Note: in protest against the media fellatio given to Washington's overhyped mentally addled Pavel Bure clone on his recent swing through western Canada, the guy who wears #8 for the Capitals shall not be referred to beyond this introductory paragraph. Yes I know he scored two of Washington's four goals. Like most writers I am good at dancing around the point and slightly liquored-up all the time.
For about fifty minutes, my Oilers boner was in full swing. What was it I said in the comment thread? Ah, yes. That game was metal. It was long hair and headbanging and men with bad makeup kicking over $25,000 amplifiers. Even when the Oilers went from 2-0 to 2-2 in the time it took me to polish off my third egg nog cocktail, I was pumped up, had my foot on a subwoofer, and a meaningful expression on my face like I was in the middle of a particularly kick-ass power ballad. When the Oilers took that immense 5-on-3 thanks to an idiotic delay of game call on a Mike Green deflection (or as Jeff Deslauriers will be calling it "One Hundred Years of Solitude"), I was about ready to start bouncing around the room.
Steve Staios threw himself in front of a slap shot like he was a bodyguard taking a bullet. Then, unlike the metaphorical bodyguard, he got up and did it again. The Oilers were throwing anything they could move in front of the puck and Ladislav Smid was smashing guys' faces into the goalpost just to get a faceoff and hacking pucks off the goal line and somehow it was working then Sam Gagner leapt out of the box like a house on fire and the Capitals whipped the puck around and there's a bomb and another one and here's Tom Gilbert out of the box and the Oilers are still hemmed in their own zone before Gagner slaps the puck over the line and the crisis ends. It was exhausting just to watch, but exhilirating in a sense that the Oilers haven't inspired since 2006. I can't even imagine what it was like to play.
You talk about your Big Penalty Kills, your momentum-swingers, that was the moment right there. The Oilers had gone into the Coliseum and been thrown to the lions and the guys in togas were nodding approvingly and then the Oilers were standing on top of a pile of dead lions and it's like "whut?"
Then Tomas Fleischmann scored off a faceoff. So much for momentum.
The Oilers were outplayed for the entire game. Well, yeah. That's gonna happen when you're playing a team that much better than we are with a burr in their saddle. Luckily, the erratic Jeff Deslauriers was keeping us in that shindig. He robbed Alexander Semin blind three times; that sort of mugging would be considered brutal in inner-city Los Angeles. He bounced across the crease like a rocker out on the town. He let out massive rebounds but Jeff Deslauriers without rebounds is an inherently nonsensical concept.
The team put on a display of how to beat a vastly superior team. They didn't make mistakes. They defended in depth, swatted pucks off of sticks, and finished checks. They frustrated the Capitals and tried to make them pay on the break. Then they did, when Patrick O'Sullivan was once again worth every penny and put a shot on goal that let Shawn Horcoff bang in the 1-0 goal. The Oilers got another one, and the hockey gods were smiling. Everything was going right. It seemed the good times would never end. But behind the merry facade, this band of underdogs had a dark secret: they stink.
When the Capitals finally ploughed their way back into the game, it was with all the joie de vivre of a military execution. The media has a need, sometimes, to make athletes look like Kids Out There, to see in those unrelatable millionaires shadows of the daydreaming child playing shinny on the pond. Well, the only joy the Capitals were taking from their grim work was the satisfaction of a butcher's job well done. When they dispatched the Oilers, they didn't even have the chivalry to offer us a blindfold and cigarette. Do not confuse the ritual of celebration with genuine elation. The Capitals will play the hot-dog-after-the-goal game as well as anyone, but when they're back on the bench their faces are set like Iron Men.
It works for them, but it results in a certain economy of emotion. We're winning and then we've lost. They might as well draw a chalk outline around us.
It's hard to see the Oilers played badly, in spite of the score and the shots and the Corsi. They were out of their depth and it showed, but they played a good fundamental game against superior opposition. Even in the end, there were few out-and-out breakdowns, although the ones we did commit the Capitals capitalized on.
It's also hard to be too upset. The inferiority of the Oilers is old hat. But the team played hard and there were some moments of sublime quality and excitement. Not that I think the Oilers will be using "Pleasantly Mediocre" as a marketing tagline soon, but they are.
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: D Steve Staios. Starting to see you on this list more and more often, Steady Steve. It really hasn't been going well for him lately and he had another rough go of it tonight, taking the brunt of Washington's second goal when he quit on the play too early and didn't chase down another Deslauriers rebound. On merit, he was the 19th or maybe even the 20th star. But sheer chutzpah counts for something too, and the guts he displayed on the penalty kill earned him some forgiveness from me. I'm a soft touch for personal bravery, and when it's combined with effective penalty killing I verge on a mancrush.
Still. Must do better. We know you can, Steve, but this is a pretty awful cold streak you're on. Snap out of it.
19th Star: F Sam Gagner. Took a crappy tripping penalty after running around his own zone, served his two minutes, spent one and a half of them in Tom Gilbert's company, hopped back on the ice and went back to skating around like his skates were full of boiling water. That was the highlight of his night. The rest of it was spent getting burned in less dramatic but still infuriating ways.
That, actually, is pretty much Gagner's season in a nutshell. He's actually managing to look ineffective playing with Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule, and until recently scientists thought that was theoretically impossible.
20th Star: D Tom Gilbert. Remember in the days of yore (2008), when Denis Grebeshkov was nicknamed "the Acid Blotter" but Tom Gilbert was praised for his completely steadfast attitude to defense and maturity beyond his years? Well, how the tables have turned. The first Capitals goal is on his back: he got caught behind the net losing containment on his man and dilly-dallying behind his own goal line rather than going after the puck where he might do some good. It was an elementary defensive player.
Other than that, he took a penalty that wasn't actually his fault, misplayed a few passes, and for most of the third period was a worse defenseman than an equivalent volume of vacuum would have been. His first forty minutes were no great shakes, either. In a game against the original erratic Oilers American defenseman named "Tom", Poti comprehensively romped over Gilbert. Which isn't a good sign.
26 points: Jason Strudwick
20 points: Ethan Moreau
11 points: Mike Comrie, Nikolai Khabibulin
10 points: Steve Staios
9 points: Jeff Deslauriers, Sam Gagner
8 points: Denis Grebeshkov, Patrick O'Sullivan
7 points: Jean-Francois Jacques
6 points: Tom Gilbert
4 points: Ales Hemsky, Theo Peckham
3 points: Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ryan Stone
1 point: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Potulny