in Ottawa territory. His low-key personality doesn't translate well to the power game; even when he plays hard, he seems dispassionate.

Fernando Pisani - 6: Gradually returning to form. 3 hits, 2 shots, 1 block, and even at evens. Was on the ice for Ottawa's PP goal.

Dwayne Roloson - 5: Was not the reason Oilers lost the game. Unfortunately, we can't say he was the reason they won it either.

Denis Grebeshkov - 3: A terrible game, right from the brutal backwards pass he made that hopped on Gilbert and sent Spezza in alone. Things just went from bad to worse as he wound up the night outshot +3/-13 and had the whopping -3 to prove it. Made a nice pass to send Gagner in alone on the powerplay, but it was nowhere near enough to atone for his sins. Still hurting?

Jason Strudwick - 5: A decent effort. 2 hits, 1 shot, 1 block, 1 takeaway, 1 (brutal) giveaway. Not a difference-maker.

Sheldon Souray - 6: Solid outing with 4 shots, 1 hit, 1 takeway, and Oilers were rarely in trouble with the SS-SS pairing out there. His shots have an effect even when they don't go in: one softened up an opponent, while another led to the uncontrolled rebound that Gagner turned into an extended video review.

Zack Stortini - 5: What I love about Stortini is that he's just as willing to take a hit as give one. Many hitters like to take the long way to the puck so that they can arrive second and lay the body on the other guy, but Zack values possession of the puck first and foremost. One case in point occurred late in the first when Zack outraced Jason Smith to a loose puck in the corner, absorbed a very heavy hit while protecting the puck, then got back on his feet to crunch Jarkko Ruutu on the continuation, one of a team-leading 5 hits on the night for Zorg in a team-low 9:43 TOI. Did take a rare undisciplined penalty when suckered by Ruutu, although for the life of me why diving is unsportsmanlike and turtling isn't escapes me. I docked Zack one full point for this indiscretion.

Kyle Brodziak - 7: A solid game centring the two Coke machines on the fourth unit, a group which outchanced Ottawa 5-3 when Brodziak was on. 2 shots, 1 hit, 2 takeaways, 3 blocks, and an impressive 6-2, 75% in the circle.

Tom Gilbert - 3: A very tough night. Lined up with Grebeshkov in the shutdown role against Ottawa's first unit, and fared poorly indeed. Shots on goal were 14-2 Ottawa with Tom on the ice at evens, and his -3 was all-too-well-earned.

Marc Pouliot - 6: A very quiet night on the stat sheet (other than an unflattering 0-4, 0% on the dot), but I thought he played a solid, heady game on the right side with Gagner and O'Sullivan.

Ales Hemsky - 3: Didn't get the job done offensively or defensively. Was on the ice for all three even-strength goals against, and while he showed a few flashes offensively, the elite playmaker now has gone 8 games without an assist. Appeared to win a race to negate an icing only to have Heatley outbattle him and touch it up; 8 seconds after the subsequent faceoff, Heatley scored at the other end to seal the deal at 4-1.

Sam Gagner - 6: Tasted blood on his first shift when rocked by Gator, and it may have spurred him into one of his more proactive games as a pro. Scored both goals and appeared to be robbed of a third when he made an incredible shot from an almost impossible angle. Led the team with 5 shots. On the downside, had 2 giveaways, went only 2-5, 29% in the circle (including the draw that led to Heatley's goal), and was sitting in the box for the game winner after taking a dumb penalty 200 feet from his net. He argued the call, but he did grab and rather dangerously spill Bell into the end boards on an over-aggressive forecheck. Every ref in the league will make that call, and it cost us.

Craig MacTavish - 3: I watched a replay of Bruce Boudreau going ballistic on the Washington bench last night, and I thought to myself, where the heck is that on our team? Composure is important I guess, but so is passion, and too many nights our coach looks resigned to his fate. He didn't respond too well to the bad PvP match-up that Cory Clouston employed, didn't switch Grebs and Gilbert off that unit despite all the negative results, and didn't change up Horcoff for Gagner until far too late to have much effect. Sounded discouraged in the post-game scrum, and used the word "they" to describe the Oilers far too often for my liking.