You know what? I used to like Buffalo Springfield.
Would-be Falcons were certainly making an impact on the night. Whether it was Ryan Potulny's limp-wristed feebleness leading to the first goal or Liam Reddox getting nerve stapled by Clarke MacArthur on a play that should be a ten-game suspension and will be a firmly shaken finger from Colin Campbell saying not to do it again, it was all about the guys from the Falcons. And the guys who maybe should be on the Falcons (O HAI JASON STRUDWICK).
So when you think about it, were we really all that bad?
The fact that the Oilers lost without distinction is obvious. They've had a few all right games in a row on this road trip and I wouldn't have picked them to get two points on the entire tour, so it's easy to take a loss to the Sabres as a moral victory, in context. They played like a team which had just gutted out a shootout loss against a superior team in Ottawa, which they were. They had every reason in the world to lose this game, and they did. The end.
Well, the end until news of MacArthur's non-suspension comes down, at which point I can dope up on rageahol like it was meant to be.
Most of the Oilers weren't dreadful individually. Patrick O'Sullivan made some classic Patrick O'Sullivan passes to nobody, sure, but he also scored a lovely goal and was a quarter-inch from a hat trick. Nikolai Khabibulin takes the rap for the second goal, which fluttered through his five hole like a butterfly into the eye of a hurricane, but he also made some nice saves. Perhaps his rebound control on the first goal wasn't the best either, but any NHL goalie will let his share of pucks out when he's down like that.
Liam Reddox was actually one of the best Oilers out there because he played like he wanted something from the game. He was tenacious and always hard on the puck, gave the Sabres hassle whenever they were near him - he was, in short, the usual Liam Reddox. Not that skilled but certainly more useful than guys like me usually gave him credit for. Steve Staios was also a highlight - and I want you to know how difficult it is for me to say that. Though his one mistake in the third period was a heinous giveaway leading to a penalty and only Khabibulin's right pad saved him from an embarrassing minus, Steady Steve actually earned his nickname.
When a team suffers as many injuries and as much fatigue as the Oilers have, the role players like Reddox and Staios have to step up. Unfortunately the stars weren't keeping pace. Dustin Penner had his worst game in some time, with a number of stick-cracking slashes by the Sabres going uncalled but the big genius largely ineffective even when he did have all his equipment. Ales Hemsky, rushed back into the lineup to replace Ryan O'Marra, was simply dreadful. Andrew Cogliano was a non-entity, carried by the stronger play of Ethan Moreau and Zack Stortini on his line. Sam Gagner was possibly not on the ice at all.
The injuries, though. We hope Reddox is all right; playing in his next game has nothing to do with it. We know Grebeshkov is going home after a dirty knee-on-knee play that got no call; one suspects that Bryan Young is sitting excitedly near the phone. We still have Bryan Young, right?
It was a game to forget, except for Clarke MacArthur. The Oilers and Sabres don't play that often, but when they do I hope the Oilers have long memories.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars, Unfair Though Selecting Players from the Minor Leagues May Be:
18th Star: F Ryan Potulny. Scored a goal last night against the
Senators Avalanche, and fair play to him! But I didn't see the game last night against Ottawa against Colorado, I saw the goal tonight against Buffalo. And against Buffalo, oh boy did he ever look like an American leaguer.
I pin the first goal on him, as we discussed. With the Sabres moving the puck around our zone, Potulny was skating to and fro awkwardly as if desperately afraid to be caught doing nothing but equally afraid to be caught out of position and therefore being stuck between various extremes of uselessness. The puck went into the corner and Potulny threw his stick out awkwardly, subscribing to the Red Green school of defending and keeping his stick on the ice. The puck clattered off his feeble grip and deflected out in front, whereupon the Sabres ended up banging it in.
The Steve Smith who wrote the Red Green show? Not that Steve Smith. Ryan Potulny would do well to remember that.
Apart from that, he did very little. He generally handled the puck like it were radioactive and was thrown out on the last, desperate shift of the game because who the hell else were you going to put out there? Potulny has lovely soft hands and I like him, but the reason he's not playing in the NHL is because of his skating and because his puck sense isn't the greatest. Boy Jesus, he proved that.
19th Star: F Ales Hemsky. Has Ales Hemsky ever played well hurt? I don't think Hemsky is a stereotypical European sissy by any means. He can fight in the corners and he'll use his muscle when he can. We've all seen him block shots or take heavy blows in the corner that he knew were coming and keep going. He's not afraid and he's not going to shy away. But sometimes he gets hurt, and when he does it gets ugly. He's willing to play almost every time and we all wind up wishing he hadn't.
He plays a very difficult style of play. Even aside from his famous Euro Dangles he twists and turns when he's skating, tries to do everything at speed, and will try to play his way through gaps smaller than most players would attempt. If part of him really isn't feeling right, it may just completely throw him off. Well, he looked completely thrown off tonight. Towards the end of the game when he got into an unprovoked tussle with Patrick Kaleta, he looked utterly miserable, like he was about to throw up on Kaleta's face but was concerned he might be suspended for it.
20th Star: D Jason Strudwick. He's like Mark Messier at this stage. A constant danger, a reliable threat, and somebody who you never, ever can take your eye off for any reason. The only difference is that Messier did it helping his team.
Running out of hyperbole now. Stop sucking so much, Jason.
21 points: Jason Strudwick
14 points: Ethan Moreau
11 points: Mike Comrie, Nikolai Khabibulin
8 points: Denis Grebeshkov
6 points: Jean-Francois Jacques
5 points: Patrick O'Sullivan
4 points: Ales Hemsky, Theo Peckham
3 points: Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ryan Stone
1 point: Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Potulny