Optimistic Ben: Well, how 'bout them Oilers, eh? They were ravaged by flu and injury, they took on a more talented Rangers team, and they actually won at even strength! The Oilers are decent on special teams so that's bad luck, but coming out ahead at the even strength game against a team like the Rangers is as positive a sign as it gets! Giddy! Up!
Pessimistic Ben: Were you watching the same game as me? To the extent that either of us were watching the game at all, given that whole pay-per-view nonsense. Whoever's idea it was to put Oiler games on pay-per-view should be tied up behind Dustin Penner and dragged down Whyte Avenue on Canada Day.
Plus, it was awful even through the mirk of crappy online feeds and 630 CHED's radio broadcast. Goals aside, the Oilers got wiped at even strength in both shots and chances. It wasn't just guys like Marian Gaborik who slapped the Oilers around like a newly-married Calgarian couple, but even lesser lights like Michael Del Zotto and Ales Kotalik. That Kotalik's a pretty special player, given the way the Oilers were pussyfooting around him. Why can't the Oilers ever get anybody like that?
Optimistic Ben: First off, the shot numbers were skewed by a large number of Ranger blocked shots. Blocked shots are tricky but the Rangers were lucky enough to get their bodies in front of a lot of them. With Sheldon Souray among others out of the lineup, the Oilers were too hurt to punish the Rangers as much as I'd like for that indiscretion. 28 shots on goal isn't bad, all things considered, and if they had a failing it was a lack of accuracy or a lack of muscle to push through and grab Stephen Valiquette's ill-advised rebounds.
Plus, Dustin Penner, Ales Hemsky, and Lubomir Visnovsky are exactly as good as we thought they were even without much help. Nikolai Khabibulin is much better, so far, than I thought he was. And guys like Taylor Chorney and Gilbert Brule are keeping their heads above water to a far greater extent than anticipated. So there's been some bad news in the short term. In the long run, things are looking sweeeeeeeeeet.
Pessimistic Ben: Thirty-nine shots for the Rangers. Thirty-nine. Those blocked shots were muffins from the forwards and Patrick O'Sullivan's hardest blasts, which amount to the same thing. Even if all the Rangers were at Hudson's nursing a $12 pint of Guinness the Oilers wouldn't have mustered a legitimate scoring chance from any of them. When Gagpensky weren't out, they were being brutalized at even strength, and the special teams catastrophe of course speaks for itself. The Oilers were markedly inferior in all three aspects of play. Frankly, we're lucky the score was as close as it was.
Optimistic Ben: Well, er, at least Mike Comrie scored. God, he needed a monkey off his back, didn't he?
Pessimistic Ben: I thought you were supposed to be looking on the bright side, not grasping at straws.
Optimistic Ben: Have you seen this team? That's hard to do.The best part about that game is that now it's over.
I had such a time watching the thing, too! The team-enforced fog of war that had descended because of the Oilers'
sociopathic levels of greed fan-friendly pay-per-view program meant that I was reduced to a combination of Bob Stauffer over the ol' Internet radio and a remarkably choppy and low-quality video feed of blue blurs and white blurs in constant competition that cut out every three minutes. On one hand I didn't really miss anything, but on the other hand it's so much harder to rip the team the new one it deserves when you can hardly even see the team.
Part of my job, as you know, is to pick out the reverse three stars of these games, but how can I pick three bad players when the entire team was such a blight? You might as well go up to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and ask him for his favourite time to take laudanum. Taylor Chorney was on the ice for eighteen minutes, which is bad damned sign right there, but what's worse than that was Chorney being the Oilers' second-best defenseman. And I mean, by miles.
Pretty much all the bottom nine forwards and bottom four defensemen were an offense to the concept of ice hockey tonight. Understandable, as there is hardly an NHL player in his prime among them, and those few who remain are stretched too thin and playing too far out of their comfort zones to be any help. Gilbert Brule, perhaps well-practiced from his years with Columbus, only played ten minutes but again displayed a remarkable knack for looking decent when playing with absolute nobodies. Mike Comrie was invisible to the point of uselessness until he managed to pot a fairly nice goal. Zack Stortini had hands of stone, but he's Zack Stortini so that's okay and other than that he had an active, positive night. The rest belong in Springfield.
It will get worse before it gets better, too. The Oilers are heading on the road to take on a variety of talented and hot teams. Sheldon Souray is talking about how scrambled his eggs are, the flu continues to ravage the Oilers as if they'd all spent long nights cuddling Ladislav Smid and were growing to regret it, and unless Andrew Cogliano suddenly figures out what he's been doing wrong for more than two NHL seasons and how he can become a useful NHL player the kids show not even a hint of eventually having the light go on.
Perhaps that's the worst thing about this team. It's young, and it's awful, and the young players are the worst ones of all. Aside from Sam Gagner and Smid, which player under twenty-four has emerged with more than a modicum of backhanded "oh he's not as bad as I expected" credit?
It's times like this it's good to be a draft junkie.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars (or: the Only Points Most of the Oilers Were Competing For):
18th Star: C Andrew Cogliano. It was the sort of night we've come to expect from the embattled Cogliano. Thrust back at centre ice by injury and ineptitude, Cogliano had an unusually competent night on the faceoff dot, emerging with five wins and five losses and a 50% that not one Oiler fan in the know would ever dare complain about. But when I'm calling "breaking even on faceoffs" your bright spot on the game, I am well and truly grasping at straws, and Cogliano was just awful.
What a peculiar sort of player he is. Did he make a mistake going to college, I wonder? In many NCAA programs the focus has always been on athleticism rather than skill development: sensible, in a way, since teenagers like Cogliano was would be going up against men in their early twenties. So Cogliano developed his speed and blew past the players he couldn't outmuscle, which was pretty well everybody, and that allowed him to have a star turn at Michigan. Obviously, such shortcuts don't work in the NHL, where Cogliano is in his third year and is no more a contributor than he was in his first. He is, if anything, worse than he was in that twenty-year-old rookie season when at least his shooting percentages were high and he was banging in those thrilling overtime winners while bleeding chances all over the ice.
I'm beginning to doubt that Cogliano will ever figure it out and become a contributing NHL player. It's not merely that he's bad, but that he hasn't gotten any better. Will he always be what he is? Because what he is is costing the Oilers points.
19th Star: C Patrick O'Sullivan. Oh, speaking of disappointments. I do love Patty O'Lanterns and time was last year when I wouldn't hear a word spoken against him. He's small but he's defensively responsible and there's more to getting the puck off of somebody's stick than being bigger than him. With a good shot and a pass so sweet you could sprinkle it on muffins I was so enthused to get him for Erik Cole (or as I thought of him the world's best Coke machine) that I could barely contain myself and the Internet was vibrating with my squeeing.
What happened, Patrick? What the hell happened?
Maybe he's just a contributing player, a supporting actor on the NHL stage. Put him with a couple good players and he'll make magic. But the Oilers only have two good players left and they pretty much have to play together or none of our lines are going to outscore anybody. So O'Sullivan is left centring a combination of Tweedledee and Tweedledum and trying to do it all himself and whipping the puck into guys' shinpads and generally being about as pleasant to watch as an orange juice enema.
20th Star: LW Ethan Moreau. Yet O'Sullivan is far, far from the most infuriating Oiler forward. O'Sullivan is disappointing and ineffective. Ethan Moreau is ineffective and offensive, because he combines being a staggeringly useless hockey player with placing all the blame on his teammates for his failings. It's not just his oft-heard mantra of "<whatever part of the team Moreau wasn't on> didn't do its job tonight", but the way that he gives his teammates the Look of Death whenever they let up for an instant but relentless dogs it back to his own zone whenever the play turns around. It's the suicide passes and the no-look flips around the boards that fail to clear the zone. It's the fact that he's a worthless hockey player and then chirps at his teammates and proves that he's a worthless human being on top of it.
He did it all again tonight, of course. This was a classic episode of the Ethan Moreau show for sure, right down to the ridiculous and unnecessary offensive zone penalty (interference? how does an NHL player take an interference penalty in that situation?) If I could take all of Daryl Katz's money, there's a lot of things I'd do to the Oilers, but there's only one player I'd cut loose entirely, and he wears the 'C' for some reason.
16 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: Theo Peckham
3 points: Sam Gagner, Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ryan Stone
1 point: Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, Ales Hemsky
On Deck: the Oilers wait until Sunday when they travel to Denver and lose to the Avalanche. 6 PM Mountain start, Sportsnet West and 630 CHED carrying it if for some reason you want to watch that turd.