Well, shit. What a crushing day. We lost Hemsky for the season, and we lost a game we should have won. Not just a game, but The "Dany Heatley Game". Played well enough to titillate, but in the end, handed the Sharks the freaking game on a silver platter in a particularly discouraging manner.
It was a good game and I have few (but specific) complaints. A good friend I don't see often enough got a pair of freebies and was kind enough to phone me, we hit the Thanh Thanh for some excellent Vietnamese cuisine en route, and by anthem-time found our seats on Row 31 overlooking the faceoff circle in the Sharks end, players' bench side. Funny thing, the last year I had season tickets I moved up to Row 31 from Row 14 to reduce the per game damage from $31 to $17. Now it's 17 years later and those $17 seats now bear a sticker price of $107! Which is why I rely on generous friends and occasional good luck to get to my handful of games a year ... ducats are simply out of range.
31 rows is a long way from the ice, but not too far to see some of the wide open spaces in several of the Movember 'staches on display even after a month of "growth". That little visual brought home the fact that this was a battle of boys against men
The anti-Heatley sentiment peaked early, with one leather lung letting rip a harsh "You suck Heatley!" while Paul Lorieau paused for a breath in the Star Spangled Banner, which certainly brought home the fact that this was another Canadian** hockey star who had bolted stateside, turning his nose up at two Canadian teams in the process. So the loudmouth's timing was appropriate or classless or both depending on one's viewpoint.
(** Canadian unless you believe the photo caption, which I have left in its raw, AP form. For whatever reason they always identify non-North American players by what country they're from.)
After that the booing was more perfuctory than anything, more noise than anything heartfelt. The cheers rang when Sheldon Souray knocked Heatley on his overpaid butt 5 minutes in, but quickly died out when Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau instantly took advantage of the large hole Souray had left behind in the process to put the Sharks up 1-0. The lead held past the midway mark of the game and I began to wonder if the Oilers would ever score again. Out of the blue though, Ryan Potulny made a nice steal from Dan Boyle, outraced a half-hearted Thornton backcheck and went in alone to deke Evgeni Nabokov. The Oilers carried the 1-1 score to the intermission, another tight defensive struggle not dissimilar from Wednesday's affair vs. the Kings. Unexpectedly, the third period was the bipolar opposite...
What a period it was. Dustin Penner scored early on a Gilbert Brulé rebound, then Penner returned the favour with a goal mouth feed that Brulé swatted home. Two-goal lead in the third, our first chance to be home and cooled out. Instead it lasted exactly two shifts of the Marleau-Thornton-Heatley line, both of which ended with the puck in the back of Jeff Deslauriers' net. 3-3. Back and forth the game went for several pulsating minutes, with my pick to score the game winner, Ladi Smid, actually having a great chance only to be beaten by Nabokov's glove. Undeterred, Smid later served as the middleman between Ethan Moreau's determined rush and Potulny's finishing shot which put the Oil up once again, 4-3 with 5 minutes to go. Turnaround for what happened in the Kings' game Thursday. We just had to see it out.
The best/worst thing about it was that for the next 3½ minutes the Oilers played perfect hockey. They forechecked like demons, hemming the Sharks in their own end, consistently winning races to and battles for loose pucks, cycling, making crisp changes while still maintaining puck pursuit. It was a joy to watch. Until, of all things, Oilers forced a Shark mistake, a penalty with 1:40 to go.
Well that should have been it. Instead, the Oil fell completely asleep. The powerplay which had done nothing all night, did much less than nothing when it mattered most, allowing three great San Jose scoring chances and the tying goal on a completely broken play. Hard to believe that you can win a draw in your own end 5-against-4 and within 4 seconds have the play end with the opposing centre completing his hat trick from the edge of the crease without anybody around him including the goalie. Gagner broke or dropped his stick winning the draw and let Marleau go, Staios and Souray got crossed up, Thornton won a race to the loose puck and JDD went fishing for the pokecheck only to look silly when Thornton fished the puck to Marleau for the tap in. A complete fustercluck, with the game completely on the line. Stupid, stupid, stupid hockey.
Oilers conspired to give up another odd man rush on the same powerplay, very nearly losing the game in regulation. There was no further scoring in overtime either, despite a very entertaining 101 seconds of the ultra-rare 3v3. From there it was a shootout, and the only surprise was that it wasn't Dany Bloody Heatley who dropped the guillotine on another loss, perhaps the most disappointing, frustrating, and discouraging one to date.
The thing of it is, if you hang around long enough, there's not much new under the sun and no matter what happens, chances are you've seen something like it before. I remember three years ago almost to the day, attending The Chris Pronger Game in which the Oil blew a two-goal lead, the Ducks tied it with the goalie out and won it in overtime, prompting very similar emotions. I also recall the Oil blowing a game in the Boston Garden round about 1986 or so when they had the lead and the powerplay in the last two minutes, conspired to retreat all the way to their own end with the puck, and then Paul Coffey tried a long slow diagonal pass right through the middle of his own zone which the Bruins picked off and promptly put in the net. Then they won it in overtime. That time I was so mad I could spit ... tonight it was shocking in one sense but in another it was just another disaster in a disastrous season. Bad news always carries the day, so what's new?
Jacques - Horcoff - O'Sullivan
This threesome along with Staios and Souray was hard-matched against San Jose's big unit (Marleau-Thornton-Heatley-Murray-Boyle). They weren't up to the task judging by the -3 each of the three posted. Funny, cuz they did lots of things right. JFJ led the Oilers in hits (6) and POS in shots (also 6). Horcoff worked his tail off and made lots of excellent small plays, such as the second period sequence where he fended off heavy Sharks forechecking by two guys and finally worked his way out of the zone, only to have Souray inexplicably miss his soft breakout pass with the Sharks instantly turning it into a 2-on-1 the other way. Lots to like in JFJ's game, but defensive presence is not one of those things
Penner - Gagner - Brulé
Solid night's work from the trio, consisting of two former hot shot draft picks and the big man who took a very circuitous route to the bigs. They connected for two third period goals and showing some chemistry especially between Penner and Brulé who had it going earlier in the year. Brulé is no Hemsky obviously but I'm starting to think we might have an Actual NHL Player™ on our hands. He's showing some real intensity to go with a nose for the net and a quick release. As he has done most of the season, Penner gave the Sharks defenders fits with his bull-in-a-china-shop routine
Moreau - Potulny - Cogliano
Lots to like here. The trio generated 10 shots among them in a strong effort from all three men. Potulny too is doing a convincing impersonation of an Actual NHL Player™ and is getting stronger as his ice time and confidence grows. He notched a pair of goals with some real strong finish, threw his body around with some abandon, and contributed solid time to both special teams. Cogliano appears tp be finally emerging from the coccon that had enveloped his early-season play, skating hard and really getting his competitive juices flowing. The goals aren't coming yet, but he's been an effective player of late. Moreau too put in an excellent efffort, contributing a number of strong rushed including the one that led directly to what should have been the winning goal. He remains way too inclined to shoot from absolutely anywhere that he actually gets control of the disc, and the element of surprise is long gone.
McDonald - O'Marra - Stortini
A creditable performance from the young trio, who held their own in brief appearances (~5 minutes TOI). Stortini (4 hits) did a solid job chaperoning his inexperienced mates (combined 1 NHL GP before this one). O'Marra with a couple of nice hits, although for some reason he skirted a guy he seemingly had in the trolley tracks in the third. Guys like him need to hit at every opportunity to be successful. The raw rook McDonald had a couple of giveaways mixed in as he had a little trouble with NHL speed. I loved one sequence where all three of them consecutively hammered various Sharks who were trying to break out.
Souray - Staios
An awful night for the two vets, who were not so much hardmatched as overmatched against the "Olympic Line". Both ended the night with a sorry -4, burnt for three even strength goals with 22-10-19 and then the less forgivable SH goal that tied things at the end in which the two experienced defenders completely got undressed in front of their own goal. Souray had 3 giveaways and 2 bad penalties mixed in on a night where he seemed completely out of sorts, out of synch with himself and almost out of phase with the game. Everything he did was a split second ahead or behind the play. Staios got some time on the PP which spent more time allowing odd-man rushes against than creating anything in the good end.
Smid - Visnovsky
Solid night's work saw both post a +2. Smid delivered a tenacious effort which included contributions in the O-zone, as he forced a fine save from Nabokov minutes before he set up Potulny for the 4-3 goal. Visnovsky looked small and overmatched on a couple of occasions, and like a master in complete control much of the rest of the time.
Strudwick - Gilbert
Another pair with a sparkling +2 rating against lesser comp. One of Strudwick's stronger games in a while. Gilbert had a couple of horrendous giveways which led directly to glorious chances for the Sharks, but otherwise was looking more like his old self than I've seen for a while, using his smarts to win possession and his legs to rush the puck with authority.
A number of decent stops to bail out various Oiler breakdowns, but I was less than impressed with his overall body of work. Seems to have a hell of a time tracking the puck, and allows rebounds in unexpected directions. He had his usual puckhandling misadventures (3 GV for at least the third time recently), freezing the puck much more often than necessary, especially given Oilers' issues on the dot. (See: tying goal against.) His attempted pokecheck on that faceoff situation was the exact wrong play, and led to Marleau having a wide open net to dunk the puck. Does not inspire confidence in this observer.