It's going to get worse, of course, but it can't possibly be as bad.
On our Drive for the Top Five, there are going to be lots of bloody, messy losses. We're going to drop a couple 6-1 or 7-2 or something. There's going to be gore all over Rexall Place as Jean-Francois Jacques and Ryan Stone dick around in their own zone and Steve Staios slings the puck around the boards and hits Dustin Penner in the face and knocks him out for nine to ten million years. We will stick our heads into the sand and our fingers into our ears and thumbtacks into our eyes. We will order Taylor Hall-crested Oiler jerseys and devour junior games with the hunger of a starving man and spend so much time reading Hockey's Future that our bosses would threaten to sack us if they weren't doing the same thing.
But no matter how much we plummet this will surely be the nadir. To lose, and lose handily, at home, to a miserable team stocked to the gills with ex-Oilers that had just lost thirteen straight and was the only team in the conference that could even dream of being as awful as we were. Stand up and say that our Corsi was a neat +13, that only by the perfidy of the backup goaltender and our infandous power play were we beaten, but that just adds to the horror. We even have excuses on our plummet into the basement, to buttress our fall into misery with the sharp spikes of slim consolation.
Some of the Oilers looked good. Dustin Penner, Robert Nilsson, Shawn Horcoff, Ryan Stone... none scored but all looked pretty good. Some of the Oilers looked like gods among men. Some of the Oilers looked like they wouldn't crack the second line of the Odessa Jackalopes. All of this was against the second-worst team in the conference. The silver linings just emphasized the dark clouds.Earlier in the week, we bloggers were asked to vote on the SBNation NHL midseason awards. You will be shocked to hear that nary an Oiler nor a Blue Jacket was nominated. The two teams put on a show proving why, laying down and taking a sixty-minute nap punctuated by the occasional instant of perfunctory joy as somebody reluctantly pulled on their skates and made an actual hockey play. The Sportsnet crew was openly chatting about WHL scores and the coaching combo of Pat Quinn and Tom Renney was even more disinterested than usual, never demonstrated better when Jason Strudwick was run out with Devan Dubnyk on the bench for the extra attacker and two goals were desperately needed. So acute was their line-rolling that even with all the special teams action no Oiler played less than ten minutes: last place belonged to Zack Stortini with 10:41.
We won the little battles, which was nice. Sam Gagner beat Jakub Voracek 1-0 in the Battle of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft; they're tied in points with Gagner holding two games in hand. Dustin Penner won his wrestling matches against almost everybody and Robert Nilsson fought extremely hard in the middleweight division, throwing himself at Mathieu Garon with gay aplomb. The more a season is out of reach, the harder Nilsson plays. The Kid Line in 2008, surging on a hopeless playoff chase with Nilsson playing like his father. Now on a very promising drive to the draft lottery with Nilsson playing like Guy Lafleur. Patrick O'Sullivan defended his championship as Most Invisible Player. It was all terribly exciting.
The third line once again looked terribly good, with Fernando Pisani reclaiming his "Instant Chemistry" nickname, going +11 in Corsi, and of course sniping a goal so lovely it left me prostrate upon the ground, my hands on my cheeks, wondering what miraculous event had teleported me back to the heady days of 2005. Ulcerative colitis was just the hockey gods' way of testing our faith, and I never doubted for a second. What a pity that a pill-popping Maple Leaf will once again cling the Masterton Trophy to his bosum, because that's what the Masterton Trophy is for.
And R.J. Umberger had two points, which was probably great for Mr. and Mrs. Umberger and the five remaining Blue Jacket fans but stank for the rest of us.
If we'd played this game against, say, San Jose, I'd have been thrilled. "Way to lose with class, boys," I'd have proclaimed before running through the streets of Victoria and high-fiving random strangers. But no, this was a promising loss to almost the least promising of teams. The only bright future this heralded was one of hoping Hall, Gagner, and Eberle would make an effective scoring line even though their combined height is about 4'7".
The Copper & Blue Reverse Three Stars:
18th Star: D Jason Strudwick. Welcome back, Struds. Haven't seen you on this list in a while, which is a shame because for a while you owned this thing so completely I think you owe me a paycheque. You were constantly on the edge, constantly the seventeenth or sixteenth star, but you couldn't break through. It was tragic, in its way. You were the reverse Patrick O'Sullivan. Every game I'd hope, in my heart of hearts, that you could bleed chances just like in the old days, and wimpily flick your stick at the puck like you were afraid of it, and chase superior players with your head down and get scorched so frequently you'll play next game in an asbestos jock.
I missed you.
19th Star: G Devan Dubnyk. With the veteran making the umpteenth appearance above, the rookie now makes his career debut on the reverse three stars (because I didn't do the post-game thread during his first start). This was easily the best start of his career, but it would be a pretty bad game in anyone else's. Fundamentally he was sound but pucks kept getting past him, from Jan Hejda's shot being tipped on the way in to Antoine Vermette just beating the pants off of him from the slot. The big saves, which we all talk about, weren't there. A good start and the Oilers get to overtime. This was not a good start.
20th Star: D Steve Staios. This is a guy who Jason Strudwick should be looking out for. Steady Steve is quietly storming up the reverse three star chart, taking the rap on all four goals tonight. He was in the box for Kristian Huselius's power play marker and on the ice for the other three. When Umberger scored, he stood around like a dick. When Vermette scored, he chased Voracek ineffectually. When Hejda scored, you would have guessed the Oilers were killing a penalty for all he achieved.
Where's Derek when we need him? He was pretty animated in the game day thread. I can only imagine what he was like watching this thing.
27 points: Jason Strudwick
20 points: Ethan Moreau
19 points: Steve Staios
14 points: Jeff Deslauriers
11 points: Mike Comrie, Nikolai Khabibulin
9 points: Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert
8 points: Denis Grebeshkov, Sheldon Souray, Patrick O'Sullivan
7 points: Jean-Francois Jacques
4 points: Ales Hemsky, Theo Peckham
3 points: Devan Dubnyk, Shawn Horcoff, Patrick O'Sullivan, Ryan Stone
2 points: Andrew Cogliano
1 point: Ryan Potulny