I don't even know what to say after that one. Oilers hosted the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, featuring Sidney Crosby visiting Edmonton for the second time already after just 338 career games. Thanks again for the unbalanced schedule, Gary.
Penguins were on a back-to-back after a tough win in Calgary last night, and were in theory the tired club in the third period. Yeah, sur-re. Instead, just like the Penguins last visit to Rexall in 2007, the Oilers held a 2-0 lead through 40 minutes only to let it slip away in the third, ultimately losing 3-2 in regulation. The Pens didn't even need offence from Crosby or Malkin, instead riding three goals from their third line grinders down the stretch. Jordan Staal was the key with three first assists, while Matt Cooke of all friggin' people chipped in with a goal and a helper.
From an Oiler perspective it was another difficult defeat for a team that seems to find a way to lose. In this mercifully-ended four-game homestand there was an overtime loss to Phoenix, a 60-minute loss to Columbus, a first-period loss to Nashville, and now a third period loss to the Penguins. 0-3-1, 1 point. The team's spirit and confidence is at rock bottom, and the darn flu seems to be biting again too. Shawn Horcoff was a late scratch for this one with flu symptoms while Gilbert Brule sat out his second straight game with his fourth (!) bug of the season.
There were a few positive signs ...
- Devan Dubnyk got the start and responded with a good showing, especially during a strong second period during which the Oilers built that 2-0 lead. Dubnyk looked confident and imposing, and seemed to use his size to better advanatge than JDD. Alas (there's always an "alas"), the goal that broke his shutout early in the third was a little on the soft side, and once the levee had been breached it just seemed a matter of time -- and not much of that -- before the Penguins turned the score in their favour.
- Andrew Cogliano really had the legs going and was a force all night, playing a season-high 18:07 in Horcoff's absence. Cogs even scored a goal, and on the powerplay at that, just his third goal in the last 40 games. Alas, his line got burned for both even-strength goals in the third. He ended the night at -2 but with second star honours. How Oiler-like.
- Robert Nilsson was also a force in this game, playing what was surely a career-high 22:34, with 4 shots, 3 blocked shots, and 4 of the Oilers 8 takeaways. Alas, he froze on his best opportunity and instead of getting a decent shot away, ran over Marc-Andre Fleury, receiving a goaltender interference penalty and a blocker to the head for his efforts.
- Patrick O'Sullivan continued his recent impressive play, setting up both Oiler goals on second period powerplays with a nice feed to Cogliano near the end of a long 5-on-3; and later followed up his own fine rush and near goal by recovering the loose puck and setting up Lubo Visnovsky's blast from the blue. Alas, his burst into Penguins' territory on a partial break late in the third was whistled down by the linesman who imagined the play offside.
After a slow first period that saw Oilers outshoot Pittsburgh just 4-3, the game really opened up, with the shot clock ending 35-31 Edmonton. 6 Oilers (Nilsson, Cogliano, Potulny, O'Sullivan, Penner, Gagner) had at least 4 shots on the night. The faceoff crew responded to Horcoff's absence by going 36/61 = 59% on the dot.
When all is said and done, the zero points in the standings off of what was largely a decent effort, is a "positive" of a sort in the Fall for Hall. I worry about the costs of all these losses, though; hard times like these are not exactly a solid foundation for future success.
* * *
Next up: @ San Jose, Saturday, 14:00 MST. Faint of heart need not apply.