All right, gents, bear with me. I have a theory.
Jeff Deslauriers plays worse the more people believe in him.
Early last year, Deslauriers was bewildering. The Oilers were carrying Mathieu Garon and Dwayne Roloson at the time, so Deslauriers's presence on the roster was utterly superfluous. Plus, well, his AHL numbers were nothing to write home about. If somebody with those sorts of minor league numbers had become a legitimate NHL starter, he'd have been the first.
Then he got a few appearances and looked... pretty good, actually. The Oilers traded Garon for Ryan Stone, or as he can more succinctly be referred to, "nothing", and threw Deslauriers into the backup role. But that show of confidence was followed by Deslauriers laying a couple of real stinkers, and septuagenarian Dwayne Roloson was forced to play nine thousand consecutive games to close out the year as the Oilers limped towards the playoffs. Meanwhile we Oiler fans practically spat in Deslauriers's face: "we're going to get a new backup next year, right? Devan Dubnyk? Andrew Perugini? Craig Anderson? Somebody?"
Well, we didn't. We had the Four Million Dollar Man and we had the sixtieth-best goaltender in the NHL. When Deslauriers got his first start of the season we all wrote 'L' on the calendar in red sharpie, but he rocked the house out. Another couple good starts started to bring back the faith.
And as the faith came back, and the skill departed, as if there was only room for one of them in Deslauriers's breast. Tonight against Chicago, he was waving at pucks like he was watching Prince Charles go by.
So no more will I say that Dominik Hasek is the poor man's Jeff Deslauriers. Jeff, if you're reading this, you suck and I hate you and your face is ugly. Now go pitch a shutout.It's not fair to saddle the goaltender with all the hate, though. There's plenty to go around. The defense! Just... the defense! It got started with Ladislav Smid making an awful rookie mistake to set up the first Blackhawks goal, and you'd hope that after this long in the NHL he'd be past "awful rookie mistake" as a genre. Then Sheldon Souray did his best Steve Sax impression, gloving the puck and neatly whipping it top drawer into his own goal. Yes, he also scored the Oilers' opener with his trademark CANNONATING DRIVE. Forgiveness will not come that easily.
Steve Staios fell in the corner like a six year old who'd lost his plastic chair, leaving Kris Versteeg so open he could bang the puck on Deslauriers, bang it again, clean his chimney, reshingle his house, write a comprehensive analysis of Canadian constitutional law, and then end up getting credited with a goal.
Even Lubomir Visnovsky was awful. It was the sort of night where Jason Strudwick was the reliable, placid one on the blueline. He and Tom Gilbert were merely "not liabilities".
Meanwhile, I could keep going until the end of the season on the Oilers' forward depth. Frankly, it must be getting repetitive for a reader: I know it's repetitive to write it. Sam Gagner? Invisible. Andrew Cogliano? Sucks. Zack Stortini? Wasn't aware he was playing. Ryan Potulny? AHLer. Liam Reddox? AHLer with a concussion. Ethan Moreau? He was Ethan Moreau.
Earlier in the week, Tom Renney gave Ales Hemsky grief for not working harder. I admire Renney and Quinn's willingness to go after star players as well as grinders and call a spade a spade. Ales Hemsky is an adult and has never been so fragile that he couldn't handle a little well-earned criticism. But how in all the circles of hell are they going to light fires under nineteen other asses? These guys should be bag skated so hard they'll grind away the ice and be left stomping on the cement floor.
One of the Oilers' best players was the emergency backup goalie Taylor Jung, because he never saw the ice and was therefore unable to hurt us.
Even if we play our best, we're not going to beat the Blackhawks too many nights. They're better than we are. But a flaccid performance like that makes me want to suck down a bottle of Southern Comfort like a nursing baby.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars. No Witty Tagline Here. Humour Is Dead:
18th Star: G Jeff Deslauriers. His first appearance on the Reverse Three Stars of the season in his fifth game on the season. He's on a much better pace than Ethan Moreau or Jason Strudwick (oh, and was Ethan Moreau ever close to making this list - could have been the Reverse Twelve Stars easy). He was properly, genuinely awful, an awfulness redeemed only by comparison with the dire crap put into garbage bags and thrown onto his lawn by his teammates.
Hey, does Jeff have a house in Edmonton? Does anybody know this? If not, er, I might not make a downpayment yet, buddy. Many more games like this and Riverboat Slim Tambellini is going to bring in Fightin' Ray Emery.
19th Star: D Steve Staios. Here's somebody who doesn't have to worry, though! Steady Steve, as in he will steadily play twenty minutes a night no matter how awful he is.
Staios has certainly not been one of the Oilers' problems this year. I was saying he needs to be sent to the glue factory since the Cup run, but this year he's been a good defenseman. Awful value for his contract, but he's certainly contributed to what few wins the Oilers have accumulated when healthy and that's a rare thing on this team.
Tonight, though, everything went wrong. He didn't get any help from Sheldon Souray, his pairing partner, who very nearly became the first Oiler this season to score a goal and still be a reverse three star. He lacked tenacity on the puck and when he could commit he overcommited, getting completely Youtubed and falling down uselessly in the corner en route to Souray's own goal.
20th Star: F Dustin Penner. Once again, this fat bastard let the Oilers down with a sub-par effort. The round mound of suck skated onto the ice with all the enthusiasm and ability of... of... no, Dustin's not really the twentieth star. Just making sure you were paying attention. Although I was tempted to dock him for not walking out of that ridiculous After Hours interview with Scott "I Was Just Kidding Dustin You and I We're Totally Cool By the Way You Sucked So Hard Last Year Because You Were So Fat I'm Surprised You Didn't See a Shrink" Oake. Scott Oake is the sort of guy who needs a nickname ten times longer than his actual name is.
20th Star: F Ethan Moreau. There we are. Another offensive zone penalty leading to a goal against, another futile foray on the fucking fourth line, another generally dumpy effort.
Well, I say "dumpy effort". Certainly, Moreau, once a not-quite-elite defensive forward, has been guilty of dogging it back into his own zone over the last couple seasons. But tonight it wasn't really a lack of try that killed Moreau. He wasn't trying very hard but neither were most of the guys; I'm not giving him a pass for laziness but if we're ranking on a curve he wouldn't be at the bottom.
What I've noticed a lot more lately from Moreau is that the more he struggles the more he tightens up in the offensive zone and the more he becomes that guy we hated playing pond hockey with, the player who wasn't only a huge puck hog but not even a very good puck hog. When Ales Hemsky chugs the puck between the blue lines you can forgive him because, well, he's Ales Hemsky, but Ethan Moreau doesn't get anything from his greed. I am reminded of late in the third period, with Moreau holding the puck up the left wing. Sam Gagner was out in front, not in a particularly good position but in a better shooting spot than Moreau. Now, Gagner's been struggling. There was no real goalscoring chance there. But there was still a right play and a wrong play, and the wrong play was when Moreau fired the puck on Cristobal Huet at a goofy angle, which Huet smothered with contemptuous ease.
Now, the booth guys said that Moreau was making a savvy veteran play trying to bank the puck off Huet's pads. Since when is a bank shot a savvy play? This isn't billiards, Kevin Weekes. If Ryan Potulny tried that, he wouldn't have got those sorts of reviews.
Maybe I'm hard on Moreau sometimes after games like this. But somebody has to be.
21 points: Jason Strudwick
19 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, Steve Staios, Ryan Stone
1 point: Andrew Cogliano, Jeff Deslauriers, Tom Gilbert, Ryan Potulny